Playing First Base: Learn Footwork, Drills, Positioning and More
When playing first base, it is very important that you are able to move and react quickly around the base, sometimes having to quickly adjust your feet depending on the accuracy of the throw you are catching. Typically, first basemen are bigger in stature, and play their biggest role at the plate. However, having a quality first baseman allows a team to avoid giving away outs on a routine basis. Below we will discuss certain responsibilities of a first basemen and provide some tips and tricks to hopefully help you learn the ins and outs of the position. Enjoy!
In this guide, we will cover:
- Roles and responsibilities
- Defensive positioning
- Holding runners on
- Fielding grounders
- Fielding pop-ups
- Catching throws
- The importance of a first base glove
Responsibilities and Skills of a First Baseman
You may hear that playing first base is “easy” because all you’re doing is catching a ball while standing on first base. This, however, is not the case at all. Playing first base requires flexibility, agility, situational awareness, and a strong arm never hurts. Below we will discuss some of the key responsibilities and skills that a first basemen must have to be successful at the position.
What Does a First Baseman Do?
First baseman should always begin each play positioned according to how many runners are on base. Once the ball is hit into play, move from the standard first base position to the bag (unless you are holding a runner on) and try not to interfere with the path of the runner. With a runner on first, you 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 taking an unnecessary chance at getting a lead runner elsewhere may result in a missed out altogether.
What Qualities Make a Good First Baseman?
Quality first baseman come in many different shapes and sizes and possess a wide variety of capabilities. Even though first base can be a somewhat idle position a majority of the time, there are still many qualities that can make some first baseman better than others. These include things like length (stretching), catching, throwing, fielding, agility, etc.
Prior to a pitch being thrown, the first basemen should always be in a ready position, expecting a ball to be hit their way or ready to quickly get to the base to receive a throw from somewhere in the infield. You will either be positioned at the normal first base spot off the bag, or, you will be on the bag holding that runner on (if there is a runner on first). We will discuss those two situations further below.
Not Holding the Runner (bases empty)
If the bases are empty, it is not necessary for a first basemen to position themselves on first base. They should instead take the normal first base position on the field, ready to make a play on a ball hit their way. Only when there is a runner on first base should the first basemen be position on the base holding the runner on.
Holding the Runner (runner on first 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 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. First basemen should just hold the runner on at first as normal and expect to slap a tag down on the runner immediately after receiving the throw from the pitcher. This can also happen if the catcher tries to “back-pick” the runner on first after a pitch is thrown.
When it comes to fielding ground balls at first base, it is pretty straight forward. You field the ball hit to you and step on first base to record the out. Where it can get tricky though, is if the ball pulls you too far off the base, or if there are other runners on and a double play or getting a lead runner out could potentially occur. Ground balls that pull the first baseman far from his base require that another player cover first base. This is typically the pitcher or second baseman's job, depending on where the ball is hit.
Starting a Double Play
Having a strong arm as a first baseman comes in handy in many situations, especially when attempting to start or turn a double play. Double plays should only be started by fielding a ground ball and throwing it to second (with a runner on first), or by fielding the ground ball and touching first base, then throwing to second (this will result in the play at second no longer being a force out, but rather the runner must be tagged out). Double plays should never be started at third base by the first basemen, and should only ever be started at home plate with bases loaded and the infield in.
Feeding the Pitcher
In the instance of a bunt or ground ball to first base that takes the first baseman off of the bag, it is common that the pitcher will need to cover first base. It is important to feed the pitcher the ball in stride once it is fielded to make it easier for them to safely step on first base and peel off to the side to avoid the batter running down the line. Typically, it is best to underhand the ball to the pitcher. However, in some cases a ball may take a first baseman far off the bag, causing them to have to make a strong throw to the pitcher covering first base.
When a runner is 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).
Pop-ups to the first basemen are just like any other pop-up, which the added factor of having to avoid first base itself, and most of the time make a play in foul territory. Additionally, as a first basemen, any time you have the chance to call off the pitcher or catcher on a pop-fly, do it. It is much easier for you to make the catch running in than it is for the catcher with all his gear on and the pitcher having to maneuver around a sloped mound.
This is the easiest part of playing the first base position, that is, of course, if the ball is thrown directly to your chest. Regardless of the type of throw you are catching, it is important to remember to keep your opposite glove hand foot on the bag at all times when catching the ball, to secure the out.
Throws in the Dirt
These are some of the more difficult throws to catch at first base. Balls thrown in the dirt can take all kinds of weird, unexpected hops. It is important to keep your eyes on the ball and go towards the ball with your glove in a scooping motion. Don’t jab at the ball to try and dig it out of the dirt; this will most likely result in missing the ball or not catching it cleanly.
Throws off the Bag
Slightly easier than throws in the dirt, but still somewhat difficult to catch. Throws off the bag will require you to reach to one direction, most times stretched out as far as you can, to catch the ball while keeping your foot on the bag to record the out.
Stretching for the Ball
Flexibility plays a key role in the first basemen position. Being flexible will allow you to stretch out long lengths to help the ball reach your glove quicker. This will help in getting the out calls in bang-bang plays and will impress everyone watching if you suddenly go down to a full split to catch the ball to get the runner out.
The Importance of a First Base Glove
As a first basemen, you will need a glove that is ready for any type of ball thrown or hit your way; in the dirt, over your head, right at your or off to either side. Therefore, you must have the correct size, traditional first base mitt when playing the position. This mitt will have no separated finger holes in order to all for maximum length and depth of the webbing and pocket.
Best Baseball First Base Mitts
This article was originally published on October 16, 2019, and has been updated with new information.