Playing First Base
First base is always at the center of the action! When filling the position, be sure to choose the player who can catch anything thrown near him. Running speed is typically not a factor, but the fielder should be able to move and react quickly. You also want to be sure that the player is unafraid of the ball as he will typically find rockets being thrown his way. The first baseman should have the agility to stretch out to catch or scoop inaccurate throws while still keeping his foot on the bag. Tall, left handed players are typically great at this skill. Having a quality first baseman allows a team to avoid giving away outs on a routine basis.
So, now that we have that out of the way, you may be wondering what exactly a good first baseman should do.
The first baseman should be able to judge (very quickly) whether or not the ball is within his reach without being led too far from his base. If the ball is within easy reach, he should obviously make the play. Otherwise, he should cover his base even if a play at first base is nearly impossible.
The first baseman should begin each play with his left foot on the inside of the bag. Move toward the standard first base position as the pitch is being released, and try not to interfere with the path of the runner. He should always be prepared to pick off throws from the pitcher in order to hold a runner who is threatening to steal, being sure to provide a target with his outstretched arm.
The first baseman should always try to get the sure out. Instinct may tell the fielder to get the lead runners first, but your first baseman should be taught that it is always better to get that sure, easy out at first base. Taking an unnecessary chance at getting a lead runner elsewhere may result in a missed out altogether.
Ground balls that pull the baseman far from his base require that another player cover first base. This is typically the second baseman's job. When a runner is already on first base, the first baseman should charge toward home plate as the pitch is released to field a bunt. In this case, the throw should go to second base (where the shortstop is covering) IF the throw is going to beat the runner coming from first. Otherwise, throw to first base (where you should find the second baseman covering). Alternatively, the first baseman is also responsible for backing up any throw coming in from left field to second base. In the case of a missed catch, the first baseman can quickly recover the ball to prevent advancement to another base.
The first baseman should try to hold the lead runner only when possible. If another runner is at second or if there are bases loaded, the first basemen should keep the possibility of a pickoff attempt open. When runners are on first and third base, holding the runner on first base is an option that typically depends on whether or not the catcher has the ability to throw a runner out at second base. Holding the runner on base allows a better chance at getting the force out at second if a ground ball is hit in the infield on the next at-bat.
Good communication between the pitcher and first baseman will help in the event of a pick off. Eye contact and subtle gestures work wonders when holding a runner at first. The second baseman is another valuable player for the first baseman. Since these two positions back each other up on a consistent basis, be sure that they are on the same page.