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How to Play Center Field: It’s More Than Catching Fly Balls

A center fielder is considered the captain of the outfield and that means the center fielder has a lot of responsibilities. As someone who has played center field for most of his baseball career, I have a lot of experience in playing center field. So I decided to throw together this complete guide on how to play center field in baseball. How do you play center field in baseball?

Backside view of a center fielder in the ready position with overlaying text that reads "How to Play Center Field"

Baseball players play center field by positioning themselves in the outfield, behind second base, and fielding any baseballs that are hit in their direction. Center fielders are responsible for covering a lot of ground so players must be fast, have a good arm, and have good fielding abilities.

In this article we’ll cover everything you ever wanted to know about playing center field. Like what are the roles of a center fielder, how much ground does a center fielder cover, and what drills can a center fielder do to improve their skills.

What is a Center Fielder?

Backside view of number 23 wearing a white jersey in center field and waiting for the next pitch

Before we dive into how to play center field, let’s answer most people’s first question – what is a center fielder in baseball?

In short, the center fielder is an outfielder that covers the area of the diamond located behind second base. Center fielders are responsible for covering the most ground so center fielders tend to be one of the fastest players on the team.

Center fielders, abbreviated as “CF”, are located in the middle of the outfield so they are also considered the captain of the outfield. Center fielders are also the 8th defensive position on every baseball team. For a more in-depth look at what a center fielder is, read my other article on what is a center fielder in baseball?

The Roles of a Center Fielder

When it comes to playing center field, center fielders have two primary responsibilities: catch fly balls and field ground balls. Although these responsibilities may sound easy, these skills are not something that can be developed overnight.

Catching fly balls and fielding ground balls in the outfield is vastly different from catching fly balls or fielding ground balls in the infield. Outfielders are much further away from the ball so any ball hit will have some velocity to it.

In addition to catching and fielding baseballs, having a good depth perception is a must for anyone playing center field.

When a ball is hit off the bat, center fielders need to be able to quickly read whether they need to run back to catch the ball or they need to run in. Center fielders need to be able to judge where the ball will land so they can take the best path towards catching the ball.

Anyone who has played outfield knows the feeling you get when you see a ball hit right towards you, you start running forward to catch the ball, but then you realize the ball is actually hit very well and it’s going way over your head. Center fielders with good depth perception and experience can prevent this type of play from happening, or at least from happening too often.

In addition to the roles of catching fly balls and fielding ground balls, center fielders are also responsible for backing up their teammates and being productive members on offense. Good center fielders know how to play defense. Great center fielders know how to play defense and be productive on offense. Being productive on offense doesn’t just mean getting base hits, it also includes getting into scoring position with stolen bases.

Visit my other article to learn more about center fielder roles and responsibilities.

The Characteristics of a Good Center Fielder

Youth baseball player wearing a red jersey in the outfield is in the ready position

Not all center fielders are made alike, but the good center fielders typically share some common characteristics.

In addition to being able to field and catch, center fielders are normally one of the fastest players on the field. This is because center field is the deepest part of most ballparks so whoever plays this position needs to be fast enough to cover a lot of ground.

And because center field is one of the deepest parts of the ballpark, center fielders need to have excellent vision and depth perception. The further away you are from the ball, the harder it is to read the ball off the bat. So good center fielders need to be able to read the ball off the bat and quickly react.

Another important characteristic of good center fielders is that they can hit the ball when they are up to bat. While great defensive skills are something a baseball coach looks for, a baseball coach is also looking for someone who will help the team score runs. So hitting is just as important to coaches as fielding ability.

While I only covered a few of the characteristics here, I also wrote another article on what makes a good center fielder. Visit my other article to learn more about the 9 characteristics of good center fielders.

Center Field is the Deepest Part of the Diamond

A center field fence that reads "400" indicates the baseball diamond is 400 feet to center field

When it comes to the amount of ground to cover, center fielders cover the most ground in almost every ballpark. This is due to the center field fence being the furthest away from home plate than the left-field fence or right-field fence.

While not all ballparks have the same dimensions, it’s standard practice for center field to have the longest fence out of any other position. How long is the center field fence?

In Major League Baseball, the center field fence is usually around 400 feet away from home plate while the left and right field fences are around 325 feet away from home plate. Keep in mind that these are just general distances and each ballpark varies in how far away the fence is from home plate.

When it comes to youth baseball, center field will be somewhere between 200 to 300 feet from home plate, depending on the type of youth league.

While these are just generalities, they also provide a good framework for understanding how far away center field is from home plate. Learn more about the dimensions of center field in baseball.

Where Should Center Fielders Stand?

Illustration showing how much of the outfield a center fielder will normally cover

There is a lot of ground to cover in center field so knowing where to stand is paramount for center fielders.

When thinking about where to stand in center field, the natural position most people think of is in the middle of the outfield, directly behind second base. Although this is a great starting place, standing here will prevent players from seeing the bat hit the ball because the pitcher will be in the way.

Center fielders should stand a little to the left or right of the pitcher’s mound so they can clearly see the ball off of the bat. Standing at this slight angle will allow the center fielder to get a better jump on any ball hit their way.

When it comes to depth, center fielders should stand at a depth that is roughly in the middle of second base and the outfield fence.

These are just general recommendations for where center fielders can stand in the outfield. Additional adjustments can be made depending on the type of hitter at the plate. One example would be if a hitter likes to pull the ball, the center fielder can position themselves a little more towards the hitter’s pull side.

Learn more about where to stand in center field.

Good Center Fielders Know Their Cutoff Man

Once a center fielder has fielded a ground ball or caught a fly ball, they need to know where they’ll be throwing the ball to. Depending on the number of base runners and where the ball was hit, the center fielder could be throwing to any infielder as their cutoff man.

In most cases, the center fielder will be throwing to the shortstop or the first baseman as their cutoff man. On occasion, the second baseman will be the cutoff man if the ball is hit more towards right field. And on rare occasions, the third baseman will be the cutoff man if the play is at home and the ball was hit more towards left field.

There are a handful of scenarios for center fielder to know when determining who they will be throwing to as their cutoff man. In fact, there are 4 main scenarios for center fielders to know. Learn more about who is the cutoff man for center fielders.

Center Fielders Back Up Their Teammates

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

When playing center field, there is more to defense than catching fly balls, fielding ground balls, and throwing to your cutoff man. Center fielders are also responsible for backing up their teammates.

Although center fielders should back up any teammate they can reasonably assist, the most common scenarios for center fielders to back up teammates would be when the opposing team is stealing second base, when the pitcher is making a pick-off attempt to second base, and when the ball is hit to left or right field.

Learn more about the 4 scenarios where center fielders should back up teammates.

Center Fielders Use Larger Gloves on Defense

Closeup of a hand demonstrating how to wear a batting glove under a fielding glove

Although there is not a rule for how long a baseball player’s glove has to be, it’s common knowledge that outfielders use larger gloves than infielders. This is because outfielders need to cover more ground and using a larger glove allows outfielders an extra few inches for catching baseballs.

Adults typically wear an outfielder glove that is around 12.50 to 12.75 inches, but they can normally wear a glove up to about 13 inches.

Each league has its own set of rules for how long a player’s glove can be so it’s usually best to check your league’s rules. Although in Major League Baseball, the maximum length of a player’s glove is 13 inches.

Youth baseball outfielders usually wear a glove that is around 11 inches in length.

When it comes to selecting your glove size, personal preference also plays a part. Read more about what size glove should a center fielder wear.

Is Center Field a Good Position in Baseball?

Center field is a good position in baseball and is usually referred to as the captain of the outfield. Center fielders have the most responsibility in the outfield. Because they are located in the middle of the outfield, they can easily talk to the left and right fielders to make any adjustments they think will help the defense get an out.

So if you’re a fast player, have great fielding abilities, and have leadership skills, center field is a good position to play in baseball.

Read more about the 9 reasons center field is a good position in baseball.

Drills to Improve as a Center Fielder

All baseball players want to be the best they can be at their position. The good news is that there are plenty of drills a player can do to increase their skills, the bad news is that there are just as many bad drills.

As someone who has done a lot of outfield drills, I’ve put together a list of the top drills outfielders can do to become better defensively. These range from drills as simple as learning how to catch a fly ball, to learning how to communicate with other outfielders, to learning how to catch fly balls at the wall.

Read about the best 14 drills for any baseball outfielder.

Photo of author

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.

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