Dedicated to Softball Girls with Big Hearts & Big Dreams
Oct 04, 2018
A couple weeks ago I had an encounter with a parent who didn't know I was a catching instructor. We were just chatting in a group setting about softball. His daughter was a catcher and he was talking to me about how it was so stupid that softball catchers have a straight arm when receiving pitches and come out and around pitches when they frame. He jokingly went through the silly motions that he portrayed them to be. He was more familiar with baseball framing and receiving. He did not understand the framing and receiving that a lot of softball coaches teach. My first reaction to his insensitive opinion was to be really mad and question how he could say these things. But I then had to take a step back and remind myself that he has just been misinformed. His daughter had been taught by a baseball instructor who teaches only what he knows and maybe hasn’t completely investigated the softball side of the game.
There are differences between baseball and softball along with a ton of similarities, but in order to settle the argument about which way to receive is accurate, we need to first define framing. Is it framing or is it receiving? Many people have a problem with the word “framing” because they think framing means that catchers are taking a ball and yanking it in the strike zone to become a strike. That’s not really how I see framing. I have a lot of people that I respect and have known for years that are umpires. I think it is totally disrespectful to take balls that are out of the strike zone to make them into strikes, and frankly, I don’t believe that you will get any strikes called from an umpire by practicing that technique. You are simply making him or her look silly by doing that. I see framing as simply just stopping the ball and making my pitcher’s pitch look as best as it can. There should be no movement after the ball has been received. All of the movement should happen prior to catching the ball. I don't want to be distracting to the umpire by taking the ball into the strike zone because that can make what would have been called a strike look like a ball. Some people just want to call framing “receiving” because they claim that they don't believe in framing due to the fact that it makes people think about bringing a ball into the strike zone. In my opinion, it doesn't matter what we call it, we’re just talking about stopping the ball.
First of all, let’s address the similarities between baseball and softball receiving for catchers. I do believe it's super important to have a quiet body. By having a quiet body and adjusting with small shifts to where the pitch will end up is much less distracting to the umpire. Catchers should also try to give the Umpire the best visual of the ball possible, so we want to try to keep our body quiet. I also believe that we're trying to make our pitcher look good. These things are similarities between softball and baseball.
Let’s discuss the difference in baseball in regards to receiving. Think about how the baseball pitcher releases the ball on a mound. First of all, they're starting in a super high position and the ball is being released from a high point in relation to their body. It is released around the head or shoulder area. When the ball is released high it needs to come down into the strike zone. Even a curveball is going in a downward trajectory at the same time it may be curving out of the zone. There is a distinct angle on the ball. Because of this, baseball catchers are going to be chasing the bottom of the ball when receiving. If a baseball catcher were to reach out and extend their arm for this type of a pitch, their arms are going to drop upon catching the ball and the ball will take their arm down with it due to the movement. Extension of their arm will also look as though their arm is slapping down on the ball because it is dropping. The slapping motion will make even a strike look like a ball to the umpire.
A softball pitcher does not pitch from a mound. She is on the flat surface and her ball will not be in a distinct downward trajectory. Her release point is in the strike zone. The ball is going from the strike zone and traveling to continue to be either on the plate, off the plate, or moving on a corner off the plate. Consider that the catcher sets up 2 feet behind the plate. If my pitcher pitches a curveball that kisses the outside corner and continues to move off the plate due to its movement, it will continue to travel further outside from the time it hits the plate to the time it reaches the catcher’s glove. As a catcher, the logical thing to do is to go out and meet the ball as far away from her body as she can because if not, there is more distance the ball has to travel, thus continuing to curve further and further off the plate. The closer she catches the ball to the plate, the more accurate the pitch looks to what crossed the plate. That is why a catcher will receive the ball out in front of her body. A catcher is also trying to catch the outside part of the ball that is moving. If a catcher were to catch the inside (plate side) part of the curve ball moving off the plate, it would carry her arm further off the plate. A catcher is receiving the ball on the outside part where the spin is heading towards because a rise ball, curveball and screwball are going to be headed in the directions that the spin is moving towards. A catcher is going to catch the outside part in a nice firm, straight arm. We call this sticking the pitch. We are simply meeting the ball out in front of us with a straight, firm arm while angling our body toward the center of the plate.
A low and dropping pitch, much like a baseball pitch, is coming down and spinning in a downward motion so this is a pitch that will be caught like a baseball catcher. If a softball catcher, much like a baseball catcher, were to catch the dropping pitch with a straight arm, she would be catching the top of the ball and it would pull her arm down with it. She would look like she was slapping down on the ball, much like it would if a baseball catcher were to catch a ball with a straight arm.
I believe the trajectory of the ball will influence how the ball is received. This will create differences between baseball and softball receiving and framing. Of course there are going to be some coaches that will teach a baseball style and some that teach differently for different reasons, however it's important to know the reason why you catch one way versus another. Understanding the reasons why you are doing certain fundamentals will also make you a more knowledgeable catcher and understand the philosophies behind what you are doing.