Sometimes the best sports plays are the ones that are unplanned.
During the 2001 American League Division Series between the Oakland Athletics and the New York Yankees, shortshop Derek Jeter made one of these plays. After a seventh-inning throw from the outfield sailed over both cutoff men, an out-of-position Jeter flipped the ball to his catcher, who then tagged out the runner and preserved the Yankee lead. New York went on to win the game 1-0 and the series 3-2.
"If Jeter doesn't catch the ball, the ball hits me – that's how far off the mark it was," on-deck hitter Ramon Hernandez told ESPN. "Jeter made an unbelievable, heads-up play. Then, he makes a great throw to boot. Unbelievable."
Of course, the Jeter play is a once-in-a-lifetime event. Outfielders rarely overthrow both cutoff men and shortstops are rarely prepared to make such a heads-up play. Still, youth players should understand that the play could have easily turned into a disaster if not for Jeter.
Coaches who take time to prepare for these occurrences by teaching their players proper relay technique are unlikely to find themselves in a scenario like the one witnessed that October night in Oakland.
The best drill to teach players how to successfully relay the ball home involves a race between multiple teams of three players each – an outfield, an infielder and a catcher. The ball begins in the baseball gloves of the outfielders. When the coach says so, outfielders throw the ball toward their respective infielders, who then relay the ball on to their next teammate. A weak or offline throw could send a team to last place, so the activity should be done multiple times, with points given to winning teams.
Coaches can also try their own drills to teach this skill or they can find more information on YouthBaseball Plans.com, while parents can do their part by supporting their children by purchasing them Rawlings baseball gloves and other baseball equipment.