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Over the past few tournaments, there has been yelling, drama, more yelling, followed by explanations and then bouts of disbelief.
And that is just at the snack shack.
The field, and backstop fence, have their own experience.
Much of this is caused by a mash-up of zealous parents, coaches, and umpires bringing their own version of rules to the game. High school, MLB, and Little League all come crashing together with whatever else the tournament director wants that weekend.
Here, we keep it simple. These are seven common rule occurrences that are often misunderstood with MLB and college-level video examples below.
One of the hardest things for a batter to remember (especially at a younger age) is the dropped third strike rule. It is hard enough to have gone down in defeat to the pitcher. But now everyone is screaming at you to run to first base because the catcher just dropped the ball. There is typical confusion from players and parents, but here are the rules:
Note, too, that with 2 outs and an occupied 1st base, the runners are forced to run to the next base. That player, or any in front of him, could be forced out with a tag of the bag too. So, for example, bases loaded with two outs and a dropped third strike won’t require a throw to first. Instead, the catcher can secure the ball and step on the plate before the runner on third gets home.
Many times during a youth game, the foul tip catch situation comes into play. When the ball is fouled directly into the catcher’s mitt, it is considered a strike, even on the third strike, without going above the batter’s head.
What is often missed is that the play is live. I have witnessed a few times during games where coaches threw back to first, thinking they could double up the runners who stole. There is no tag-up rule on a foul tip catch; it is not a fly out but a strike.
When an infield fly rule occurs, typically, two things occur:
An infield fly rule is called when there are less than two outs with runners on first and second or the bases loaded, AND a pop fly occurs that an umpire considers being caught by an infielder with “ordinary effort.” The ump should proclaim “infield fly,” and the batter is automatically out regardless if the ball is caught.
Runner’s can advance but must tag up if the ball is caught.
Arguments occur on this from time to time. The best thing to do is accept the fate delivered by the umpire and more on.
The key has an umpire with the correct skillset and experience to make the call. A little-known fact is that if the infield fly is caught, the runners must treat it as a caught ball and tag up if they would like to try to advance to the next base. If the infield fly is called, but the ball lands fair and is missed, the runners do not have to tag up and are free to advance to the next base (at their own risk).
Base runner interference is when a runner gets in the way of a fielder attempting to field the ball. Four points to consider:
Getting Hit By the Ball
A runner is out if they are hit the ball ONLY if the ball has not passed or been touched by a fielder. For example, a ball goes through the shortstop’s legs and hits a runner behind him; then, the runner is still not out.
Not Fielding/Act of Fielding
When contact or ‘obstruction’ occurs when a fielder is not in the “act of fielding the ball,” then the fault is on the fielder. The defense is required to give a clear base path unless they are in the act of fielding a ball (thrown to them or otherwise).
It gets dicey when the call is based on the fielder in the “act of fielding the ball.” Parents scream, coaches scream. But, once again, this call is up to the judgment of the umpire. There are many times that everyone is yelling because the third baseman is blocking the runner’s lane. But the third baseman is just trying to catch the ball coming in from the right side of the infield. It is typically a “bang-bang” type of play and call.
And not easy to always get right.
Here is an example of defensive obstruction.
This call always catches everyone by surprise. It is typically cued from the opposing coach based on the player’s previous at-bat.
A player is out when he hits the ball with one or both feet on the ground entirely outside of the batter’s box. Outside the batter’s box requires the entire foot is outside of the white line. As such, a part of the foot could be touching the plate while still in contact with the white line of the batter’s box too.
Or, in other words, just because a part of your foot stepped on the plate while hitting doesn’t mean you are out.
No Batter’s Box
There are 5-8 games per day played on the same field with many tournaments without the batter’s box being re-drawn. The umpires will often mark bats in the sand as to what they feel the batter’s box should be. I’ve seen a player or two called out, and it’s not a pretty sight for the batter’s side for a few minutes.
Here is a little-known rule that typically gets parents in an uproar. Little Johnny swings at what he thinks will be a curveball, but the ball doesn’t break and plunks him in the arm. According to the rule. since the batter swung, a strike is recorded against that batter. This is a double whammy.
A rule of thumb is always to turn away from a ball you think will hit you and not resemble anything that could look like a swing because some umpires, well… ya know.
The call that makes everyone insane, I now present you the BALK! I could go into about three pages on this one, but I want to keep it simple.
Coming set to a still position is hard enough at a young age, let alone not having the pressure of throwing the ball for a strike while trying not to hit the batter. Most of the rules are pretty straightforward and pretty easy for the pitchers to follow. When it comes to questioning, they have a slight advantage as they can wait until the last minute to commit to throwing home. These, along with the coming set, are the two battles that are typically thrown around during youth games.
Little League Balk Advice
One thing I will say does not help the situation is having 20 different people (coaches, parents, opposing players) critiquing the pitcher and yelling “he’s balking” or “balk” every five minutes.
As a coach, chat with the umpire between innings. As a parent, if you want to be a pitching coach or umpire, please do so – just not from the stands, please. Leave this call of the balk up to the umpire, as they have their own interpretation of the rules and will stick to them. Now you have to remember that each umpire crew will be different, so be prepared for a little controversy every once in a while!
As a Coach: Understand your league rules, tournament rules, and carry a copy with you (sometimes you can have a digital copy that works great because it is quickly searchable)
As a Parent: Let the coach do his or her job. I know it’s an exciting situation, but you enlisted the coach to drive the ship when it comes to the current year of baseball. Don’t be too quick to chirp about a call that seems odd on the field. Let the umpires do your job. I saw a parent get tossed out of a tournament this past weekend for arguing with an umpire. Please don’t get to the point that it is embarrassing for you and your kid. He will remember that more than what the score to the games was when he was 11.