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Pickle: Baseball Base Running Terminology

If you have ever been in trouble, you may have referred to yourself as being in a jam or being in a pickle.  In baseball terms, a pickle is a particular situation where a runner is in trouble by being caught in between two bases as he runs back and forth.

A pickle usually occurs when a runner tries to advance to a base, realizes he can’t make it, and wants to retreat to where he came from.  By the time all this happens, the defense has the ball and trying to tag the runner.  The runner runs back and forth between the bases until he reaches a bag or is tagged out by the defense.

Wrong way to execute a pickle

The WRONG way to execute a pickle

In the Major Leagues, a pickle typically does not last very long.  Defenses know the correct way to run down a base runner and when to throw the ball versus holding on to it and tagging the runner.  This is a play that teams run over and over again in Spring Training until it is ingrained in the players’ heads.  Most players already know the correct way to execute a pickle defensively from growing up, but at the Major League level there is no room to give a team an extra base or extra out.

Runners that get caught have very little chance to get out of a pickle safely.  They have to run back and forth, starting and stopping if they are able to draw more than one throw from the defense, and can get tired or lose their footing.  Sometimes, a runner has enough quickness and stamina to allow the defense to mess up or hold the ball just long enough for the runner to sneak by and get to a base.  The golden rule of a pickle is that it should take no more than two throws for the defense to get the runner out, and the runner is supposed to be out since he messed up.

One recourse action a runner can take is trying to make contact with a defender that does not have the ball.  If any fielder touches the runner and does not have the ball, it is considered interference and the runner is entitled to the next base.  In a pickle, the runner can even reach out and try to grab a fielder if he is close enough.  This doesn’t happen very often, but it is a rule that many fielders are not aware of and can be caught up in arm’s reach of the runner.

The best escape from a pickle is by far Benny the Jet escaping with a cloud of dust in The Sandlot.  It may be fictional in a movie, but the feeling of escaping a pickle is pure ecstasy knowing you got the better of two or more of your opponents.

There is a kid’s game I used to play called “Pickle” where there were two people on either side of a made up line, and everybody else was in the middle.  The two kids on the end tossed a tennis ball back and forth and tried to peg the kids in the middle of the pickle.  If you were at one of the bases on the end you were safe and whoever stole the most bases at the end was the winner.  It was a great way to get faster, gain quickness, and peg your friends with a tennis ball.  Pegs aren’t allowed in baseball, but it always becomes a kids’ game when I see a pickle on the field.

Also, if you ever see someone get into a rundown, or as you’ve been reading about a pickle, you have to yell, “PICKLE!”

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