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Upper Deck Power, Part 9: Baserunning Basics

As opening day in the MLB season nears, young ball players around the world cast their eye towards the dream of playing in " the show" one day. The sport of Baseball is in the midst of a remarkable worldwide growth period where countries are discovering America's pastime.

With this growth, those just entering the sport are finding out firsthand how the sport has incredibly high skills demands that are generally beyond simple observation.  Getting into a batting stance and turning on a machine grooved fastball at 60-70 mph is one thing, but entirely different in a live situation after the "introduction" of high heat.

Baseball is a sport of finite skills, further complicated by tactical decisions by coaches that can be the difference between success and failure. Well beyond the complexities of hitting, fielding, sliding and pitching, one area that in my opinion that does not get nearly enough attention is baserunning.

This in itself is remarkable, given that it is often necessary to "manufacture runs" with good quality base running. Players who understand key decision-making on the base paths as well as how to hit the bag on the run or take a proper lead can generate runs and give the opposition fits.

Getting a good "lead" off the base is generally one of the more under-taught areas both at the MLB level and below, even though any hardened coach can tell you how it can change the complexion of the game. More than raising opposition concerns regarding a stolen base, it will also change the Pitchers delivery, occupy the Catcher and obviously imply a series of tactical decisions in advancing the runner and the like. Interestingly enough, unlike many areas in Baseball that are so intricately high in skill demands, a quality off-season conditioning program will dtermine to an extraordinary amount whether a player can truly get a good lead. However, I should also point out that a well-conditioned athlete at lower levels where a catcher's arm and release points are not the quality of MLB level, can absolutely terrorize the opposing team with this knowledge. I should equally add my teams / players consistently understand how to manufacture runs via good base running and this is a skill that true baseball coaches appreciate.

Generally the greatest weakness of most is they are standing too high after taking their lead, which is due to short, tight hip flexors, a weak trunk and posterior chain. This puts the skill coach in an odd predicament because while they are trying to teach a particular style on "how to" steal a base, unbeknownst to them their player cannot get in the best position to do so and must simply rely upon top-end speed. The inability to sink the hips from the shuffle off the base further raises the concern for being picked-off and of-course lowers the pitcher's worry of a stolen base.

Looking at the highest level of the sport down to young teens, the situation is obvious as unfit players can neither get low enough to drive off using the hips, glutes and hamstrings or turn properly once they commit to going forward. Though it is mere nomenclature that has baseball coaches refer to a player coming off the bag in a "crouch," in optimal conditions it is better said like a neutral back position, that has been taught through any of the " Squat Power" series, with the best on the path able to sit far back. If a player cannot evenly distribute weight throughout their feet, with their fingertips on the ground and back at roughly a 30-45 degree angle, conditioning is holding them back.

For the dedicated athlete who trains all year, these traits should be inherent and it is now merely a question of dedicating themselves to the craft of running bases. We will go over those specific skills at a later date (including how to shuffle out for secondary move after the pitchers starts his delivery, avoiding the pickoff and targeting the slide) but for in-season players and coaches it is necessary to start to break down the hips immediately. During practices, coaches should make use of the lunging series RED2  found in the "Search of Power" series with absolute care of perfect compliance as well as the driving action of the legs in "Diagnostic Testing."

One very useful drill that should be used in daily training is a side lunge to "pipeline" split. Borrowing upon my recent shoot of part three of the "Pink" series on range of motion development that delves into DMC, the athlete pushes off into a side lunge, with feet squared and sinks back their hips.

From this position, the coach should instruct players to push opposite elbow to inside knee to shin and sink into full pipeline stretch. As we progress, players will drop hands flat to the ground and transfer weight from side to side by pushing off hips, glutes and hamstrings. Prior to going through that and the next in the series on baserunning skills, work on the above and coaches, get ready to manufacture some runs!