Last summer, Major League baseball players played in 2,430 baseball games. That gave them 21,870 innings to wow us with fantastic catches, throws and hits. Although we could do a top 100 list of the best plays of 2011, we narrowed it down to our favorite three. As baseball's winter meetings continue, here are three of STACK's favorite 2011 baseball plays, plus an explanation of the skills behind them.
To watch a video of the plays, click on the hyperlinked title.
#3: Roger Bernadina's Diving Over-the-Shoulder Catch
The Play: Evoking Willie Mays' classic catch of Vic Wertz's drive in the 1954 World Series, Washington Nationals outfielder Roger Bernadina sprints toward the center field wall and makes a ridiculous diving catch on the warning track.
Why It Happened: Bernadina immediately reacted to the ball by running back. Good outfielders often takes a step or two back at the crack of the bat, since it's easier to run forward than backward. In this case, since the ball was well hit, Bernadina was already going in the right direction. He then exhibits amazing agility by extending his body and making a snow-cone catch before tumbling onto the warning track.
Improve your own agility with these exercises from Gold Glove catcher Matt Wieters.
#2: Shaun Marcum's Quick Reaction to Bunt
The Play: In the fifth inning of a July game against the Rockies, Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Shaun Marcum sprints off the mound to field a bunt and throws to first in the midst of diving to the turf. Result: runner out! (Note: The play begins at 1:07 in the video.)
Why It Happened: Marcum knew that if the Brewers were going to record an out on this play, he had to get to the the ball himself. He demonstrated great hustle getting off the mound, diving and fielding the ball in one motion. But it was his arm speed that made the play a success, as he made a strong, accurate throw while falling onto his back.
Improve your throwing strength with these hitting and throwing drills.
#1: Jeff Francoeur Steals a Home Run
The Play: We wouldn't be surprised if Seattle's police department got called about a robbery after this incredible catch by Kansas City Royals outfielder Jeff Francoeur of a blast by the Mariners' Dustin Ackley in mid-September.
Why It Happened: One of the hardest things to do is catch a ball over your head. Francoeur scales the wall with a huge vertical leap at the perfect time while reaching his glove up and back as far as possible to make the catch.
Make your own wall-climbing catch after improving your leaping ability with these explosion exercises.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock