A relatively common play in softball is the attempt to turn a double play involving a runner on first base and the batter-runner. The use of the word “attempt” is deliberate as it is often more difficult to turn this infield hit into a double play in softball than in baseball. We will focus on the play at 2b as the mechanics for force plays at first base is already an article in this section of the Mechanics Corner. The mechanics are slightly different between the two-umpire and three-umpire systems.
The mechanics for covering this play are relatively straight-forward when there is a runner on first base only in the 3-umpire system and all throws are on-line. U3’s starting position near second base allows the umpire to wait at the base, read the play, and adjust as the play develops. This is a force play and rarely does the fielder have to make a tag unless the throw makes this a necessity. If this happens, quickly get to a wedge position to see the tag.
For the typical force play, the starting position is advantageous as U3 is near 2b and can easily get into a position to see the force play. The key to good movement:
• Read the play and move to the area to best see the throw enter the glove of the fielder covering 2b
• While keeping the front of the base in view.
• Avoid moving to a position which puts the umpire directly behind the throw into 2b.
U3 should stay with the play after the fielder throws the ball to first base, watching for any interference by the retired runner.
U1 will be in this position and responsible for both ends of this double-play situation for three of the possible runner configurations: R1/R2, R1/R3, and bases loaded. U1 must read the play early to see where the initial throw will be.
• When it is to 2b – commit to the force play at 2b then immediately turn with the throw to first base, closing as much distance as possible before being set for the play at 1b.
• When it is to 1b – commit to the force play at 1b then quickly glance and start moving toward 2b for a possible back-pick tag play on R1 at 2b.
Many things can make this play explode into other situations – the ball is dropped on the initial throw, the throw from 2b is wild, etc. Be ready to keep umpiring if this “typical” double-play becomes untypical.
The eyes have it
For both U1 and U3, this is another play situation on the bases where proper use of the eyes is important. Have the body set and not too close to the play.
• The umpire’s eyes will start on the bag.
• While the umpire listens for the ball to hit the fielder’s glove, his or her eyes need to move up to the ball as the fielder makes the exchange from catch to throw.
• If the ball falls to the ground, a judgment may be needed on whether there was an initial catch by the fielder and the ball came loose on that exchange.
• The base umpire will then need to move the eyes to the sliding runner in relation to the fielder.
• Take a good look at the direction of the slide into the bag and whether any contact was made that altered the play.
The mechanics for the typical 2b/1b double-play in a two-umpire system are the same as the three-umpire system when U1 is counter-rotated (see above). The only additional guidance in the Manual is – if the initial throw is to 2b with no possibility for a double play, commit to 2b. This would most likely occur if the batter executed a good sacrifice bunt. After the play at 2b, glance at 1b for any potential action there.
Use the same “The eyes have it” information (above) for the two-umpire system as well.