This article covers the basics for the base umpires’ coverage of fly balls but also includes a section on the importance of using the eyes properly for making the catch/no catch decision Covering fly balls can be a challenging mechanic for umpires, especially umpires who have not done it a lot. It takes good pre-pitch preparation and knowing where the outfielders are positioned to make good decisions on chasing. For two-umpire specific and three-umpire specific considerations, please read the articles in those sub-categories.
Basics of coverage mechanics
• An umpire’s cover path should be parallel to the flight of the ball.
• If the ball is hit near the line, stay on the line, turn, set, and visualize.
• Stop and set before the catch/ no-catch occurs.
• If a fielder trips, rolls or falls into or over a fence, after appearing to catch the ball, move in quickly to this extended play to determine if the ball was held and is a legal catch.
• Make the signal for catch/no catch facing the play.
• Avoid the fielder’s throwing lane.
• Turn with the throw as it goes to the infield and observe the action.
Improve Your View of A Catch/No Catch
When viewing a potential catch, an umpire’s body should be set. That allows the umpire’s eyes to work at their best. Movement can distort the umpire’s view of what happened. Umpires, particularly base umpires who decide to go out to the outfield to rule on a catch/no catch situation, should be mindful of that.
After reading the ball off the bat, the umpire’s eyes should go to the reaction of the fielder to whom the ball is headed. The fielder’s reaction, not the flight of the ball, is the best place for the umpire’s eyes to help judge whether to go out.
If the decision is made to go out, being stopped and set at the moment when the attempted catch is about to be made will give an umpire’s eyes the best opportunity to see the play clearly and make the right determination. Some umpires believe that continuing to run hard toward the play to get as close as possible will make the play easier to see. However, the closer proximity gained from continuing to run toward the fielder will not compensate for the distortion caused by a moving head. As with plays on the bases, if the umpire sees a catch, his or her eyes should stay on the fielder’s glove to make sure any release of the ball is voluntary.
Umpires who are on the foul line when a long fly ball is hit over their heads face a huge challenge to the use of their eyes. Attempting to follow the flight of the softball from the bat through the air all the way to a possible home run ruling is a very difficult thing to do. Umpires are better off taking their eyes off the ball, refocusing their vision on the foul pole and then picking up the ball in time to judge its relationship to the pole as it goes out of play.
One play for both 2-ump and 3-ump systems
Since this is a play which can become a challenge for either umpire system, we will cover it here. Multiple fielders converging on a fly ball near a foul line is the plate umpire’s responsibility unless the base umpire chases. This would apply in a 2-umpire system only when the BU has a starting position at first base. A good example is the blooper just past F3’s area with both F3 and F4 attempting to make the catch.
• Umpires must remember the order of priorities: 1. Fair/four, 2. Catch/no catch. This is critically important if the fielders fail to catch the ball; everybody needs to know if it is play on (fair), or foul (dead ball).
• If the bloop is close enough to first base that the fielders are close to the path the batter-runner is using, umpires must realize that only one of the fielders is protected from interference; the other fielder(s) are at risk of obstruction.