Bo Porter's football-toting outfield drill
Tuesday, February 22, 2011; 8:11 PM
On one of the backfields Tuesday afternoon, new Nationals third base coach Bo Porter accomplished a rare feat during his very first drill as the coach in charge of outfielders. He did something none of his players had ever seen. Before he shot baseballs out of a Jugs machine for them to track down, he handed them a football. That led to the double-take inducing scene of outfielders chasing down flies with a football tucked under their glove arm. Bench coach John McLaren, who's spent decades in baseball, said he's never seen anything like it. Porter began using the drill after his first year as a coach, when he was in the Florida Marlins' organization. He would watch outfielders chase a drive to the gap, and halfway into their route to the ball, their arms began flailing. "You're like, 'They're swimming,' " Porter said. He believed the sloppy form turned possible outs into doubles. Porter thought back to his playing days, and he never remembered having that problem. He thought about why, and figured it must have to do with his unique athletic history. Porter was a two-spot star at Iowa, an outfielder and a defensive back who lettered from 1992 to '94. The form he picked up as a football player, he realized, carried over to baseball. He implemented the drill when he coached outfielders in the Marlins organization, "and the guys took to it," Porter said. "It's something that kind of breaks up the basic fundamentals of fungo-ing the ball and then going to get it." "It's that ball that gets hit into the gap, and everybody in the ballpark thinks it's a double, and all of a sudden, the guy comes out of nowhere and makes a great catch," Porter said. "If you go back from start to finish, the reason he was able to cover that ground was because he held his form." After the first day, Porter said Nyjer Morgan and Bryce Harper picked up the drill best. He didn't think it was a coincidence that both have experience in other sports. Morgan played high-level amateur hockey before turning to baseball, and Harper played football before high school. "It's just basically keeping your arms tucked," Morgan said. "It's going to help. You just guy to buy in what Bo Porter is selling." Porter likes to use the drills to break up the monotony. "The guys in Florida, they absolutely loved it," Porter said. Porter has another drill in which he'll make the fielders hold a football in their throwing hand while catching a ball barehanded, "which makes them focus on reading the ball all the way into their glove," Porter said. Today, the Nationals first reaction was, "Footballs?" But if it'll help, they'll keep toting the rock while catching pops. "He wants us to run smooth out there," Roger Bernadina said. "Whatever works."