Playing first base can be a lot of fun because you get to be involved in a lot of plays during the game. It is an especially important position in youth baseball as the throws to first base will not always be accurate and the infield is only as good as the first baseman.
The number one skill needed by a first baseman is the ability to catch the ball. It also helps to be tall, a decent fielder, and a good hitter. You don’t have to be fast to play first base.
Catching the Ball
The most important job the first baseman will need to do is catch the ball on a force out at first base. However, catching the ball at first base isn’t quite the same as just playing catch with your friends. You need to learn other skills like getting your foot on the bag, keeping your foot on the bag, snagging a short hop, and more. If you want to be a good first baseman you need to practice these skills.
Covering the Bag
When an infield ground ball is hit to any player other than the first baseman, the first baseman must:
- Quickly get to first base – Don’t watch the ball to see what happens. Your first job is to get to first base.
- Foot on the bag – Next get one foot on the bag. It should be the foot opposite your glove hand. This will give you the longest stretch for the ball. The ball of your foot should be on the outside edge of the bag.
- Make a target – Hold your glove up around chest high. Make a good target for the thrower to aim at.
- The stretch – Once the ball is on its way, you can step, or stretch, towards the ball, keeping the one foot on the bag. The stretch will allow the ball to hit your glove that much faster, helping to get the out.
Tip: Do not stretch for the ball before it is on the way. This is a common mistake for many youth baseball players.
Stopping the Ball
One thing especially important in youth baseball is that the first baseman stops the ball. While you definitely want to get the out, you don’t want to allow for extra bases either. A good first baseman will learn when to come off the bag to catch an errant throw.
The Short Hop
The most difficult play to make at first base is the short hop. This is when the ball is short and the player must dig the ball out of the dirt. This is a tough play anyway, but doing it while keeping one foot on the bag is especially difficult. Have your coach or a friend throw short hops to you while practicing as well. The more you practice the better you will get at making this tough play.
Where to Stand
Runner on first – When there is a runner on first base, you need to stand with one foot on the bag and your glove up and ready to catch the ball. This way the pitcher always has a good target if he decides to try to pick off the runner at first. You can’t stand in the base path or in the way of the runner. One foot is on the edge of the bag while the other is toward the catcher, just inside the baseline. As soon as the pitcher throws a pitch, shuffle towards second base and get ready to field any ball hit your way.
Empty first base – If first base is empty, the first baseman will generally stand several feet behind first base and away from the baseline. This positioning depends on the batter. Your coach can help you with where to set up.
Tip: If the ball is hit on the side of the second baseman, but within your range, you should try to field it. In this case, the pitcher should cover first base.
Tip: Always position yourself outside of the base runner’s path. Not doing so can cause a collision and you or the base runner could get hurt.