One way that I like to stress the importance of our softball outfielders (and this is kind of fun (at least for me). And the first time you demonstrate it, your athletes will not like you very much. :P) What you do is put your infield out in the field and have all your outfielders be batters. And then, play a little game, using your batters first. The batters hit the ball, and then they just keep running until someone stops it.
Obviously, you have no outfielders. So the infielders or shortstops are running out and grabbing the ball and trying to relay it in. And it only takes about three batters before your infielders start getting a little angry with you because it’s not fair. But it’s a great demonstration to say “See, you do love your left fielder and your center fielder and your right fielder. And you do need them.” Because you know that shortstops, second base - they get a little too big for their britches sometimes because they’re in those spotlight positions. And outfielders are not spotlighted, but they’re very, very useful.
Let’s talk about the pitcher, catcher, outfield series and signals. Your middle infielders have to give a signal to the outfield. And whatever your signals are - fast ball, rise, drop, curve, screw ball - whatever. Your middle infielders must show your outfielders - with a number - what the signals are. But what’s also important - your outfielders have to know what that means. So everybody on the field has to know that one is a fast ball, and two is a drop, or three is a rise, or four is a curve, and five is a screw ball.
So, assuming that we have a right-handed pitcher and a right-handed batter - if I am in left field and the right-handed pitcher pitches a screw ball, it’s going to come into a right-handed batter. So it’ll be an inside pitch. That tells me if she hits that ball correctly, it’s probably coming to me. If my right-handed pitcher throws a curve ball, it’s going away from that batter. If she hits it correctly, it’s probably going to right field. So as a right fielder, I need to know that.
On a change-up, what do I do? I have to read the batter. Is she a big number four or five batter and she’s really sitting back waiting on that and she’s going to clobber it? If that’s the case, I’m a left fielder, I’m going to stay back. Or has this batter been over-aggressive and been lunging out? If that’s the case and she’s lunged two times already and we decide to throw her a change-up, I’m going to be moving in. Because no batter has power up here on a change-up. She’s going to dribble that ball into the ground. Or she’s going to somehow flip it up into the air and I want to be up close ready for that play.
Those are the kinds of things that your outfielders have to know. They absolutely have to know what the numbers mean for your pitchers that your catchers are giving. Your middle infielders have to relay that information because it’s valuable information to me. If I know that my pitcher’s very best pitch is a curve ball out and she hardly ever misses it, then I just may fade that way a little. If I’m a right fielder, I’m going to bet my last dollar that that ball had better come to me. I’m going to be asking for that ball. So make sure that your players are aware of what that means.
I also want to quickly add some thoughts about a very popular element of the game called the slap. You’re all familiar with left-handed slappers. So, what do you do with your outfield?
You’re going to have to become familiar with the batters certainly. But what we do is just gradually increase. With a left-handed batter, her power alley is right center. So if she does stay on the ball real hard, that is going to be where she can hit the ball with the most power. So my right fielder is going to stay back a little bit. My center fielder is going to be up a little bit from her. And my left fielder is going to be way in, because this is not a power situation for that slapper. And the holes in the defense are going to be for outfielders. My center fielder will be out 15 feet from the grass, and my right fielder will be out another five feet from her. It’s a very important element in this game and your outfielders will become instrumental in stopping that slapping game.