All too often an infielder makes an errant throw in a game, immediately followed by the chorus of baseball pundits in the stands or dugout hollering, “MAKE SURE YOU GET A GRIP ON THE BALL…OR DON’T THROW IT!”
No one can argue with those words. Better to make just one mistake and, say, allow the runner to reach first than make two mistakes and advance him to second, to say nothing of other baserunners who may be in play.
When someone yells at you, it’s hard not to wonder: If a bad grip can cause a bad throw, what can cause a bad grip? Sometimes it’s water, sweat, or grime on the ball or fingers, sometimes it’s spin on a batted ball, sometimes it’s just a lapse in concentration. Those are the usual suspects.
But if you’re a middle infielder or third baseman, sometimes it’s how you’ve broken in your glove.
Almost by instinct you try to create a large pocket that will swallow the ball, because catching the ball is the first important thing. You crease your glove with the ball deep inside and feel confident that if the ball can’t escape, you’ve done your job. Many moons ago, I remember filling a pocket with a softball, rubber-banding the glove closed, and then running over the glove with the family car. It was a cheap thrill, and if my glove beat that sky-blue Volkswagen Vanagon, my glove was game ready, I mused.
In a game, though, you’ll need to get the ball into your throwing hand, and if you’ve created an oversized pocket, you’ll need to dig deep and will be more likely to get a poor grip when rushed. (Oh, as a middle infielder, you’re almost always rushed.) And an open glove may allow the ball to shift or fall out, compounding your manager’s headache while he recovers from your last error.
The remedy is to build a “pincher pocket,” or a pocket the size of a baseball just above the palm and between your index finger and thumb rather than much higher in the webbing. You can use a glove mallet like the one I purchased at Dick’s or tape a baseball to the end of a bat and pound the glove with or without your hand inside. However you sculpt this pincher pocket, you want to leave the glove open at this stage.
Once you’ve worked that smallish pocket into form, you can begin playing catch, and it’s smart to continue breaking in the glove without closing it. Instead you’ll want to catch every ball in the pincher pocket by pinching your index finger and thumb together to secure the ball on its sides. Those of you with smaller hands may need to use your middle fingers and thumbs.
Here’s a picture of how the pinchers are positioned without a glove.
And a picture of the pinchers with a glove.
If the ball doesn’t stick, either the pocket isn’t formed enough or you’re not using your fingers properly. Keep working the mallet, keep checking your technique. When you can hold the glove open and upside down with a ball in the pocket and pound and shake the glove without the ball shifting, you’re finished with your pincher pocket.
Here’s how I test my glove.
Let’s reflect on what we’ve created. When you now catch the ball, you’ll know its location because you can feel its location. The glove can stay open on the transfer and control the ball at once. Faster grip, better grip, and so you no longer need to ponder how those lightning fast MLB middle infielders turn the pivot at second base. It’s not by bouncing a ball off the glove into the throwing hand, though it looks that time defying. It’s by catching the ball in the same well-defined spot each time and bringing an open glove to the throwing hand, with the ball under control between the pincher fingers.
But Coach Flu, you’re wondering, can I ever close my glove? Of course. Your instinct wasn’t altogether wrong. But you’ll want to move to step two, forming the remainder of the pocket and webbing and creasing and closing as you personally prefer, only once you have the base in place and a solid feel for how to catch without the crutch of an oversized or closed mitt. If you’re outstretched on a diving play, we don’t need precision catching. We need a catch. Noted.
That said, you can and should keep the pincher pocket at the ready by continuing to play catch how you did when first breaking in the glove. This will help keep the funnel of the interior of the mitt to the pincher pocket. Will the ball always be there? No, and it doesn’t need to be. Sometimes is enough, because sometimes still offers us an advantage over never. In the end, in a sense we’ve made two gloves out of one, and while it’ll take some time to learn when to use each one, hopefully we’ve taken a small step toward turning your throwing errors to none.