There is a very unique set of girls that play fastpitch who are willing (and excited) to sit at the receiving end of a softball being hurled at them at impressive speeds while wearing 10 pounds of extra gear and squatting in what looks like THE most uncomfortable position. Fastpitch catchers are special indeed. Today, we pay homage!
The relationship that spans 43 feet (or 35/40 feet depending on your age) between a pitcher and a catcher is one that can either make or break a game.
Without being offensive (because we mean this with lots of LOVE and respect), the girls behind the plate have to be at least a little ‘crazy’ to do what they do. Before you dare judge one of them for a passed ball, or a missed block – YOU go try and balance yourself back there one hand behind your back, while a pitcher built for velocity uses you as a target and a batter swings a bat just inches away from your nose while an umpire stands behind you breathing down your neck.
Pitchers get both a lot of slack and a lot of credit during softball games. The often unseen reality however is that the catcher has the potential to make or break the pitcher. Catchers who can frame up balls, and keep wild pitches in front of them – have the potential to turn many balls into strikes. Catchers who use their body as a brick wall, save lots of runs. Catchers who prove to have not only accurate – but strong arms, quickly set the tone of the game keeping runners clinging to their bases in fear of being thrown out.
All in all, many coaches refer to their catchers as the coach on the field.
A catcher has the BEST view of the field at all times, and a good catcher multi-tasks with ease. They pay attention to the runners, and get a feel for the opposing coaches. They recognize the girls with speed, and they are the FIRST line of defense for keeping girls 60 feet away from a score.
Reality is that we CANNOT say enough about a catcher. A catcher is one of the positions on the field that has the most physically demanding jobs, and carries a bold amount of stress, as well as is one of the most risky positions for injury on the field.
The following tips, aside from ‘coaching’ tips can help your catcher become the BEST she can be.
1. Be verbal. With each batter, a catcher should remind the fielders how many outs, where the runners are, and where the play is. In other words, take charge of the game and BE VERBAL! Your fielders often don’t know whats behind them, don’t have a view of the scoreboard, and may be lost in the inning. The catcher keeps everyone in the game.
2. Manage your pitcher. If you see her getting in a funk, talk to her. Walk to the mound and say something to get her mind off of her pitching. Even if you just say, “This batter just tooted at the plate,” find a way to get your pitchers mind right. You know your pitcher, and you can likely see her falling apart before even she does. A pat on the back, and some reassurance goes a long way to keeping her calm.
3. Control the pace of the game. Often pitchers get in a rush. Game momentum can take off in the wrong direction in an instance. As a catcher, you have control over the pace of the game. Call a time out, slow things down a bit, take an extra few seconds to get set up. Breaking another teams momentum, especially when they are on a roll can be the difference between a win and a loss. Just make sure that you do it respectfully, by calling time.
4. Know what pitches are working and which aren’t. If a coach is calling pitches and your pitcher hasn’t hit her spot all day with her inside curve, then shake it off. You have the BEST view of the pitches and you know where your pitcher is hitting or missing. Talk to your coaches and if you are able to, shake off the ones that aren’t working.
5. If you cant figure out an umpires strike zone, ASK HIM POLITELY where your pitcher is missing. Umpires truly aren’t there to beat up pitchers and catchers and MOST will happily help you out. Umpires are human and strike zones are somewhat inconsistent. An umpire will respect a catcher who respects him. Which leads to number 6.
6. ***THIS ONE IS HUGE***** Your pitcher throws a pitch. You think it’s a strike. The umpire doesn’t call it, so you hold the pitch – framing it like you were taught, and still don’t get the call. The absolute worst thing that you can do is cop an attitude, roll your eyes, say something like “really Blue,” or shake your head in disdain or obvious frustration. Umpires are human, and the more disrespectful YOUR behavior is behind the plate, the harder you will make things on your team. Just let it go!
7. Read your batters. As a catcher, you have the closest view of a batter and their swing. You can see their hands, and are often the first one to be able to recognize a bunt. You can see where they are missing the ball. Also, good catchers stay sharp and remember hitters so they can help the pitcher pitch away from them.
8. Make sure you have ONE person, ONE voice that you pay attention to, especially on passed balls. Hopefully, your coaches will help you locate balls – but lots of people are likely yelling and screaming at you. Tune in to one trusted voice.
9. In the words of Kenny Rogers (he was THE Luke Bryan of your parents day) , ‘know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away and know when to run.‘ Two outs, ignore the runners. An overthrow to 3rd, can score 1-2 runs easy. Know when to work the batter, and when to throw the ball. Catchers need lots of self-control, and even if you have the perfect throw and the perfect arm to snag a girl trying to steal home – with 2 outs on the board it may not be worth it. And, if you are going to throw down – THROW it. Don’t stall, hesitate, or taunt the runner. Earn respect from the opposing team early on and let them know that you aren’t messing around.
10. Catchers tend to have attitude. Which we love, love, love. Like we mentioned – it takes a certain kind of gall and crazy to sit behind the plate. No matter how much the people on the other side of the fence run their mouths, IGNORE THEM. No matter what you hear going on around you – IGNORE THEM. Unfortunately, from where you sit as a catcher – you are privy to overhearing lots of things. If a batter mumbles something rude under her breath, IGNORE HER. In other words, develop your mind to be as strong and tough as your gear.
11. STAY PASSIONATE! Catchers HAVE to have passion, and are the most passionate players on the field. If you ever wonder why you are a catcher, remember why you started.