VIERA, Fla. — Wilson Ramos, like all major-league catchers, learned at a young age the proper way to block the plate. Where to position himself for a throw coming his way. How to plant his left foot in a spot that gives the runner no clear path. And, yes, how to absorb the impact of a head-on collision.
And now Ramos and his brethren have to unlearn all that to make sure they adhere to Major League Baseball’s just-announced rule change on plays at the plate.
“In my career, I concentrate on doing something,” the Nationals catcher said. “Right now, we have to change a little bit that part of the game. But we have to learn. We have to learn and try to practice that.”
The process began in earnest Thursday morning when Ramos joined teammates Jose Lobaton, Sandy Leon and Jhonatan Solano for a crash course on playing within the new rules, with bench coach Randy Knorr and third base coach Bobby Henley (both former catchers) instructing.
The key rule change: Catchers may no longer impede a runner’s clear path to the plate unless they’re already in possession of the ball. If they do, umpires may choose to call the runner safe. Runners, meanwhile, are no longer allowed to egregiously run into a catcher.
Knorr and Henley spent a good 20 minutes with the Nationals’ catching corps before Thursday’s workout, showing them exactly what is and isn’t allowed. They also began to teach them to position themselves in a different spot while waiting for a throw to come in, leaving the plate unblocked.
“We’re trying to simplify it and not go into a lot of detail on it,” Knorr said. “Show them the proper line and establish it right away.”
Extra instruction or not, the Nationals’ catchers know they’re going to have to fight their natural instincts once the situation arises in a game.
“If it happens, it happens,” Ramos said. “I want to work on that, stay out of the runner’s line, but during the games you don’t have time to think in that situation because sometimes you don’t have time to react. So sometimes with the ball, you don’t know where the ball is coming from. If the throw’s in the runner’s line, you have to catch it. But we have to be ready to get hit all the time.”
Knorr, like many other old-school catchers, wasn’t thrilled to learn of the proposed rule change this winter, but he understands it was made in an attempt to protect players from severe head and leg injuries.
He also knows it could have a significant effect on some of baseball’s most-significant plays.
“I will say this: There will be more outs at home plate,” Knore said. “Because there’s not that thought anymore that the guy’s going to hit you. They’re going to be able to receive the ball and make the tag without worrying about that.”