Defensive Drills from the Pecan Park Sandlot.

Red Sox Players Imitating the Pecan Park "Bloop" Drill.

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article on the little games we played on the Sandlot grasses of Eagle Field in the East Houston neighborhood that was Pecan Park during the immediate Post World War II years. Today I would like to carry that thought further to include the drills we simply devised for fun when only as few as two or three of us were available, We didn’t do these thing because we thought of them as work. We did them because they challenged us to get better, to find out how fast and quick we could be on all kinds of twisting, darting liners and grounders, to see how far we could run, jump, and still make out-play-catches on a fly ball,  All we needed for these drills was two people to have lots of fun, but three was even better because it taught us more about how we had to cooperate to be good defensive players.

Here’s a sampling:

(1) The Bloop Drill. The object here was to work on catching balls that might fall between the infield and outfield for bloop Texas League hits. We needed two people to play the two IF/OF spots and one person to either fungo or else, throw slow arching balls that had a chance of falling into the space between the two fielders. We were playing our version of “bloop” on the day that Houston Buff infielder Jack Cusick stopped by to work with us on his way to Buff Stadium. Cusick liked our bloop drill, but he suggested on addition that made it even better – after watching a couple of us collide on an attempted catch.

“Somebody’s gotta call for it,” said Cusick, “and that guy should be the outfielder coming in. He’s got the view on things and whether or not he can make the play. If the outfielder yells, ‘I got it,’ the infielder needs to peel off and let him take it. If the outfielder is in doubt, he needs to keep his mouth shout and peel away so he doesn’t hit the infielder, but stay in the area for the ball in case it drops in.” – After adopting the Cusick suggestion, the bloop drill got to be even more fun. – Wish Cusick had come back for other coaching visits. We might have even gotten smart with a little baseball help.

Long before Willie Mays's famous catch in 1954, he inspired us to practice a drill we humbly called "The Catch."

(2) The Catch. You only needed two people and you could play it anywhere. Of its many variations, the object was to catch an arching fly ball that was thrown over your head as the fielder. One version was “The Willie,” where, just as Willie does in the picture, you try to catch the ball looking up over your shoulder, either basket-style or by a more conventional grab.

(3) Off the Wall. In this version of “the catch” drill, we worked on catching balls that were headed toward the side of the house (our make-believe outfield wall) either on a leaping out-grab or by the best carom shot angle we could take on the play. Had we ever played a real game next to our garage, I could have been the deadliest defensive outfielder in the game.

(4) Shoestrings. Yep. We drilled ourselves on the art of the shoestring catch for hours at a time. It paid off for me several times over, but most importantly later on when I was playing center field in a parochial school CYO all-star game and managed to pull a shoestring catch out of my jock strap for the third out in a bases loaded situation. That had to be the highlight of my fleeting baseball glory, but all that work we put in for fun over the years had prepared me well for it. It wasn’t my first shoestring catch of record.

We also did conventional infield drills all the time back on the sandlot – and we loved going to Buff Stadium to watch the teams take infield practice prior to games. It was like watching a dance – or a game of shadow ball that could only help players get better and the logic behind why even the pros did these things back in the day made sense to us too.

You get better at things you practice. It’s fundamental.

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One Response to “Defensive Drills from the Pecan Park Sandlot.”

  1. David Munger Says:

    My dad told me onetime you rarely see players working on their weaknesses. Seems like a lost art.

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