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4 Scenarios Where Center Fielders Should Back Up Teammates

In baseball, defense is an integral part of any successful team. Every position has its own responsibilities and an ideal way to play the game, but it seems like backing up teammates is an afterthought for most players – especially when playing outfield. So, should center fielders backup teammates?

Center fielders should backup teammates to prevent the offense from advancing extra bases. The most common scenarios are when a runner is stealing second base, during an infield hit, during a pick-off attempt at second base, and when a ball is hit to left or right field.

Right fielder in blue uniform waiting to catch a fly ball while teammate backs him up

The rest of this article will describe these four scenarios in more detail. Read on for more insights and what center fielders do in each scenario.

1. Center Fielders Back Up a Steal Attempt at Second Base

The most common time for center fielders to back up their teammates is during a steal attempt at second base.

Stolen bases can happen in a matter of seconds so it’s imperative for center fielders to always be prepared to back up the throw to second base.

While watching the pitcher deliver the pitch, center fielders must be aware of the base runner at first. If that base runner decides to steal, center fielders need to run towards second base and be prepared for the throw to get by second base.

If that throw gets past second base, a good center fielder who backs up the throw will be able to prevent the base runner from advancing to third base.

On occasion, the center fielder will get to the passed ball quick enough to have a chance to throw out that base runner at either second base or third base, depending on how far off that base runner is from either base.

2. Center Fielders Back Up Infield Hits

The center fielder is not just responsible for hits that make it to the outfield, they’re also responsible for backing up hits that stay in the infield.

There are two main ways a center fielder will be a backup during an infield hit: backing up a teammate during a hard hit ball towards the middle of the infield and backing up second base in case of a throw.

Backing Up a Hard Hit Ball in the Middle of the Infield

All players make mistakes so it’s in the best interest of the team if the center fielder is able to back up as many teammates as possible.

Whenever the offense hits a hard ground ball somewhere between the second baseman and the shortstop, there is always a chance that the ground ball will make it into the outfield. Regardless of whether your teammate is not able to get the ground ball in time or the ball simply goes through their legs, center fielders need to backup infield hits up the middle in case the ball makes it into the outfield.

Center fielders who are able to back up these hits are able to prevent the base runner from unnecessarily advancing to second base.

Backing Up Second Base During an Infield Hit

Balls are hit in the infield all the time in baseball and just because the center fielder is playing 300+ feet away doesn’t mean they are out of the play.

When a ball is hit in the infield, your teammates will be throwing the ball around to get the out. Center fielders need to back up second base in case one of their teammates makes a bad throw to second base.

If a center fielder is already in a position to back up a bad throw to second base, they can easily prevent a base runner from advancing another 90 feet.

3. Center Fielders Back Up Pick-Off Attempts at Second Base

The third, and toughest, scenario where center fielders should back up their teammates is during a pick-off attempt at second base. The purpose of a pick-off attempt is to quickly and sneakily get a base runner out by throwing to a base they are leading off from.

When done correctly, the pick-off move happens very quickly and catches most players off-guard, which includes catching the center fielder off-guard. But whenever a center fielder sees their pitcher or catcher make a pick-off attempt at second base, they should start running towards second base in case there is a passed ball.

If a pitcher or a catcher decides to throw to second base as a pick-off attempt, there is always a chance the ball gets past second base and makes its way into the outfield. So good center fielders need to be running towards second base so they are prepared for any past balls.

Pro Tip: If you are able to see that your catcher, second baseman, or shortstop is wanting the pitcher to throw to second base for a pick-off attempt, center fielders can start running towards second base before the throw occurs. Be careful though – you wouldn’t want to ruin the element of surprise that a successful pick-off attempt needs.

4. Center Fielders Backup Hits to Left and Right Field

The last scenario where center fielders should back up their teammates is when the left or right fielder gets the ball.

Chances are, your teammate will successfully field the ball, but there’s always the possibility of an error.

Sometimes, the error is mental and your teammate will misjudge the ball. This type of error happens to every player who plays outfield long enough so center fielders need to hustle over to their teammate in case they run too far in for a fly ball or too far back for a fly ball.

On the other hand, the error is sometimes that a hard hit ball simply gets by your left fielder or right fielder. When this type of error occurs, center fielders should already be on the run to back up their teammates. Good center fielders can prevent base runners from advancing an extra base or two if they are hustling to back up their left fielder or right fielder.

Why the Center Fielder Is So Important

The center fielder is often the team’s all-star player. They’re always in the spotlight and are relied upon to help their teammates when they most need it and this includes being available to backup as many teammates as possible.

So, don’t forget to hustle on every play, no matter how far away from the action you are. This will help you make some plays that might help your team to get out of a jam.

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Steve Nelson

I'm the owner of Baseball Training World. I live in Denver, Colorado and I enjoy playing baseball in an adult baseball team in the surrounding area. Read more about Steve Nelson.