Throwing the runner out is not a guessing game; it’s a preparation game. It starts with a runner on first and knowing his speed. Most likely he’ll run when he expects us to throw a strike to the batter or a slower, off-speed pitch. The biggest thing for me is anticipation with every pitch, not with counts or particular pitches. I know he’s going to go at some point, and I want to be ready at every single pitch in case he does. I can see with my peripheral vision when he breaks.
From then on, it’s just a question of all the practice I’ve put in — the footwork, the transfer of the ball from glove to throwing hand, the body’s throwing motion. Once the pitch is delivered, everything happens in the blink of an eye. It’s one fluid motion from catching, to transferring, to throwing.
When the play starts, I’m in a ready stance, very balanced. Once I see the runner moving, my feet are moving. I’m leaving my catcher’s crouch. I’m not waiting for the ball to get to me. I usually have my throwing hand right behind my glove. When I catch the ball, I turn my glove away from the pitcher toward my body. It’s not even a catch, really. I can’t waste time. It’s more like deflecting the ball to my free hand. Realistically, if I could catch the ball with my bare hand, that would be ideal. I have to find the seam almost instantaneously. I practice getting a good grip on the ball by doing drills: tossing a ball, catching it and trying to find the seams. I’ve practiced enough to get a four-seam grip almost every time, which helps the throw stay straight.
Now my feet and shoulders are perpendicular to second base. I start the throw with the ball about where my ear is. I throw right-handed, so I bend my left arm in front of me. I pull my body downward with that elbow and throw through with my other arm. I pull downward to help my throw go in a downward direction toward second base. I try to throw straight through, so there’s no unnecessary energy moving me in a different direction. When I release the ball, I flick my wrist the way a basketball player flicks his wrist when shooting. The better I flick it, the more rotations I can put on the ball. The more rotations on the ball, the faster and farther the ball will carry. I’m looking at second base, not my teammate. I’m trying to throw straight over second base about three feet off the ground. If I put it there, and my teammate is there for the catch, the runner is going to be out.
When I throw a guy out, it’s the best feeling in the world. It’s better than hitting a home run. Everybody hits home runs. Not everybody can throw people out. I like throwing guys out.
Colton Plaia is a two-time First Team All-WCC selection. He was named Conference Defensive Player of the Year after his senior season.