Most of this article has been taken from the Referee.com article Next Level Softball Umpiring – On the Bases.
Other articles on this Locker Room discuss the mechanics for positioning by the base umpire for play calls on the bases. This article will go into more detail for the very common play – positioning for the force play at first base.
Routine ground balls
As contact is made, you read the angle of the ball and start moving into the field of play, attaining a distance of no more than 18’ and staying within a 30o to 50o angle to first base. You see the fielder gather the ground ball cleanly. At that time, you need to start reading the fielder and her release point. You will want to track the throw until it gets to about 10’ to 15’ from the base. Then focus your attention on the base, specifically the front of the base. That’s because players are taught to hit the front of the base with their foot. At that time your body and eyes should be set. You are listening for the sound of the ball impacting the glove and watching the batter-runner to make sure her foot contacts the base.
No matter if the play is routine or unusual, there are three things to keep in mind on every play at first base: First, did the runner make contact with the base? Second, was the first baseman in contact with the base when she secured possession of the ball? And third, did she field the throw cleanly? Now you are ready to rule on the play.
Thrown ball that takes the first baseman up the line
Those types of plays can happen at any time. When you read a ground ball off the bat, you will repeat your footwork to get in your initial starting position. When you are in the process of tracking the ball and realize the throw is going to take the first baseman toward right field, what do you do? On that type of play, take a “read step” toward the first-base line to get an angle on the play. If the throw from the fielder is taking the first baseman up the line, the first baseman will try to stay in contact with the base on the outfield side of the bag. When taking the “read step,” it is extremely important to stop moving and get your body and eyes set. You do not want to take the play while moving.
Thrown ball that takes the first baseman toward the plate
When you read a ground ball off the bat, repeat your footwork to your initial starting position. When you are in the process of tracking the ball, you realize the throw is going to take the first baseman toward the plate. What do you do? You will want to take a “read step” toward second base to open your viewing window of first base. Again, when you take a “read step,” get your body and eyes set.
High throw, swipe tag
When you are in the process of tracking the ball, you realize the throw is going to be high and the first baseman is going to have to leave her feet to secure the throw and then make a swipe attempt at the runner. Where do you go from there? When a runner realizes there is going to be a high throw, she normally stays upright. When a runner does that, she will more than likely attempt to go to the foul side of the bag and stab her foot to make contact with the base.
The first baseman on the other hand will try to swipe with a downward angle, and if she makes contact it is usually on the upper part of the runner’s body, more specifically the helmet or the back. From your initial starting position, take a “read step” toward second base to open your viewing window to see the back of the runner. You will have to keep in mind the following: Was a tag made? If a tag was made, did the fielder secure the ball throughout the entire process of the play? Did the runner make contact with the base?
When you are in the “A” position, you should take as many plays in fair territory as possible. However there are times when that is just not possible. Only then is it acceptable to go into foul territory. The CCA Manual give us this guidance: “You may use foul territory only if necessary.”
When a ball is hit to the second baseman or right fielder and she has to make a play toward the first-base line, that is called “pressure” from a fielder. In that case, it is acceptable to take a couple steps into foul territory to make your judgment on the play. That will allow you to track the ball from the second baseman and read the throw. The last thing you want is to be in fair territory and have a throw from the second baseman hit you in the back. Get your body and eyes set and take a read step, if you need it.