I often get emails from upset parents asking how to cope with the degradation of their player being sentenced to the wastelands of Siberia…. er, having to play outfield. Especially for younger players under, say 1o/11u, it can seem like they’ve been sentenced to boredom, out of the way of all the action.
One reader lamented, “My Caden is just as good as any other kid on the team! But that ‘DaddyBall’ coach of ours saves all the good positions for his own kid and his friends while poor Caden is stuck in the outfield! I worry that he’s losing interest in the game he once loved so much. How do I talk to the coach and convince him to put Caden back at short stop where he was last year?”
Since I don’t know your player, the coach or any teammates, and my psychic powers have been disconnected due to nonpayment, it would be unfair for me to try and answer your question. What I CAN do, however, is point out a few things that will hopefully change change the way you and your kid view this outfield “punishment.”
1) For starters, one third of baseball’s positions are in the outfield. Someone’s got to play there. And it might as well be your kid. Or his kid. Or that kid over there. If your player can’t stomach the thought of being in the outfield, then apparently he doesn’t “love” the game as much as he thought. Sign him up for soccer or tennis ASAP.
2) Outfielders have a huge opportunity to be the hero of the game. They might not get as much action as the infield, but how they handle balls hit their way can be the difference between a win or a loss. With so much ground to cover, an outfield error can be disastrous; while a timely catch can save the day. Kids often don’t realize the importance of a good outfield until a costly error is made. It can quickly change a player’s perspective when he realizes he missed a big opportunity to shine.
Coach Chris Sharp of the 11u RBA Ropes says “big arms and big speed are required in the outfield. And a good outfield is key when you have a pitcher on the mound who pitches to contact.”
3) By 11/12u, many coaches will have their best athletes in the outfield. Outfielders need good eyes, a strong arm, quick reflexes plus the ability to run fast and cover a lot of ground.
Coach Adam Marshall, also of the Ropes, sums it up very well.
“Plain and simple: outfielders are guys you can trust to make the high-stakes plays that will save a ballgame for your team. If an infielder can’t make a play on a ball, the other team might get an extra base or two out of it. But if a ball gets through the outfield, it almost immediately means extra runs. Outfielders are often some of the best all-around athletes; coaches need speed out there to cover large areas quickly, and they need big arms to get the ball back into the infield in short order. Some of the most exciting highlight-reel plays involve outfielders making over-the-shoulder or diving catches, or nailing runners who thought they could take that extra base. And some of the most dynamic MLB players right now are outfielders (Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Jose Bautista, Andrew McCutchen, Giancarlo Stanton).”
4) Coach Marshall makes as great point. Tell your player to make a list of today’s top MLB outfielders and look up some YouTube videos of amazing saves and painful errors they’ve made. Then try saying that outfielders aren’t important.
5) Parents don’t always understand a coach’s reasoning behind how he positions his players. Sometimes what may seem like criticism is actually a compliment. This quote found on a coaches’ forum sums it up well. “Sometimes you have two kids who are really good infielders, but one is a better outfielder. Putting him in outfield is not at all an insult to his ability. I’m putting my players where I need them the most – and it’s not up to parents to judge that. When they do and talk negatively about it in front of their player, they’re creating a problem in his mind and sabotaging his team first mentality.”
6) In 6,7,8u, outfielders have more opportunities to show their fielding skills through backing up infielders. When a hard hit ground ball bounces past the shortstop (which will happen a lot more in the early years), the left fielder can look like a total stud if he’s in ready position and able to scoop the ball to make the play. At night, when you and your kid are watching your favorite team on TV, pay special attention to the outfielders and how many plays they make backing up the infield.
7) Tell your kid to make it his goal to be the team’s BEST outfielder. For this one, I sought the input of my son Andrew, the starting center fielder on his high school team. He’s been playing outfield since age eight. Aside from the pitcher’s mound, there’s no place he’d rather be. And he’s pretty much always felt that way.
ME: “Why did you like playing outfield when other kids dreaded it?”
ANDREW: “I guess I just accepted that the kids playing infield were better than me. I mean, it was pretty obvious. So I figured if I was going to keep playing, I’d better be the best outfielder I could possibly be. I made centerfield MY position and decided that nobody would be better at it than I was. Plus, it felt great when I’d make great catches and monster throws. People started calling me ‘captain of the outfield.’ I liked that. Cheers and praise always help.”
ME: “So what did you do to become a good outfielder?”
ANDREW: “We practiced in the backyard all the time. You and Dad would hit buckets of pop ups and grounders to me everyday. We played catch everyday, moving farther and farther away over time til Dad and I were practically standing on opposite ends of the yard.”
(Note: We used to have a huge backyard. I miss it… except the mowing part.)
8) Coaches, be sure to praise your outfielders when you see them doing a good job….backing up infielders, hustling onto the field, throwing the ball to the right place, calling the ball, etc. When addressing the team, talk up the outfield. Point out their importance to the team, even if there hasn’t been much action there lately.
NOTE: Between tee ball and, say, age 10, no player should be stuck in the same position all the time. That’s lazy coaching! Feel free to quote me on that. During these ages, coaches should be focusing on developing solid, versatile ballplayers. Yeah, yeah, I know I’m preaching to the choir. I’m just saying, if your kid is this young and plays ONLY outfield or rides the pine, game after game, then you might want to find another team.