Do You Protect the Batter or Catcher?

From, March 9, 2018

A few situations come up over the years that may leave you wondering whom to protect — batter or catcher?  Is it catcher obstruction?  Or batter interference?  Or a collision?  Having a firm grasp on whom to protect will allow you to make the calls and explain to questioning coaches.

Protecting the catcher

A left-handed batter is up with two strikes. As the pitch comes in, the batter semi-slapped late and hit the catcher’s glove as the ball was about to enter the glove. The plate umpire called “dead ball” and the third-base coach immediately yelled, “The bat hit the glove.” All the PU could do was agree and the coach replied, “That’s obstruction.”
The PU gathered the crew to confirm that they heard the bat hit the glove and that it was catcher obstruction. One umpire felt the contact was unusually late and didn’t warrant an obstruction call. The PU ruled strike three.
Per the NCAA Softball Case Book, A.R.9-12, “The batter is protected prior to the pitch reaching the plate or on her attempt to contact the pitch which means contact during those times would be catcher obstruction.  However, the catcher is protected after the pitch reaches the plate or if the batter was trying to draw an obstruction call while taking the pitch which means contact during those times would be batter interference.”

Protecting the catcher II

A right-handed batter started every pitch of each at bat turned with the bat over the plate. She would then bring her bat back and either take the pitch or swing. There were no problems until her third at-bat with two strikes. She brought the bat back late on what was judged to be a strike and hit the catcher’s glove. The ball didn’t touch the bat and was caught by the catcher. Again, catcher obstruction jumped into the PU’s head until he had a moment to reflect. He called, “Dead ball, batter out on interference.”
Right-handed batters often start turned with the bat out for usually one of three reasons: The first is to cover a steal. They are taught to bring the bat back hopefully blocking the catcher’s view of the pitch and late to hinder the catcher’s chance at throwing out the runner. Some bring the bat back in an unnatural path and if it contacts the catcher’s glove, that should be ruled interference. The second is for a timing device, especially against a slower pitcher, or to guard against a change-up. The third is to try to draw the infield in and then pull back and hit.
However, some batters move far up in the box and catchers are taught to move up with them. The rules say the catcher is restricted to the catcher’s box until the pitch is released unless the batter is in front of the batter’s box and then the catcher may move up out of their box. Some catchers push way up and catch the ball over the plate.

Protecting the batter

Then there is the situation with a right-handed batter hitting or bunting the ball in front of the plate and, as the batter is going to first and the catcher comes out to play the ball, there is a collision.
The NCAA Softball Case Book, A.R. 12-30, states “Each player at this point is acting appropriately…”  Basically, the runner has a right to run to first and the catcher has a right to field the ball. The plate umpire must rule if the batter did anything out of the normal to interfere or if the catcher did anything unnatural to obstruct.
Sometimes it is best to give a “safe” signal and call nothing as both players were acting accordingly.
The batter and the catcher always start every pitch in close proximity. Use good judgment and make a clear ruling when there is contact between the two and be ready to explain your call to whomever doesn’t benefit from your call.