Learning Basic Skills: How to Play Pickle

Learning Basic Skills: How to Play Pickle

Pickle (also known as a Hotbox or Rundown) is a baseball situation, and popular kid’s game, that actually has nothing to do with food. Instead, “pickle” in this instance describes the difficult situation you may find yourself in when stranded between 2 bases with on of the basemen in possession of the ball.

Teams should practice successfully getting out of the pickle (for runners) and successfully foiling the pickle (for the fielders). To set this up, either practice directly on the field, or place 2 bases 20-30 feet apart. This drill will help runners build up their anticipation and base running skills. Fielders work on throwing to a target and placing accurate and strong tags on the runner. Your players need excellent timing skills for proper execution of this play and that needs to be practiced regularly to keep the timing sharp.

For younger children, the possibility of a runner succeeding in a pickle is fairly high since the fielders tend to drop the ball much more often. The chance of being the successful runner decreases as you ascend through the levels. At the higher levels, most runners will be tagged out eventually because the skills of the fielders are so much more honed.

Essentially, the odds are stacked against a runner caught in the pickle. That’s not to say that runners shouldn’t try. As with any other baseball move, there are tricks to make yourself more successful as the runner. The runner needs to have great anticipation skills to time the throw and their next move. Be prepared for a quick burst of speed and stay low. Most importantly, remember that sliding is probably your best bet here. Unless the fielders drop the ball or overthrow, you’ll likely need to slide.

The pickle is yours to lose. By this, I mean that the odds are so obnoxiously stacked in the fielder’s favor that it really takes an error on your part for the runner to succeed. Of course, there are just great runners that will pull it over on any fielder, but in reality, the fielders will succeed if no mistakes are made.

Your biggest potential screw up as a fielder is in dropping the ball or overthrowing it. To avoid this, be sure that you are tossing the ball rather than throwing it. You don’t want to break out your fastest fast ball at this moment because your target is likely to miss or drop it. You may still need a bit of speed, so keep that in mind as well… just be careful not to make the ball uncatchable. Also, be sure that the shortstop and other baseman serve as backup so a bigger error can be avoided if necessary.

When awaiting the ball, “close the gap”… essentially, you need to start moving toward the runner. This will box him/her in more and create a better liklihood that you will tag him out. Be sure that you start doing this right away. You don’t want the runner to get too comfortable in a 20-30 foot space. The closer you are to your other baseman, the more accurate your throws will be. Closing the gap early also lets the runner know that you are controlling the tempo and the outcome of the rundown.

Keep the number of throws as low as possible. The more you “pickle”, the more chances you have to mess up and the more time you give the runner to think through his next move. Make sure you aim for the glove side of the receiver and avoid throwing over the head of the runner.

Remember that your ultimate goal is to tag the runner out… Just forcing him back to his previous base will only open him up for another attempt. Obviously, forcing him back is better than him advancing, but you still really want the out.

What are your thoughts?