Over the past few tournaments, there has been yelling, drama, more yelling, followed by explanations and then bouts of disbelief.

And that is just at the snack shack.

The field, and backstop fence, has its own experience.

See our 2019 USA Bat Reviews

Much of this is caused by a mash-up of zealous parents, coaches and umpires bringing their own version of rules to the game. High school, MLB and Little League all come crashing together with whatever else the tournament director wants that weekend.

Here, we keep it simple. These are seven common rule occurrences that are often misunderstood. With MLB and college level video examples below.

Dropped Third Strike (Swinging OR Looking)

One of the hardest things for a batter to remember (especially at a younger age) is the dropped third strike rule.  It is hard enough to have gone down in defeat to the pitcher. But, now everyone is screaming at you to run to first base because the catcher just dropped the ball. There is typical confusion from players and parents, but here are the rules:

  • A dropped third strike is possible when first base is vacant or is occupied with two outs.
  • Note: A runner stealing from 1st to 2nd on the 3rd strike pitch does NOT make 1st base “vacant.”
  • To complete a strike out, the catcher must catch the ball in his glove.
  • If she does not catch it then the runner can attempt to run to 1st base and be safe unless thrown or tagged out.

Note, too, that with 2 outs and an occupied 1st base, the runners are forced to run to the next base. That player, or any in front of him, could be forced out with a tag of the bag too. So, for example, bases loaded with two outs and a dropped third strike won’t require a throw to first. Instead, the catcher can simply secure the ball and step on the plate before the runner on third gets home.

Foul Tip Catch

Many times during a youth game, the foul tip catch situation comes into play.  When the ball is fouled directly into the catcher’s mitt–without going above the batter’s head, it is considered a strike. Even on the third strike.

What is often missed is that the play is live. I have witnessed a few times during games where coaches threw back to first thinking they could double up the runners who stole. There is no tag up rule on a foul tip catch, it is not a fly out but a strike out.

Infield Fly Rule

When an infield fly rule occurs, typically two things occur:

  1. The hitting team coach lets out words of frustration, and
  2. Half of the stands full of parents want to know what just happened.

An infield fly rule is called when there are less than two outs with runners on first and second or the bases loaded AND a pop fly occurs that an umpire considers to be caught by an infielder with “ordinary effort”. The ump should proclaim “infield fly” and the batter is automatically out regardless if the ball is caught.

Runner’s can advance but must tag up if the ball is caught.

Three Parts to the Infield Fly

  1. Umpire’s judgement: This is always a touchy subject as umpires have different degrees of judgement. But, the idea that a ball is caught with “ordinary effort” by an infielder is a judgement call. And, in some cases, the ball does not need to be directly in the “infield” for it to be called.
  2. Catchable by an infielder:  The fly ball or pop-up which is deemed fair, could be caught with ordinary effort by an infielder.  The key to this play is that the infielder doesn’t even have to attempt to catch the ball.  This is a huge judgement call, especially at the younger age groups as “ordinary effort” has such varying degrees.
  3. Ordinary effort: Ordinary effort considers all factors.  This one is really a downer in lower age groups as it is sometimes a challenge to catch the ball, let alone have a effort that is not a pure judgement call by the umpire.

Arguments occur on this from time to time, the best thing to do is accept the fate delivered by the umpire and more on.

The key is having an umpire with the correct skill set and experience to make the call.  A little known fact is that if the infield fly is caught, the runners must treat is as a caught ball and tag up if they would like to try to advance to the next base.  If the infield fly is called, but the ball lands fair and is not caught, the runners do not have to tag up and are free to advance to the next base (at their own risk).

Base Runner Interference

Base runner interference is when a runner gets in the way of a fielder attempting to field the ball. Four points to consider:

  • This can even occur when a runner is within the baseline.
  • A runner must give the fielder a clean and unimpeded opportunity to field the ball.
  • Any contact by the runner with the fielder trying to make a play should be called interference and the runner is out.
  • A runner should leave the baseline to avoid contact with a fielder attempting to make a play on the ball.

