There is a time to watch the ball and a time to not watch the ball. I have seen mistakes at all levels of play and it is a pet peeve of mine. I am going to do my best to teach others the proper way to play the game. I will also give the reason why my way is the correct way.
This is real simple, if the play is in front of you, it is your decision to advance to the next base. In youth baseball the coaches almost always make the decisions on advancing to the next base. This is just fine until about the age of twelve, then there is a need to give the players some freedom on the plays in front of them. This age and up is important to teach as much instincts as possible when running the bases.
I have had numerous players in youth baseball that would watch the ball totally. This is a very frustrating situation for a coach and it can be hard to break. All you can do is to pound into the player the proper way to run the bases. The players need to be told that when you turn to watch the ball you lose foot speed.
I see this at the Major League level and it really drives me crazy! I will name a few players “Fernando Vina, Jim Edmonds, David Freese, and Albert Pujols” and you notice they are all ex Cardinals or current Cardinals.
There was a play last year that Freese was on first base. There was a pickoff and the ball was thrown down the right field foul line. Freese came back to first base and then took off for second base. On his way to second base he was watching the play develop almost to second base. He was rubber necking and had no speed on his way to second. He then decides to go to third base. Guess what he was gunned out! I wasn’t happy at all, and then Ricky Horton “Commentator” said the Cardinals are teaching the runners to do this play exactly as Freese did. This is hard to believe and by the way Horton sounded like he was on my side.
The proper way to do this play is the first base coach is yelling and pointing where the miss fired ball is and then yells for Freese to move it to second. Freese knows the ball is down the line and he is thinking third base. He should not be watching the ball! Freese should be picking up his third base coach and is in the process of rounding the bag. The third base coach is very animated and can have the player stop, round it, or come all the way to third. If the coach has the player stop, or round the bag, he has to point to where the ball is, then the player can make his own decision. If the ball starts to squirt around the infield or if there is a bad throw he can make his own decision. On this particular play the coach should have been yelling and wheeling him to third the whole time. If this was done correctly Freese would have been safe. This is real simple and has to be taught this way.
Albert Pujols was just terrible on the base paths on this subject. Pujols would watch the ball way too much and when he did this he would lose foot speed. He had very good instincts on when to attempt to steal a base or if the play was directly in front, he usually made the right decision. There were times that he was way off on some base running decisions, but overall his instincts were good.
Vina and Edmonds were very bad at watching the play develop at the wrong time. This is so frustrating to see at the major league level. Players have to be pounded into; when you watch the ball you lose speed. I have heard baseball people say Willie Mays could watch the ball and keep himself at full speed. That is all just a bunch of bull! All players slow down a little when they have to turn to watch the ball. Teach the game the proper way!