February 23, 2016
When a ball is hit hard to left-field and the runner takes off barreling to first at a rate of 26 feet per second, the 3rd baseman has – at most – about four seconds to get the ball from 3rd to 1st. With such limited margin of error and need for automated reflexes, third base is arguably the toughest position to play in baseball; where plays boil down to tiny fractions of a second that will either make or break the play. It is the intensity of this position that necessitates the need for quick reactions and superior reflexes that gives it the nickname of the “hot corner.” To put the speed at which basemen like Evan Longoria, David Wright and Josh Donaldson must formulate and execute plays into perspective, consider that it takes on average a third baseman when fielding about .11 of a second to transfer the ball from his glove to his hand, that is about the same amount of time that it takes a helicopter blade to rotate once while traveling at 100 mph. With speeds of that intensity, it becomes imperative that the 3rd basemen react in a way that will allow him to get the ball to 1st in time, which sometimes means making split-second decisions to cut this transfer out and bare hand the ball instead.
Once the ball is in play, fielders have mere seconds to assess the situation, anticipate what will happen next, formulate a plan of action and execute. This does not come easy and most of the time there is little time to think. Instead, it comes down to pure reaction. For this reason, a player in the hot corner must have the mental capacity to evaluate and execute in fractions of seconds; and he must harbour beyond the sharpest of motor skills that will allow him to act defensively on impulse.
Contrary to common belief, playing a good game of ball is about much more than athletic ability – it too comes down to mental training. In professional baseball, a fastball will reach home plate in about .44 of a second and a line drive can travel 90 feet in just .58 of a second. That means that the total time that elapses from the time that the ball leaves the pitcher's hand until it reaches third base, is about 1 second. With the game unfolding this quickly, it leaves little time for the third baseman to think and react; he therefore must sustain the capability to make prompt decisions. He must also rely on the mental ability that he has built up, to take control and to make a play happen.
The most elite of third basemen, know the importance of cognitive ability. Having played the game and been under the immense pressure that comes along with manning one of the most difficult positions in baseball, they see the value in keeping the mind sharp. Sports vision training is essential to maintaining the cognitive function necessary to field the ball, win rundowns, to make accurate throws in difficult situations and to make game winning plays – fast.
Part of baseball includes long periods of physical inactivity, during which time players must remain mentally stimulated in order to be prepared for the brief bursts of intense action. Remaining cognitively sharp can be the key to making winning plays – especially in the case of the hot corner. Just like strength conditioning and training could improve the physical endurance of players, perceptual-cognitive training could also improve the mental endurance and cognitive stamina of key players on the field. Perceptual-cognitive training could be the secret to enhancing athletic performance by way of improving focus and attention on the field; which ultimately allows valuable players to maintain situational awareness essential to retaining their competitive advantage throughout the duration of the game.
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