This is an excerpt from High-Scoring Softball eBook by Ralph Weekly, Jr. & Karen J. Weekly.
Running From First or Second Base
When a runner begins the play at first or second base, she should use home-to-first running techniques in the following situations: if stealing, if the bunt play is on, or if the ball is put into play in the infield and there is a potential force-out at the base to which she is advancing. If, however, the base runner’s teammate (the batter) hits the ball through the infield (and it is not a potential tag-up situation), the runner should use home-to-second running techniques and create a good angle for rounding the next base; she should anticipate advancing two bases instead of just one. Base runners must remember to run until the defense stops them!
There is an ongoing debate in softball circles about the type of leadoff that players should use on the bases. Some argue that the rocker positioning (see figure 3.6) is best, while others subscribe to the starter positioning (see figure 3.7). On our team, we want players to use whichever positioning helps them to be on time off the base. The base runner can leave the base when the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand. Therefore, she needs to be sure that she is leaving the base at that time and no later. A runner who is late off the bases is much more vulnerable to a pickoff because she is still moving off the base as the ball is being received by the catcher. A runner who is on time off the base will be balanced and able to get back quickly on a pickoff throw.
Videotape of base runners reveals that many players who use the rocker position actually start too late and are still on the base when the ball is on its way to home plate. In this case, if the players can make the adjustment to starting their motion earlier, they should continue using the rocker position because it gives the runner extra momentum. If they can’t make the adjustment, they should switch to the starter position so that they do not lose time on their leadoff.
With either the rocker or starter positioning, the runner should always have her left foot in contact with the base. The front half of the foot should be in contact with the ground, and the back half should be on the base (see figure 3.8). The runner uses the base to push off, much like a starter’s block in track. The runner should position her foot on the portion of the base that is closest to the outfield so that she is farthest from a potential pickoff throw by the catcher.
Leads From First Base
From first base, the runner takes a three-step lead, squaring up to the plate on her third step (see figure 3.9 on page 58). The runner must be balanced when she squares up and not leaning toward second base. The distance between home and first is 60 feet—not a very long throw for a catcher attempting a pickoff. A leaning, off-balance runner is an easy target for a pickoff. If the runner takes more than three steps, she will likely be too far off the base and will be vulnerable to a pickoff. The distance of the leadoff may change based on where the first-base player is positioned. If the first-base player is playing close to the base, the runner may have to cut down the distance of her leadoff, and vice versa.
If the runner uses the rocker positioning on the base, her first step with her right foot is step 1, the step with her left foot is step 2, and the last step with her right foot is step 3; she squares her shoulders to the plate on this third step. If the runner uses the starter positioning with her left foot on the base and her right foot in front of the base, the right foot being placed in front at the start counts as the first step. So, the player takes only two additional steps. The second step is with her left foot, and the third step is with her right foot; she squares her shoulders to the plate on this third step. The key is that the runner is no more than three steps off first base and that her feet are in a position to square up to home on the third step.
Leads From Second Base
Regarding placement of the foot on the base and starting positioning, the techniques used at first base apply to leads from second as well. However, the runner now takes a five-step lead. She can afford to do this because the distance from home to second base is 84 feet 10 inches, thus making the catcher’s pickoff throw longer. A runner at second base is in scoring position and should be thinking score on any base hit. We tell our runners to take a “scoring lead.” In other words, when taking their lead, they will begin to create the angle for making a good turn at third base. The exceptions to this are the same as at first base—the runner should always run in a straight line to the next base when stealing or if the bunt play is on.
Leads From Third Base
Foot placement and starting positioning remain consistent when the runner is starting at third base. However, some differences exist in the strategy used at third. Unless the suicide squeeze play is on, the player should take a more passive lead. The worst thing that can happen at third is for a runner to be doubled off on a line drive because she was being too aggressive with her leadoff. The runner will score easily on almost every type of base hit to the outfield, so there is no reason to fire off the base too fast or too far and run into a line-drive double play. The runner must also be in position to tag up and score on a ball hit in the air to the outfield. Runners who lead off aggressively often cannot get back in time to tag, and they lose an opportunity to score a run.
Another key at third is to make sure the runner leads off in foul territory (see figure 3.10). If she is struck by a batted ball in foul territory, the ball is dead, and she returns to the base. If, however, she is struck in fair territory, she is automatically out. There is no need to lead off on or inside the baseline and run the risk of being struck by a fair ball. The runner at third base should never lead off beyond the positioning of the third-base player. Doing so will make the runner extremely vulnerable to being picked off by the catcher. This is especially true when a left-handed batter is in the batter’s box.
Learn more about High-Scoring Softball.