The game of baseball lends itself to hustle. In a sport where the action is limited to brief episodes, you would think it would not be a difficult task for a player to hustle when he needs to. The game is not like basketball or hockey where there is constant movement and a player may take a play off to catch his breath. Instead, in baseball, the game is slow-paced with the occasional burst of excitement when hustle (or lack thereof) can influence the outcome of a game.
One of those most common moments is running from home to first after a ball is put in play. So many players simply do not hustle out of the batter’s box. I’m sure you’ve seen it plenty of times. A routine infield ground ball, a fly ball to the outfield, even a line drive up the middle for a base hit. The ball is put in play, and the hitter makes the decision to come out of the box slowly because he is either a for sure out or it’s a for sure single. Or is it?
What if the infielder bobbles the ball? What if the outfielder drops the routine fly? Your odds of being safe at first base just increased. What if your line drive up the middle rolls under the center fielder’s glove? Would you be able to stretch your easy single into a double? Running hard down the line can put pressure on the defense, and pressure can lead to mistakes. Here is a batting practice drill that can be implemented to improve players’ hustle down the line.
Drill – Hard 90
The Hard 90 Drill can be mixed in with part of your normal batting practice to work on hustle out of the batter’s box. (The number 90 comes from the length between home plate and first base.)
- Groups of 5-6 hitters
- Have a set infield
- One swing to put the ball in play
- Emphasize hustle out of the box
- Runners should run through first base on infield grounders, and take hard turns toward second base on balls hit into the outfield
- Focus should be on hitting line drives and keeping the ball out of the air
After your normal rounds of BP, include 3-4 more rounds where each hitter in the group gets one swing to put the ball in play. Upon hitting the ball, the hitter should get out of the batter’s box as quickly as possible towards first base. If he hits the ball on the ground to an infielder, he should run through first base just as he would in a game. (Infielders should play the ground ball as a game-like situation as well.) The hitter/runner’s goal is to beat out the throw, even if it’s a “routine” ground ball. He should hustle through the bag at first and then immediately breakdown and look to his right for an overthrow into foul territory.
If he hits it into the outfield, the hitter should again hustle down the line, but this time make his turn around first base toward second. This is where a lot of players get sloppy. They become content that they have gotten a base hit and do not even think about trying to take the extra base. The player’s turn around first becomes lazy and half-hearted. Instead, he should be aggressive and make a hard turn so as to appear to be going for second (especially if the ball is in left-center or left field). This can have a panic effect on an outfielder if done properly, and it can result in a fielding error or wild throw to second base. If either of these happens, the runner can advance to second and now he is in scoring position. The runner should work on advancing to second base if this happens during the drill.
Hustle, Hustle, Hustle
“I played the game one way. I gave it everything I had. It doesn’t take any ability to hustle.” -Wade Boggs
Wade Boggs is right. Hustle is an attitude and mindset, not a talent. You do not have to be the fastest player on the team to beat out a throw or take an extra base. All it takes is a little hustle and a good understanding of the game. Work on getting out of the batter’s box quickly and getting down the line with purpose. You’ll be surprised at how often you can help your team and create a big inning from the otherwise routine.