Getting Hit By the Ball

A runner is out if they are hit the ball ONLY if the ball has not passed or been touched by a fielder. For example, a ball goes through the legs of the shortstop and hits a runner behind him then the runner is still not out.

Not Fielding/Act of Fielding

When contact or ‘obstruction’ occurs when a fielder is not in the “act of fielding the ball” then the fault is on the fielder. The defense is required to give a clear base path unless they are in the act of fielding a ball (thrown to them or otherwise).

It gets a dicey when the call is based upon the fielder being in the “act of fielding the ball.”  Parents scream, coaches scream. But, once again, this call is up to the judgement of the umpire.  There are many times that everyone is yelling because the third baseman is blocking the lane of the runner. But, the third baseman is just trying to catch the ball coming in from the right side of the infield.  It is typically a “bang-bang” type play and call.

And not easy to always get right.

Here is an example of defensive obstruction.

Out of the Batter’s Box

This call always catches everyone by surprise. It is typically cued from the opposing coach based on the player’s previous at bat.

A player is out when he hits the ball with one or both feet on the ground outside of the batter’s box. Outside the batter’s box requires the entire foot is outside of the white line. As such, a foot could be touching the plate but still be touching the white line too. Or, in other words, just because you stepped on the plate while hitting doesn’t mean you are out.

No Batter’s Box

With many tournaments, there are 5-8 games per day played on the same field without the batter’s box being re-drawn.  Many times the the umpires will mark with bats in the sand as to what they feel the batter’s box should be.  I’ve seen a player or two called out and its not a pretty site for the batter’s side for a few minutes.

Hit by Pitch (But the Batter Swings)

Here is a little known rule that typically gets parents in a uproar.  Little Johnny swings at what he thinks is going to be a curveball, but the ball doesn’t break and plunks him in the arm.  According the rule. since the batter swung, a strike is recorded against that batter. This is a double whammy.

A rule of thumb is to always turn away from a ball you think is going to hit you and not resemble anything that could look like a swing, because some umpires, well… ya know.

The Balk

The call that makes everyone insane, I now present you the BALK!  I could go into about three pages on this one, but I want to keep it simple.

At a young age, coming set to a still position is hard enough, let alone not having the pressure of throwing the ball for a strike, while trying not to hit the batter.  Most of the rules are pretty straight forward and pretty easy for the pitchers to follow.  When it comes into question is for left handers as they have a slight advantage as they can wait until the last minute to commit to throwing home.  This, along with coming set are the two battles that are typically thrown around during youth games.

Little League Balk Advice

One thing I will say does not help the situation is having 20 different people (coaches, parents, opposing players) critiquing the pitcher and yelling “he’s balking” or “balk” every five minutes.

As a coach, chat with the umpire between innings.  As a parent, if you want to be a pitching coach or umpire, please do so – just not from the stands please.  Leave this call of the balk up to the umpire, as they have their own interpretation of the rules and will stick to them.  Now you have to remember that each umpire crew will be different, so be prepared for a little controversy every once in a while!

What You Can Do

As a Coach:  Understand your league rules, tournament rules, and carry a copy with you (sometimes you can have a digital copy that works great because it is quickly searchable)

As a Parent: Let the coach do his or her job.  I know its an exciting situation, but you enlisted the coach to drive the ship when it comes to the current year of baseball.  Don’t be too quick to chirp about a call that seems odd on the field, let the umpires do your job.  I saw a parent get tossed out of a tournament this past weekend for arguing with an umpire.  Don’t get to the point that its embarrassing for you and your kid.  He will remember that more than what the score to the games was when he was 11.

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Posted by Jason Wilson

Jason Wilson is a baseball enthusiast, with an addiction to reading about, reviewing, and testing baseball equipment and accessories. He has been involved in youth baseball for 8+ years while continually working to find a way to make the game a better experience for both players and the parents. A realist at heart, he feels that investing in the right equipment, at the right time, for the right player, is key to the success of the player and the less strain on the parent’s bank account.

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