Tricks of the Trade: How to Play a Baseball Player

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As good as you are winging a ball to your dog or hitting a home run in your rec league, you’re probably not going to be joining players on the field this season. It takes special talent to excel at baseball, either in real life or on camera. So whether you’ve been cast as the next big thing or the old-timer giving it one last shot, portraying a baseball player is more than just swinging a bat and looking skyward. We spoke to James Abernathy, a baseball coach and former player, to find out what it takes to step into a pair of cleats and hit your role out of the park.

Get in the game: As with any role, learning the ins and outs of the space you’re about to enter is key. “To understand what it means to be a player, immerse yourself in the world of baseball,” Abernathy says. “Attend double-headers, watch documentaries, and read books about the sport. Pay attention to the nuances of the game, from the rituals in the dugout to the camaraderie among teammates. The more knowledgeable you are about the culture and atmosphere surrounding baseball, the better equipped you’ll be when portraying your character.”

Master the basics: “Learn the mechanics of the game. While you don’t need to become a powerhouse hitter or come close to throwing a 100 mph fastball, mastering the basics of the game is essential,” Abernathy adds. “Spend time practicing fundamental skills such as throwing, catching, and hitting. Work with a coach or trainer to refine your technique and improve your athleticism—but if your budget doesn’t allow for that, there are some great YouTube tutorials out there. And, of course, if you have a friend who played or plays baseball, have them give you some pointers.” 

Get a grip: If you want to play a believable pro baseball player, it’s important to at least look the part—and that includes when you’re standing at the mound holding the bat. “To properly grip a baseball bat, wrap your dominant hand around the base of the bat and then stack your non-dominant hand directly on top, slightly rotating your non-dominant ‘door-knocking’ knuckles so they fall somewhere between your bottom sets of knuckles,” he says. “Little League kids are taught to align their knocking knuckles, but most MLBers slightly rotate their top hand to fall somewhere in between the two sets.”

Throw it like you mean it: Convincing viewers that you know what you’re doing onscreen is all in the throw. “Throwing a baseball with accuracy is not as simple as just picking up a ball and lobbing it in a general direction,” Abernathy says. “To get a bit of heat on your throw, place your middle and index fingers of your throwing hand perpendicular to the horseshoe seams on the baseball and loosely grip the ball. Then, point your glove where you want the ball to go, keep your feet parallel to the target, pull your throwing-arm elbow back and high, and release the ball, keeping a loose grip the entire time.”

Study player archetypes: “Baseball players come in all shapes, sizes, and personalities. Take the time to study different player archetypes and identify which one best aligns with your character. Whether you’re playing a charismatic team captain or a brooding pitcher with a chip on their shoulder, understanding the traits and mannerisms associated with your character’s role on the field will add depth to your performance,” he advises.

Embrace the mindset: Abernathy notes that “beyond athletic prowess, baseball is a game of strategy and mental fortitude. Understand the pressure that comes with being under the spotlight and the drive to succeed against all odds. By embodying the mental aspect of the game, you’ll be able to portray the internal struggles and triumphs of a baseball player with authenticity.”

Connect with real players: As always, network, network, network. “Reach out to current or former college ball players, professional athletes (if you have the connections), and coaches and ask them about their experiences on and off the field. Listen to their stories, observe their mannerisms, and absorb their insights into the world of baseball. Building a personal connection with real players will provide invaluable inspiration and guidance,” he notes.