Rickey Henderson holds one of the most unbreakable records in sports with 1,406 career stolen bases. In fact, Mr. Henderson probably has several unbreakable records, including an eye watering 130 stolen bases in the 1982 season. You might assume that Rickey Henderson was one of the fastest players in MLB history, and you would certainly be right. But speed isn’t everything. The art of stealing a base is a time honored tradition that we can pass down to the next generation.
Today, we will review when to steal a base, how to take a lead, reading the pitcher, and the fundamentals of base stealing for youth athletes.
Knowing When to Steal a Base
Youth athletes should probably not be given free rein to take off running whenever they please. Most youth coaches and parents would agree that given the chance, their kids will be running all over the diamond. Of course there are exceptions to every rule. If you trust your young baseball players to run, let them have at it. Here are some high level tips for when to steal and when not to steal:
Wait for the steal signal - every team should have a sign for stealing a base. Work on this in practices to make sure your youth team is on the same page.
Consider the count - stealing on a “pitcher’s count” traditionally gives the advantage to the baserunner. This is due to the fact that pitchers are more likely to throw a breaking ball and/or waste a pitch outside the zone, making the catcher’s life more difficult.
Consider the score - baseball etiquette dictates that we put on the red light for stealing our team is up big. Stealing in close games can also be a risk, dependent on the situation.
Consider the outs - killing a rally with a baserunning out is a big no-no. With two outs, the risk is lessened as the odds of a big inning is lower.
Taking Primary and Secondary Leads off the Base
Before we can run, we must first learn to crawl. And before a youth baseball player learns to steal, he or she must learn to not get picked off. It is important to understand that not all leagues allow primary leads, but every age group is permitted a secondary lead.
Primary leads are what the baserunner does before the pitch is thrown. In most cases, primary leads are against the rules through Little League age. Secondary leads refer to a baserunner getting or extending their lead after a pitch is thrown in anticipation of a batted ball.
Youth athletes should be taught to stay balanced, keep their eyes on the ball, and never stray too far from the base. They should understand that priority number one is always the ability to return safely to the base. Another key to taking an effective lead is to take a consistent lead. Taking an extra step can be tempting, but it can also tip off your opponents that a steal attempt is forthcoming.
Baserunners Read the Pitcher’s Movements
Right handed pitchers will naturally be facing away from runners at first base. This creates a situation where the baserunner should be reading the feet of the pitcher upon first movement. The vast majority of righties will use what is known as a slide step to quickly deliver a pitch to home plate. As long as the first movement is towards home plate, the runner should be taking off immediately.
Left handed pitchers are a little trickier to read. Since they are facing first base, the pitcher has the ability to lift their leg straight up and still make a pick-off move towards first. “First move” base stealing is extremely risky against lefties. Instead, wait for the left handed pitcher to break the plane and either move backwards towards second or forwards towards the plate. Unlike righties, left handed pitchers rarely use a slide step.
Executing the fundamentals of Base Stealing
There are too many components to go over in great detail, but here are some of the most important fundamentals to a successful stolen base:
Taking a lead: as mentioned earlier, taking a consistent, reasonable lead is extremely important. The runner should keep his eyes on the pitcher at all times and his feet beneath him, ready to move in either direction.
Breaking for the base: the moment the pitcher breaks towards home, the baserunner needs to be ready to move. Youth athletes should be careful not to cross up their feet and maintain their balance while they shift towards a sprint.
Running to the base: baserunners should aim to start low before picking their heads up and straightening out. This allows for an athletic transition from standing still to maximum effort sprinting.
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