Rule of the Week: Runner’s Lane
The purpose of the three-foot wide lane (aka 45’ lane) along the last half of the distance between home and first base in foul territory is widely misunderstood. It only applies when the ball is being thrown to first base from the area of the plate (roughly from behind the runner), and none of the three major baseball codes directly state that. Except where noted, the material applies equally to NFHS, NCAA and pro rules.
When the lane applies, the batter-runner is required to run the last half of the distance from home to first base within the three foot lane. If the runner does not do so, there is no penalty unless, in the umpire’s judgment, he interferes with the fielder taking the throw at first base. Another misconception is the batter-runner is always out if he interferes with the throw itself. As we’ll see, that isn’t necessarily the case.
The lines are part of the lane, so stepping on the line is not a violation. Also, one foot in or on the line and the other foot in the air is permitted. The batter-runner must take two consecutive steps totally outside the lane to violate the rule. If interference is called, the ball is immediately dead and the batter-runner is out; any other runners return to the base occupied at the time of the pitch (NFHS 8-4-1g, NCAA 7-11p, OBR 5.09a11).
The throw does not have to strike the batter-runner for interference to be called but lacking such contact makes for a very contentious call. If the runner interferes with, obstructs, impedes, hinders or confuses the defensive player who is taking the throw at first base, it is interference.
There must be a throw for this rule to apply. If there’s no throw, it’s impossible to interfere with a fielder taking a throw. The quality of the throw is also a factor. It is not interference if a fielder is not covering first or if the throw had no realistic chance of retiring the batter-runner, unless in the umpire’s judgment (NFHS rules only), the bad throw is a direct result of the batter-runner’s improper position. The batter-runner is permitted to exit the three-foot lane by means of a step, stride, reach or slide in the immediate vicinity of first base for the sole purpose of touching first base.
This video clearly shows the runner’s lane rule:
In summary, two things must occur for running lane interference to be called:
(1) The batter-runner must be running with one or both feet entirely out of the box; and
(2) The batter-runner must interfere with the catch of the throw at first base.