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Blocking the Home Plate – What Every Catcher Needs to Know

It’s the bottom of the ninth, two outs, with the winning run on second base. The crowd’s roaring like a jet engine as the batter cracks a hard liner into the gap. The third base coach is windmilling his arm like a turbine, sending the runner from second home. The throw from center field is a bullet, heading straight for home plate. Here’s where the dance begins—our catcher, geared up, pivots into place, one eye on the incoming missile, the other on the charging runner, bracing for impact.

As pulse-pounding as this play is, I absolutely hate it. I hated it when Pete Rose trucked into Ray Fosse, and I hated it when a big, burly kid from the opposing travel team lowered his shoulders and ran over my son at a 13U game. Traditionalists might call me a wimp, but who in their right mind wants to have their kid be stationary while a 150-pound kid sprints into them?

The possibility of a collision at home plate is fraught with unnecessary injury risks, not just for the catcher but for the runner as well. So let’s dig into what it means for a catcher to block the plate, the rules that govern this high-stakes decision, and why it remains one of the most debated aspects in baseball.

Credit: Andrew Parlette

The Role of the Catcher in Baseball

As any seasoned player or coach will tell you, the catcher is the ‘general’ of the infield. They see the entire field, understand each player’s position, and often have insights that even the coach relies on. Catchers wear the ‘tools of ignorance-shin guards, chest protector, helmet, etc.-to protect themselves against the foul tips, backswings, occasional runaway fastball, and runners coming home.

The bottom line? Catchers ensure that steals are thwarted, pitchers are aligned with the game plan, and baserunners are kept in check. Their role is pivotal, challenging, and absolutely critical to the team’s success.

What Does It Mean to Block the Plate?

In baseball, blocking the plate refers to a catcher positioning themselves in such a way that hinders a baserunner’s access to home plate, making it challenging to score. This maneuver is often seen during close plays, where a runner barrels down the third base line, hoping to score, while the catcher attempts to catch a throw from the outfield and tag the runner out.

Legally, a catcher can block the plate only if they have the ball or are about to receive it immediately. Blocking the path or the home plate without the ball or are about to receive the immediately is illegal (considered obstruction). The interpretation of this rule can be contentious and has evolved significantly, especially following major injuries during such plays.

The Rules Governing Home Plate Blocking


The rules governing the blocking of home plate are designed to protect both catchers and runners by minimizing potentially dangerous collisions. According to the official rules from Major League Baseball, a catcher is only permitted to block the plate if they have possession of the ball or are in the immediate act of receiving a throw.

Major League Baseball: the new home plate collision Rule 7.13:

A runner attempting to score may not deviate from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate). If, in the judgment of the Umpire, a runner attempting to score initiates contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate) in such a manner, the Umpire shall declare the runner out (even if the player covering home plate loses possession of the ball).

Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the Umpire, the catcher, without possession of the ball, blocks the pathway of the runner, the Umpire shall call or signal the runner safe.

This rule, often referred to as the “Buster Posey rule,” was implemented to enhance player safety following a series of high-profile injuries.

If the catcher blocks the plate without the ball, it is considered obstruction, and the runner can be awarded home plate. The key is that the catcher must give the runner a clear path to the plate until they have the ball. Umpires play a crucial role in enforcing these rules, often making split-second decisions during critical plays at home plate. This regulation seeks to strike a balance between competitive integrity and safety, ensuring the game’s spirit remains intact while preventing unnecessary risks.

Proper Blocking Technique

Mastering the technique of blocking the plate is crucial for catchers aiming to prevent runs while ensuring their own safety and adhering to the rules. The fundamental approach involves positioning and timing.

  1. Basic Stance:
    • Imagine home plate as a diamond.
    • The catcher should position themselves in a way that they’re facing the pitcher, with their feet shoulder-width apart for balance.
    • The catcher’s left foot (for a right-handed catcher) should be slightly forward, aligning with the front corner of the plate closest to the third-base line.
  2. Receiving a Throw:
    • As the ball is thrown towards home plate from the outfield or infield, the catcher should adjust their stance.
    • They should move their feet to pivot towards the incoming throw while keeping the glove open and ready to catch the ball.
  3. Blocking the Plate:
    • Once the catcher has the ball, they can legally block the plate.
    • The ideal position is to have the left knee down on the ground, right knee up, and the body angled in a way that blocks the runner’s direct path to the plate, making it hard for the runner to slide in without a tag.
  4. Tagging:
    • With the ball in hand, the catcher should stretch their arm out towards the runner to apply the tag.
    • It’s important to keep the glove low and in the path where the runner will likely slide.
Credit: G Blosser

Training Drills for Catchers

The standing location of a catcher ultimately depends on where and how the throw is made. Throws coming from left field may force the catcher to be very close to the third base foul line, whereas throws from right field might allow for a position a bit further away.

In all situations, I teach my catchers to position themselves on the front side of home plate (in fair territory), thereby giving runners a clear path while waiting for the ball.

Once the ball is in possession, I instruct my catchers that they can stand or kneel on the plate but should never place their cleats between the runner and the plate. Why? Most home plates are raised by half an inch or so, and you do not want their cleats to catch on the home plate, potentially causing a runner to collide with their legs, possibly causing injury.

Training drills are essential for catchers to refine their skills in blocking the plate, enhancing both their effectiveness in play and their ability to avoid injuries. Here are a few drills designed to help catchers improve their blocking techniques:

  1. Blocking Drills: Start with basic drills where a coach rolls or throws balls in the dirt to different sides of the catcher, who must then use proper form to block the ball. This includes keeping the chest down and angled forward to keep the ball in front, and covering the space between their legs with their glove.
  2. Live Throws: Practice with live throws from pitchers or a throwing machine aimed towards home plate. This helps catchers work on their timing and positioning, learning how to shift their weight and set their feet to receive the ball and apply a tag in one fluid motion.
  3. Tagging Drills: Set up scenarios where the catcher must catch the ball and make a sweeping tag. A coach or another player can simulate a runner sliding into home, allowing the catcher to practice applying tags without creating a collision.
  4. Footwork Drills: Good footwork is crucial for a catcher. Drills that focus on quick feet will help a catcher get into the right position more efficiently. Use agility ladders and cones to create drills that enhance quick directional changes and proper stance alignment.
  5. Simulation Drills: Combine all the elements into simulation drills that mimic game situations. This includes having a runner on third, a ball hit, and executing the play at home with a full throw from the outfield. This not only helps the catcher but also improves team coordination on such plays.

Each of these drills focuses on a different aspect of the catcher’s role in blocking the plate, from physical positioning and movement to decision-making under pressure. Regular practice of these drills can significantly improve a catcher’s defensive capabilities and their confidence in controlling the dynamics at home plate.


Wrapping Up

It’s important to note that many youth baseball leagues have specific regulations against base runners lowering their shoulders or sliding headfirst into home plate. Instead, if an umpire judges that the catcher has obstructed the runner’s path illegally, a run will be awarded.

This point hit home during a 13U game when my son was bowled over over under tournament league rules that permitted head-first diving but prohibited runners from lowering their shoulders to initiate contact. Our coaching staff’s unfamiliarity with these specific rules led to a lost appeal on our part. This experience underscored the critical lesson of thoroughly familiarizing oneself with the specific regulations of any tournament league to avoid similar pitfalls.