It is very important for coaches, players, and parents to understand what obstruction is, how to avoid it, and what the penalties are if it occurs.
From Little League's Rulebook, Rule 2.00- Definition of Terms:
OBSTRUCTION is the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball impedes the progress of any runner. A fake tag is considered obstruction. (NOTE: Obstruction shall be on a defensive player who blocks off a base, base line, or home plate from a base runner while not in possession of the ball).
While the rule is concise and straightforward, in practice it is not. Common obstruction mistakes are:
- A ground ball is hit through the infield into the outfield and the first baseman stands on or close to first waiting for a potential throw. The batter/runner attempts to round first to go to second and the first baseman impedes their progress.
- A runner runs from third base to home and the catcher, focused on the throw coming in from the right fielder, is standing in the base path before home plate, impeding the runner
- The pitcher crashes home plate on a passed ball and stands on it awaiting the throw from the catcher as the runner coming from third base slides in
- The center fielder, second baseman, and short stop all converge on second base when the runner attempting to steal second runs into the second baseman
- In a run-down, the base runner changes direction and runs into the player who just threw the ball.
In each case, the umpire could and would call obstruction on the defense. Essentially, when the fielder does not have possession of the ball, the bases and base lines are owned by the base runner. When the fielder does have possession of the ball, the fielder owns the bases and base lines.
The following section from the Little League Rules, Rule 7.00- The Runnerexplains the penalties for obstruction:
7.06 - When the obstruction occurs, the umpire shall call or signal "Obstruction."
(a) If a play is being made on the obstructed runner, or if the batter-runner is obstructed before touching first base, the ball is dead and all runners shall advance without liability to be put out, to the bases they would have reached, in the umpire's judgment, if there had been no obstruction. The obstructed runner shall be awarded at least one base beyond the base last legally touched by such runner, before the obstruction. Any preceding runners forced to advance by the award of bases as the penalty for obstruction shall advance without liability to put out;
(b) If no play is being made on the obstructed runner, the play shall proceed until no further action is possible. The umpire shall then call "Time" and impose such penalties, if any, as in that umpire's judgment will nullify the act of obstruction.
NOTE 1: When the ball is not dead on obstruction and an obstructed runner advances beyond the base which, in the umpire's judgment, the runner would have been awarded because of being obstructed, the runner does so at his/her own risk and may be tagged out. This is a judgment call.
NOTE 2: If the defensive player blocks the base (plate) or base line clearly without possession of the ball, obstruction shall be called. The runner is safe and a delayed dead ball shall be called.
A free base is a big penalty. It is important that we coach softball players to position themselves near the base and out of the way until the receive the ball. Then they can step into the way of the runner and apply the tag.