Trick plays are the shadowy dark alley of baseball. You may save time by cutting through the alley and getting an out, or your trip down the alley could cost your team with an error. Throughout my baseball career, I’ve seen trick plays of all shapes and sizes. Some of my favorites have worked brilliantly. Others have been, well, memorable.
When I was in sixth grade, I was catcher for my team. The pitchers were still developing and some were having trouble getting the ball over the plate, but that’s not unusual at that age. In our practices, we had been going over “pitchouts” and finally we got our chance to try out our new play. I was ready, with a guy on first and one out. I casually gave the sign for the pitchout, which happened to be putting my hand on my knee. My 12-year-old imagination was running wild with how cool this would look: me, getting this guy out by a mile. The windup came and the pitch was delivered. I jumped up, ready to catch the ball; but, to my surprise (and everyone else’s), the ball soared over the backstop and out of play. Trust me, seeing a pitch fly over the backstop is something you don’t forget easily. My shot at glory was ruined and, to pour salt in the wound, the runner who had already reached second got to advance to third!
Not all trick plays end so badly. My freshman year, I was in left field and there was a guy on third. The play was called from the dugout, “Austin, come in a little!” That was my cue. I stealthily shifted in towards Brandon, my third baseman. I carefully avoided the gaze of the other team’s third-base coach—if he saw me, it was ruined. I took up post, 25 feet behind Brandon. I was ready and in position. The pick-off move started and, as Drew came to the set position, I ran behind the third-base coach nearly out of bounds. Drew threw to Brandon, but way high—almost six feet over his head. I was waiting and ready and caught the ball. The third-base runner, who had assumed it had been over-thrown, was barreling towards home. We got him, hook, line and sinker! I threw him out at the plate. That was fun.
However, being the victim of a trick play can be one of the worst things to happen during a ball game. It was the simplest of trick plays—the hidden ball trick. I was in sixth grade, playing in a mid-season game. I was on first, after drawing a walk, and was planning to take second on the next pitch. The other team called time-out, and the whole infield met on the mound. I wasn’t paying attention. Maybe I was waving at my parents, perhaps I was looking at the girls in the bleachers, but I definitely wasn’t paying attention to what was happening on the mound. The meeting ended, the first baseman returned and the game was back on. Their pitcher was waling around the mound, taking his time. What was he doing? I decided to take a premature lead—I mean, what could possibly happen? Slap! The mitt slammed down on my back and I was OUT! The first baseman had had the ball all along. From that day forward, I have always paid close attention to the game—on and off the field.
Trick plays are a big part of baseball. Even though you may not see them too often, their use may make or break the game wide open. One thing they have taught me over the years is to pay attention and learn the rules. For instance, stay on the base until the pitcher addresses the rubber, and then take your lead. Secondly, be aware of where everyone is, on the field. You don't want some pesky outfielder sneaking up on you. Field awareness can make you a better player and, for me, has made baseball a blast to play.