PHILADELPHIA -- You miss baseball. You want to practice, but space is limited inside your home or in your backyard.
We called an expert for help. Phillies legend Larry Bowa is one of the game’s all-time greatest defensive shortstops. He won two Gold Glove Awards and made five National League All-Star teams during his 16-year career. His .980 fielding percentage at shortstop ranks 11th in baseball history. He is one heck of a baseball coach, too. He worked closely this spring with new Phillies infield coach Juan Castro in Clearwater, Fla.
MLB.com asked Bowa on a rainy Saturday afternoon if he had any drills for parents and children stuck at home.
Oh, yeah. He had a few.
“The drills I’m talking to you about,” Bowa said, “they do them in the big leagues.”
Drill No. 1: Straight up, forehand, backhand
[See video at the top of the story.]
“We do this before we even take ground balls,” Bowa said. “It’s really good. It’s for hand-eye coordination and making sure that you’re catching the ball properly. You do it with no glove first to make sure the form is right. Then you put the glove on and see how you react to it. You go back and forth.
“The thing about this drill is, when you catch the ball -- don’t come across your body to catch it. Come straight up. Once you catch it, your hand is coming straight up. The whole object of this is the form of it. The one to the middle, you bring to the center of your body. The one to your forearm and backhand, make sure you come through the baseball, not across the baseball.”
Drill No. 2: Pick-ups
Bowa has taught coaches’ clinics at ballparks for years. A common, easily correctable mistake that kids make is bending at the waist and not using their legs to catch ground balls.
“You want to get your legs involved,” he said. “This pick-up drill will make you use your legs and get down and catch the ball. Make sure that guys catch the ball out in front of them. A lot of them let it get too deep between their legs, and there are a lot of blind spots. If you stand up and just bend at the waist you can see how far your glove will go. And then after you see that, bend your legs and you’ll see how much farther the glove gets out front. That’s important.
“If you can do 20 of these at a decent distance, it’ll gas you. Trust me. It will gas you.”
Drill No. 3: Tag plays
“We do tag plays where they straddle the base. You can do it with a tennis ball, especially inside. They bounce the ball, like a throw from the catcher or a throw from the outfield. They practice catching the ball and bringing the ball down and tagging -- all in one motion. You don’t want to use two hands on this because you lose your balance. When you’re making tag plays at second, especially on a steal, it’s a one-handed play.”
Other tips from Bowa
“Your first step is very important, getting off the ball,” he said. “That’s just practice. Everyone talks about Brooks Robinson and Mike Schmidt. Great first steps. They weren’t fast as far as runners, but they had great first-step reactions.
“I always stress when I’m teaching young kids -- accuracy is important. When you’re playing catch, any drill you do, there should be a purpose to it. You shouldn’t be out there just throwing. In other words, if you’re playing catch, I want everything to be chest high. Nobody is running. We’re getting loose, nice and easy. You start off maybe 25-30 feet. After 10 or 15 throws, you back up, you back up.
“Arm strength is important. We talk about arm strength. How do you do that? Well, each day you throw a little bit longer, a little bit longer, a little bit longer. The whole key to infielders is, if you’re a second baseman, you just can’t keep throwing from second to first. You’ve got to stretch your arm out. So maybe three or four times a week, you’ll throw long. You’ll be on the right-field line and your buddy will be in center field and you’ll start stretching your arm out. That’s how you get arm strength.”