Imagine that you’re working the plate in a two-umpire system. There’s a runner on second with one out. The batter hits a towering fly ball toward the out-of-play boundary line near right field. The right fielder is at full speed by the time she crosses into foul territory. She overruns the ball and steps completely into the dead-ball area.
Quickly adjusting, she puts on the brakes and pivots back into the field of play. She lunges and makes a diving stab at the dropping foul ball. Rolling over, she comes up throwing. As the runner tags at second base, the ball squirts backward out of the right fielder’s throwing hand and into dead-ball territory.
Catch? No catch? Is the ball dead? If so, was it dead before or after the catch? Who’s going to make the call? What are we going to do with the runner? And the offensive coach is already yelling about something.
Moral of the story.
Mechanics. Crew communication. Hustle. Positioning. The unexpected. Rules. Judgment. Game management. Bad luck. You name it, and it’s probably going to be involved in that scenario.
In short, don’t relax on the fly ball that looks to be drifting out of play. It could result in a close, controversial call. Expect the unexpected. Hustle to get into position to make a decision. And know the rules.
Catch or no-catch?
In the previous scenario, try to determine if there was a catch or no-catch.
The definition of a catch is the same for ASA, NFHS, NCAA and USSSA. The fielder must gain possession of the ball with the glove or hand(s) while the ball is in play.
There is no catch if the ball lodges between the arm and torso, and the fielder doesn’t secure it with hand or glove before stepping out of play.
It is not a catch if the ball touches anything, such as a fence or a fan, while it is in flight. In the latter case, spectator interference may be involved.
It also is no catch if the fielder loses possession of the ball after colliding with another player, a fence, the ground, etc. But if the fielder drops the ball while making a secondary move, like transferring it to the throwing hand or making a throw, a legal catch should be ruled.
The judgment of catch or no-catch gets more complicated when dead-ball territory is the area beyond any real boundary, such as a fence, rope, marked line, bleachers, or any imaginary boundary line determined during the pregame conference. Designated media areas or dugouts also are out of play.
For a valid catch, the fielder’s feet must be in the field of play. Touching the out-of-play line or in the air before contacting dead-ball territory is considered to be an extension of the field of play.
But if a fielder’s entire foot or the entire portion of the foot (or other body part) in contact with the ground is in dead-ball territory at the time of catching, fielding or throwing the ball, the ball is dead, and no catch or play is allowed. If a fielder catches a batted fly ball with her toes on an elevated step of a dugout (which is determined to be out of play during the pregame meeting), and with her heel hanging over but not touching the ground in live-ball territory, the ruling is no-catch.
A fielder who falls over or through a fence after making a catch should be credited with the catch. If the catch is made for less than the third out, the ball becomes dead, and catch-and-carry rules apply. If the ball is not intentionally carried out of play, all baserunners should be awarded one base from the time the ball becomes dead. For a ball judged to be intentionally carried out of play, runners are awarded two bases from the time the ball becomes dead.
A player may stand on a fallen portable fence and make a legal catch. However, in NFHS rules, the catch is only legal if the collapsible fence is not completely horizontal. In NCAA and USSSA, the catch should not be credited if the fielder is standing on the fence as it is lying on the ground beyond the original plane of the fence when the fielder caught the ball. ASA allows a legal catch by a defensive player standing on a collapsible, portable fence as long as the fielder has not stepped outside the playing area — the other side of the fence.
Fielder re-enters playing area.
In this article’s opening scenario, when the right fielder enters dead-ball territory, she can re-establish herself in live-ball territory to make a play. For a legal catch in ASA, the fielder has to return with both feet touching live-ball territory or one foot touching and the other in the air.
In NFHS, NCAA and USSSA, the fielder has to re-establish herself in play by contacting live-ball territory with both feet. However, in NCAA, if the fielder maintains contact with live-ball territory with only one foot, she can re-establish herself in play with one foot touching live-ball territory and one in the air.
In the initial scenario, it is the plate umpire’s call. The plate umpire removes his or her mask and hustles down the first-base line. He or she should move into foul territory as the ball drifts toward the out-of-play boundary if there is a potential play.
As the fielder goes out of play, the plate umpire also sees the fielder’s feet in live-ball territory before diving for the ball. With a decent angle, the plate umpire should be able to see the ball in the glove before the fielder rolls.
When the fielder comes up off the ground, the plate umpire sees the ball in the fielder’s hand before it spins backward from her hand and out of play. The plate umpire signals an out on the catch and calls “dead ball” as the ball rolls out of play.
The baserunner is awarded third base because second was the last base she touched before the ball went out of play. The ball dropped in transfer and, by rule, the catch stands, and the runner gets one base past the one she acquired before the dead ball.
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