Jim Crane's Keystone Combination Tips

It is thought best here to cover second base and shortstop in one since they both are so similar and if they do not react as one they are not performing as they should. It is felt here that the word Keystone means more than the dictionary explanation of "locks its members together." The first three letters "KEY"--this can open or close and a second base and shortstop can open or close the doors in a ballgame. Think of all the different plays that are handled by these two during a game; they are many and varied. The plays cannot be listed but have to be experienced in the actual game to be of benefit. The communication between these two players is essential and cannot be overlooked. The old baseball adage "strength up the middle" still holds true over the past hundred years and will undoubtedly stay that way for the next hundred.

1. Position:
The infielders position should be assumed by these two players, that is: feet spread comfortably apart, hands resting on the knees with the trunk of the body bent at the waist. The weight of the body is to be slightly forward resting on the balls of the feet. These two players especially must be ready to go in any direction since they are required to cover more ground than any of the other infielders. The
2. Charging the Ball:
As was stated, all the plays handled by the second baseman and shortstop cannot be noted so we will cover the fundamentals and from there you must play ballgames and practice. The ball should be charged from these positions since these fielders are at the farthest point from the hitter. By charging the ball is meant taking one, two or more steps in towards the ball. You are to play the ball, not let the ball play you; this is how you can cut down on the amount of bad hops you have to handle. A good second baseman and shortstop always keep their body in front of the ball and only take a ground ball on the side when they cannot possibly catch up to the ball in any other manner.
3. Throwing the Ball:
The only position that will be discussed differently between these two are the throwing positions. A shortstop must have a stronger arm because of the longer throw from his position than the second baseman's/ The shortstop must learn that he has three different positions to throw from: overhand, when a ball is hit deep, sidearm when he has to go to his right and does not have the time to plant his right foot and straighten up and throw, and underhand on very short hit balls. These throwing positions will come to you either by instinct or experience but mostly experience.
The second baseman, on the other hand, will almost always thrown sidearm across his body due to his position with the first baseman. All balls hit directly at him, if his body is in the correct position (body directly in front of the ball), will dictate that he flips the ball sidearm across his body to the first baseman.
4. Balls Hit to the Right Side:
The toughest plays for the keystone combination are balls hit to the right side. This causes them to be going away from first base, at which point they must pick up the ground ball, stop, plant their right foot, turn, and fire the ball to the first baseman. The term fire the ball is just what is meant; an ordinary throw will not make the play. Something extra has to be put on the throws in order to make the out and here is the play that separates the average ballplayer from the exceptional. Watch a big leaguer and see how his teammates react when he makes the play to his right side. Fans can be taken in by a "fancy dan" who can make an average play look hard, but a ballplayer knows a great fielding play when he sees one.
5. Communication:
The word communication was used in relation to the shortstop and second baseman and this can be interpreted both vocally and by action. Vocally we all understand helping each other by calling out, but action is especially true in working together. Let's analyze one of the prettiest plays in baseball: The Double Play!
6. The Double Play:
Here is where a second baseman and shortstop make it or break it. The thing for these players to do is know each other like a book. How fast is the other player, how strong is his arm and how good are his reflexes. These attributes can only be realized by observation and constant practice. It's too late to realize a fault in the middle of a game when the outcome can be decided by a double play. The most important mechanical part of the double play is feeding the ball to the player covering second base. There is only one place your throw should be--shoulder high. If possible, the ideal spot is off the right shoulder since this will enable the man pivoting to receive the throw, hit the bag with his foot and throw on to first base in one continuing motion. Complicated? You bet and only hours and hours of constant practice and helping each other will perfect a good double play combination.
7. Feeding the Ball:
If you noticed the use of the word "feeding" this should indicate an important application of your throw. A ball thrown too high is almost impossible to handle if thrown from a short distance. A ball thrown too slowly will throw the pivot man off stride and he cannot pivot properly and at best can only hope to get the forceout at second. This takes us back to our opening sentences concerning the double play, "how fast is the other player, how strong is his arm and how good are his reflexes."
8. Pivoting:
In pivoting on the double play the second baseman has probably the toughest move in baseball. He is running towards second base, has to catch the ball thrown to him, and then has to hit the bag with his foot while making a forty-five degree angle turn towards first base when throwing the ball. In practice, this may sound easy, but don't forget in a game you have a runner who has the right and opportunity to knock the seconc baseman down with his slide. The second baseman has a "blind side" during three quarters of this play and without the proper timing he cannot hope to make this play. In starting off, it has been found that if a second baseman runs to the bag as soon as the ball is hit to the third baseman or shortstop he can take a standing position next to the bag, receive the throw and just take one step and throw onto first base. This is much easier than going through the pivot, but by practicing he should learn how to do the following:
  1. when the ground ball is hit to the left, start your stride towards second base
  2. time your run to get to the base one step behind the arrival of the throw
  3. take the throw on the run, hitting the inside edge of the bag with the left foot
  4. push off the left foot towards the pitcher's mound
  5. throw the ball across your chest to the first baseman
There is one variation some second baseman like to use and that is to drag the right foot across the bag and thereby eliminate the possibility of tripping or slipping off the base. The follow through and throw are the same in both motions.
One thing to remember on this play is to make sure of the forceout. Do not be in such a hurry that you do not have possession of the ball or you missing tagging second as you go by. This can happen on a poor throw so as you get to the bag "go with the throw." That is if the ball is thrown to the inside step towards the inside of the bag. If the ball is thrown towards the outfield side step on the outfield side of the bag.
9. The Shortstop Pivot:
The shortstop has an easier pivot because he receives his throw usually from the first baseman or second baseman and play is always in front of him. As he takes the throw he hits the bag with his inside or left foot and pivots slightly towards the mound as he throws on to first. He can also drag his right foot behind the outfield corner of the bag and throw straight on. After practicing, an infielder will realize which pivot is more suitable for himself.
10. Double Plays Involving the Pitcher:
On double plays where the pitcher has fielder a ground ball most people feel the shortstop should take the throw unless he and the second baseman have made it up beforehand that the batter is a right handed pull hitter and it is better for the second baseman to handle the throw.