The primary responsibility of the first base coach is to make help a hitter leaving the batter’s box and any runner on first base make the best possible choices when it comes to running the bases during gameplay.
For new baseball fans or casual observers, these duties can be subtle, and it’s easy to get the impression that the first base coach does little but stand in foul territory and serve as an occasional cheerleader for the runner.
But if you pay close attention to the men beside the bag, you’ll gain an appreciation for a nuanced job that often doesn’t get the recognition it deserves.
Here, then, is a more thorough look at the duties of a first-base coach.
Help base runner read the pitcher’s pickoff moves
It is the runner’s responsibility to get back to the base on pickoff tries. However, the first base coach should be ready to support him. In particular, the coach can help identify when a pitch gets by the catcher, or when a pitcher is about to make a pickoff throw. And the first-base coach also needs to help the runner on first identify whether or not the runners in front of him are able to advance in order to avoid a collision, or running out of order.
Help the runner make the right turn
If the baseball leaves the infield, the first base coach can help the runner on first decide whether or not to keep running past second base, although the third base coach generally makes that final call. The first base coach instructs the batter on whether to stay on the bag or try for second in those scenarios, too.
Direct the baserunner all through pre-lead intervals
The first base coach plays a vital role in reminding the runner about the state of the game, the number of outs, the score, and other baserunners. The coach also helps signal the runner about the quality of the pitcher’s pickoff move and picks up the third-base coach prompt on a hit, and also stays alert for unusual positioning by the opposing fielders.
Engage with the hitter after leaving the batter’s box
One of the first-base coach’s most important duty is to help the hitter locate the baseball as he’s running, to ensure that he doesn’t put himself in peril of being thrown out. The coach should also assist the runner in locating balls hit in the air and on the ground, especially in the infield.
Assist the hitter in identifying extra-base hit
In addition to helping simply locate a batted ball, the first base coach is also charged with letting the batter know whether the ball is likely to be a double or a triple. Usually, this is done with direct verbal indications as the batter approaches first base after hitting the ball. “Looks like a double!” or “try for three!” can help the batter/runner determine whether to round the bag and head for second (or farther), or whether to pull up at first.
Scout opponents during the pre-game drill
The first-base coach is responsible for making a mental note of the overall athleticism, leg speed, and arm power of the opponents. For instance, if an outfielder doesn’t appear to have a strong throwing arm or doesn’t run well, the coach can tell his players to run aggressively against him. The first-base coach should learn about their opponents from pre-game performance and scouting rather than during the game when misjudgments can be costly.
Although the first base coach may look like an extra part loitering in foul territory near the bag, the truth is that his duties are both varied and vital. Indeed, the first base coach is a crucial part of any team’s offense, and his responsibilities — though subtle — are heavy, indeed, if his team is to succeed to its fullest capability.