1. Watch where the batter sets up in the box. Is he a homerun hitter or does he move the ball around. This is when you decide to shade towards the gap depending on whether he is a left or right handed batter.
2. Set up at least 15’ from the fence. Dave Neale taught me this one night in Detroit against Shen Valley/TPS, after about 5 balls got behind me & just over the fence. Where if I were deeper, I would have caught them. Its always easier to come in on a ball & also playing deep allows you to get up the fence a little faster. The balls get out to you a lot faster in a smaller park.
3. Watching the pitchers delivery is key. A ball over the middle of the plate or in, is when you make your move & this is where you can gain an edge. (moving on the pitch) This meaning, you can literally start your momentum or even walking towards the left or right field gap. The batter will, 9 out 10 times pull that ball or hit it straight away.
4. The next important thing that will help is to use a drop step towards either gap. As you are moving according to the pitch, & the batter makes contact, the first instinct is to move back for just that split second. The trick is to not get caught moving more than a drop step. This is where you will get beat on a liner in front of you if you are caught staggering backwards. The drop step enables you to make your move in any direction because you are on your toes & able to pivot, also. Knees will automatically be in the bent position, which also lets you explode to the ball.
5. Referring back to #3. When you are looking in at home plate & watching the pitch, the swing is a big indicator on your first movement towards the ball. If the batter swings & you can see he has really tattooed it, obviously your drop step will be going back. On the swing, I look to see if the batter came through the bottom or top of the ball. You can tell this by how the batter rolled his wrists. If he came up over the top on a higher pitch, most times there will be top spin on the ball & it will be coming down, hopefully where you can make attempt to catch it. Or, if he came through smooth on the ball & under it, he probably has cut the ball & it will have back spin making the ball carry & rise. If you can see that the batter got tied up on his swing or the pitcher caught him off balance, you have to be ready for any type of spin & really try to lock in on the ball , because it can be going anywhere.
6. The Knuckle Ball. The worst ball for an outfielder to catch! The batter usually has just taken a good swing & has hit it square in the middle with no spin. Lock in on it & try to get to the area where you think it will eventually fall. Then, go after it like its a beach ball. Your mitt open, palm out & the same with your bare hand. You never know when that ball might make a sudden left turn or drop off the table. I was next to Doug Kissane when he got hit in the lower lip on one he tried to basket catch off of Wendell Rickard in the ASA World Series & he went after the ball just as I stated, but it jumped on him at the last second. Another trick on knuckle balls is to try & snatch at it before the ball can make that crazy drop off or turn. Use your own discretion on this last one.
7. Last but not least. When camping under a fly ball, align yourself so that the ball will be caught at your chest level. Its better to be coming in at the ball then to get caught back peddling. (cardinal sin of an outfielder) Always use two hands when catching a fly ball. Also, when positioning yourself under the ball & catching it at chest level, have your throwing hand right there next to your glove so that you waste no time getting the ball out of your glove to make a throw. This will also give you more time to get at the seams on the ball for a straighter throw to the base.
Here is a photo of Rob receiving the 1999 USSSA Men's Major World Series Defensive Player Award.
Presenting him the award is USSSA Assistant Executive Director Gary Wallick.