The Rice University baseball squad has a second home field in Omaha, Neb., where the College World Series crowns a National Champion every year. Thanks in part to their stingy defense, the Owls enjoyed their third consecutive trip to Omaha last season.
According to Rice’s assistant coach, Mike Taylor, the team’s virtually impenetrable defense results from Owls infielders working toward achieving maximum range. “A guy can have first-step quickness,” Taylor says. “But if he isn’t anticipating, staying low on his crossover and getting a good jump off the ball, he won’t make the play.” To improve his players’ footwork on the diamond and extend their range, Taylor has them perform the Range Finder drill once every two weeks throughout the year.
• Have a coach or teammate stand on the third base side of the pitcher’s mound and hit 10 to 15 ground balls to your left and right.
• Assume deep shortstop position, in ready stance
• React to ball by moving left or right with crossover step
• Roll ball back to coach/teammate
• Return to start position; repeat
Ready position: Keep your feet squared to the hitter and weight on the balls of your feet // Maintain a slight bend in your knees and back // Place your arms in front of your body, but in a comfortable position
Crossover step [perform in opposite direction if ball is hit to your left]: Plant your left foot and take a hard crossover with your right // Stay low during the step; don’t let your body rise // Avoid taking false steps // Follow the ball with your eyes all the way into your glove
Taylor’s Scouting Report
On understanding the pitcher: You have to know what kind of pitcher is throwing for your team that day. Your positioning on the field can be determined by what kind of pitches he throws, because that will help you anticipate where the ball may be hit. Pay attention to the count and what pitch the batter will be facing.
On understanding the batter: Focus on the speed of the hitter; that will give you an indication of the depth you should be playing at your position. Also, knowing if a batter is a pull or opposite-field hitter will help you anticipate where he may hit the ball.