Who's Got First?
In many leagues players and coaches take turns coaching first base. To do the job properly, you’ll need to know more than the stop and go signs for runners. We’re taking you through everything you need to know to get the job done.
To start, let’s look at the basic duties of the position.
Build rapport with umpire and 1st basemen. You’re going to see them quite a bit. Make the exchanges pleasant so that, if a moment heats up, they’ll be inclined to give you the benefit of time to get your runner calmed down.
Get a lay of the field. Start by checking the wind and where the outfielders are playing. Note any irregularities in the field that might be an advantage.
Set up deep in the box so runners can pick you up. Stay close to the baseline.
Check in with the hitter as s/he becomes a runner. Gauge their mindset and help them shake off the at bat, good or bad. Get them focused on being a runner.
Carry a stopwatch and time the pitchers from start to release. If they take more than 1.5 seconds, advantage is to the runner. Most of the time it is the runner, not the base coach, who decides to steal. Knowing this information will help them determine if they have the speed to pull it off.
During waiting periods, such as pitching changes or between batters, smooth out the terrain on the inside of the bag. This helps the runners to gain solid footing during a steal attempt.
Always wear your helmet. You cannot be sure what is going to happen at the plate or during the rundown. Foul balls and those thrown in error are equally dangerous prospects to a 1st base coach. Safety first please. Don’t rely on your ability to get out of the way. Your attention is split between runner and fielding. This leaves little time to consider your own well-being. By the time you realize you are in danger it may be too late.
You are the runner’s eyes on 1st, 2nd, catcher and rightfield. The first base coach is responsible for all base runners from the time they exit the batter's box until they commit themselves to second base. Once a runner leaves first base, the third base coach assumes responsibility.
Know who’s due up in your lineup and review their running strengths/weaknesses.
Help the runner read the pickoff move of the catcher but let them make their own steal choices. When they are off the bag you are responsible for the information they need from 2nd and left field as those positions are out of their view.
Know the base-running principles so you can determine which situations warrant sending and those where you need to keep the runner in place.
Determine the strength of their left fielder’s arm. You are responsible for the go sign to 2nd.
Encourage the runner to go on pass balls, wild pitches and errors when it makes sense based on their speed and the location of the ball.
Be mindful of two-out situations and be ready to send the runner on release of the pitch.
If the infield fly rule is in effect, make sure to inform your runner.
Set The Tone
Hussle to the box.
Don’t talk to the opposition’s dugout.
Keep your mouth shut on calls made. That’s the head coach’s job.
Keep an eye on the 3rd base coach for signals. Fill in your runner when s/he misses it.
Be mindful of tag up situations and make sure you’re informing the runner when they are behind in doing so.
Help out your runner. Collect arm guards, gloves, leg shields, anything that’s going to weigh down the runner.
Traits of a great 1st base coach
Animated and loud
In the box you need to communicate with your players non-verbally so that the 1st baseman isn’t clued into your plans. Here are some basic signs to help you get started.
No sign = run through the base.
Arms Up = round the base aggressively but look for the ball and hold unless there is an error.
Big circle = head to 2nd. You need to give this sign in advance so they know to turn on the gas. By the time they are halfway up the 1st base path you should have already begun.
When the runner is on the move they’ll be relying on you for the following voice commands.
If they need to tag up call out ‘Tag, tag, tag.'
When a runner is leading off and there is a pickoff move being made yell “back”
If they are taking too short a lead off the bag encourage them with, ‘Okay one.’
If the lead is too long or you see something on the field say, ‘Back one.’
When you are the visiting team, take some time to learn the park before the game begins. Scout out the quirks of the field, size of the foul territory, field conditions, warning track area, grass height and wind direction as well as where the sun comes into the field. During warm ups, watch the opposing fielders. How’s the cutoff man’s arm? Does the catcher have a gun? What about the outfielders? How deep are they playing?
Study their field position and tendencies throughout the game. Make note of their capabilities. How quick is the catcher out of the crouch? Where does the shortstop like to set up?
Does the pitcher have any tells on their pick off move? Where does their pitcher land after delivering the ball? Are their nuances in the pitcher’s setup you can recognize that will help tell the batter which pitches are coming their way?
All this data will help you determine the right ways to advance runners into scoring position as well as alert you to the risks you can take based on the capabilities of your runners. Knowing these details is only half the job. They’ll mean nothing if not communicated to your bench.
When a batter becomes a base runner, they need to leave the at bat behind them. Regardless of how they got to base – walk, fielders choice or blundered bunt – their focus needs to remain on the fact that they are safely on first and that is the first step to scoring.
Help them shift their focus from batter to runner in whatever way works best for the batter’s personality. One way to begin is by recapping the game situation for them – ‘What inning are you in?’ ‘How’s the scoreboard look?’ ‘How many outs do we have?’ ‘Where are the other base runners?’ – all these details will not only help your player focus but are important for them to have in the forefront of their mind as they begin their journey around the bags.
As the runners make their way around the path they rely on you to do more than be the eyes behind their head. Know what their abilities are on the bags. They may also need your help to sync their baseball book smarts to the in-game situation. Run the possible plays with them based on what is happening on the field. Keep it short. Here are some examples:
‘Go on a ground ball.’
‘Stay put on a line drive.’
‘Watch for passed balls.’
‘Only half way on a fly.’
‘Base hit watch 3rd.’
‘Bunts hit the ground before you move.’
‘What positioning are their outfielders using?’
Once your runner is on, you have a few more duties. Most importantly is to react to the ball.
Call out foul balls for the benefit of both hitter and runners.
Encourage the runner to hussle down the path on everything.
Communicate the number of outs to help players remember when they need to tag up.
If a ball pops up, remind the runner to tag up.
When the ball is out of their line of sight, verbalize what is happening behind them.
When errors occur, make them aware.
If you spot a pickoff attempt remember to yell, ‘Back!’
At your next practice, review with the team the calls you made in game. Solicit feedback and questions to improve the runner’s experience and your ability to help them improve their game.
When there is a tight call on the bag, it is the 1st base coach’s responsibility to get between the player and umpire until the head coach can arrive. This is the reason you spent all that time at the start building up a rapport with the official. If you’ve done your job right, they’ll give you the breathing room to help you settle your player down. You also need to know your player’s triggers and solutions to bring them back down quickly and effectively.
Remind your runners to run through the base on singles, full speed ahead. Errors happen. Tags are missed. Train your runners to believe they have the base rather than feel like they are always reaching for it. This shift in mindset will keep them at full speed through the bag so they aren’t unconsciously slowing down on the approach, which can lead to missed opportunities.
While the 3rd base coach is watching the middle infielders, the first base coach keeps an eye on the pitcher and first baseman. Position yourself so you can see both the 1st baseman and runner without having to turn your head. This will help you recognize the pick a split second earlier than you might otherwise catch it. This should also put you in a good spot to see what the pitcher has in mind.
When unique situations present themselves review them with the base runners. It is one thing to run a play in practice and an entirely different scenario to pull it off in game. Everything is faster when the game is on the line. Help your runner slow things down so they can reflect on the immediate situation. Remind your runner what they are walking into and how to handle the situation.
When something you hadn’t expected takes place, follow your instincts. You’ve studied the game. Rely on your memory to give you the right answer.
Let your runners take risks when the situation arises. By being aggressive on the paths you set the tone and let the defense know they’ll need to keep up with you.
Treat your players like they’ve got it covered. By letting them know you have faith in their abilities they will rise to the occasion. Confidence on the paths is the best way to start a rally.
Coach like the pros
Many coaches bring a stopwatch with them to the box. They use it to time the pitcher’s windup and release. When the batter reaches first, the information is relayed to the runner. That’s because coaches know steals happen off the pitcher more often than the catcher.
Some runners have a green light to steal but, for those who are slower on the bags, knowing a pitcher’s timing can lead to opportunity. If a pitcher takes more than 1.5 seconds to deliver the pitch, they are susceptible to being stolen off. Creating a running game can disrupt the opposing pitcher’s rhythm and change the game. On a leftie the Red Sox 1st base coach moves the runner down the line a bit further. Knowing just these small details can be the difference in a run/game average - advantage you.
On the surface base coaching looks easy - enjoy the sun, chat with the 1st baseman, offer a few words of encouragement to your runner as they hit your bag. The job requires a lot more than a second pair of eyes can offer however. The right person for the job will have an encyclopedia of baseball situations locked in their mind available on instant recall. They'll be able to communicate situations and calm nerves while building confidence in the base runner. If you can get people out of their own heads, see the field a split second ahead of real time and diffuse heated situations then you were made for the job.