Amazing In-Game Practice
Cheff said he came up with a unique in-game practice regimen for infielders to help them become better at double plays in the Alaska League six years ago because of the lack of practices. Almost every day the team is playing a game or traveling for a game just like teams in the minor leagues.
"The structure of the pre-game BP for a high school or college coach is just critical. My first year as a coach in Alaska, I did something a bit different during games. We had four guys who were playing an infield position they didn’t play in college. I told the kids that at the end of the year we would be the best double play team in summer collegiate base-ball.
"I told our infielders we could turn up to 12 double plays during the approximate two minute warm up time our pitcher had when we ran out to play defense. After nine innings was over, that infield double play total reached approximately 85. By the time we played 50 games, we turned over 4,000 double plays during this warm up time. This is in addition to all our practices and pre-games."
Cheff was asked how in the world this system worked.
"Instead of going out between innings and letting the first base-man roll the ball out where infielders flip it back to him, which is totally non-productive, I thought it would help the infielders grow more by going to a different system.
"When we take the field on defense, we have the third base-man and shortstop take a ball with them to their positions. The third baseman takes three steps to his right with the ball in his glove and simulates a backhand play. He fires the ball to the second baseman who relays the throw to first. The first baseman keeps the ball. The shortstop, with ball in his glove, takes three steps to his right and also simulates a backhand and throws the ball to second base which is turned for a double play. The first baseman immediately turns and throws the ball back to the second baseman and keeps the other ball in his glove.
"Now the second baseman goes backhand three steps to his right with the ball in his glove and flip feeds the ball to the shortstop who turns it and fires the ball to first base. Now the first baseman comes off the bag and simulates a backhand play and fires the ball to the shortstop covering second who then fires it back to first base. The first baseman then fires the two balls he has in his glove back to the third baseman and shortstop to start the process all over again.
"With those kids in Alaska, we were shooting for 12 double plays between each inning in a little under two minutes. But we don’t just simulate the back hand. We would simulate every double play you could think of. And we would have a sequence in how we did it. The coaches would watch for proper footwork and proper throwing angle, give a good feed, etc. We incorporated all aspects of the double play between innings. I asked our players if we could incorporate this system into the game every night and still be fresh to play the game. They said yes. It worked extremely well.
"Inevitably what would happen is that in the late innings the third baseman would get a hard hit down the line. He would take three steps to backhand that ball and be forced to make a great feed to the second baseman for a double play to be turned. The third baseman just did it three minutes ago. Here he has been doing it the whole game. Look at the pivot man (second baseman or shortstop). He has been turning double plays the whole game and is ready.
"The players have two minutes between innings. Should they just stand out there or utilize the time wisely and work on double plays? I started doing that up in Alaska about six years ago out of necessity. Think about it. That is over 4,000 extra double plays over 50 games. By the time we play in a tournament, we are 4,000 double plays ahead of where another team may be in addition to all the double plays we turned in practices."