All too often baseball players perfect the art of collecting the ball in the pocket of their gloves. This is particularly true for the younger players that are still in the learning curve of using two hands for all catches. An expertly broken in glove will assist in the catching of the ball. Yet relying on the glove to perform all the functions of the catch is just too risky.
The addition of the second hand will help in the control of the baseballs energy but even then a missed alignment can cause the path of the baseball to take just enough geometry to find its way out of the glove. Again, the scramble for control is on.
With predictable proper control during the catch, the rhythm of taking the baseball from the glove and completing the throw action is guaranteed a higher level of success. Repeating a series of events developed through practices and drills is what delivers the baseball from the player who caught the ball to the player who needs to receiver the following throw.
Soft hands allow the baseball player fielding the ball to transfer the energy of the ball into the players arms. The action is similar to that of a shock absorber found in automobiles and motorcycles. Starting fast and out front with the initial contact, then retreating the hands quickly to dissipate the energy put into the baseball from being struck by the baseball bat.
To impart this motion to beginning and younger players, simply toss a ball in the air and let them catch it bare handed. Done correctly, the player will reach for the ball then withdraw their hands to their chest as they grasp it. This an easy catch and the ball will not bounce out of their hands nor will there be any sting.
Once the mechanics of the previous drill are taken to heart, it is time to move onto using the same technique in a fielding drill. Knees bent, bottom down, hands out, the players receive the ball with the same arm action as the over head drill but with grounders provided by the coach. Glove hand takes the line of the ball, off hand covers the ball in the glove, arms retreat quickly to dissipate the energy of the ball.
A key element in the proper use of the soft hands is the position of the baseball glove prior to receiving the baseball. Correct fielding places the glove in a vertical position with heal of the glove at the top and the web on the bottom.
When the glove is less than perpendicular to the path of the ball, any mishap is the fielding process can cause the ball to bounce away and behind the player. Recovery from these events are difficult as the player must turn their back on the field of play and operate under a sense of urgency.
With the glove at a right angle to the path of the ball, mistakes will cause the ball to bounce in front of the player, still within their vision and still playable.
Practice gloves (also known as training mitts, gloves and pancakes) are an excellent tool for both coaches and players. As they have no pocket, two hands are mandatory to field any baseball. An excellent way to reinforce the use of two hands in all catches. These mitts can also be used for drill with pop fly balls with limited height. It is a great policy for coaches to utilize drills that mandate two hands whenever possible.
For the coach training mitts offer the visual cue of the proper hand position and arm action. If the coach can see a full circle outline of the mitt during the drill, then the player is holding the mitt at a right angle as they should. Any oblique circle is a sure sign that the mitt is being held on an angle where the coach can make instant position correction. Balls controlled by the players indicate that they are using soft hands. When the ball bounces away from the mitt then the player is instantly notified of their mistake.
Soft hands is the process of using two hands to catch and control the ball by allowing the hands to retreat quickly as the ball is grasped, as the energy is dissipated, the ball can no longer bounce out of the glove and the player will gain control of the baseball faster and allow them to complete their motion in practiced, predictable way.