Amateur baseball is in the midst of what many have called the "dead bat" era. Home runs are way down in both college and high school baseball, thus scores are much lower and runs are at a premium. With tougher scoring conditions teams have looked to a number of alternatives to gain an edge offensively.
Some programs have emphasized the bunting game, some have worked diligently on situational hitting and others have decided to recruit more speed in an attempt to steal more bases. While all of these areas are vital components of an effective offensive attack, the stolen base can be the most disruptive and ultimately lead to increased run production. With that said, let me first admit that the hardest base to steal is first base, but assuming the offense is producing base runners, here are four keys to swiping more bags:
1) Practice, practice, practice
I was blessed to play for Rod Delmonico at the University of Tennessee. Coach D loved to steal bases and he put a strong emphasis on it during all of our practices. We talked leads, starts, slides, situations, and constantly worked on our breaks! During our scrimmages we had a mandatory steal rule. It was a must steal within the first 3 pitches of every at bat. This type of mindset was equally beneficial for the offense and the defense. As base runners we developed an aggressive mentality, and learned how to steal bases when the defense was on high alert. While the offense is gaining confidence and learning, the defense is getting invaluable game reps as they work to control the running game.
Base stealing is like anything else- rhythm and confidence are essential to maximum game performance. Coaches, teach your players how to steal bases, demand that they work on it in practice, and then give them the freedom to play fast and fearless in the games!
2) Know your math
It has been my experience that very few base runners know how fast they are from first to second. This can't be! To effectively steal bases, runners must know their time from their lead off to the edge of the bag with a slide. Once you know your time then you can make a good decision on whether the pitcher/catcher matchup is in your favor. Remember just because you run a 3.5 and the pitcher/catcher speed is 3.4 doesn't mean you can't steal. Look for a breaking ball count, consider a delay steal, pick up a timing key on the pitcher, don't just give up!
3) Extend your lead
I was a base stealer my entire career. Of all my attempts my guess is that less than ten percent resulted in "easily" safe or out; meaning that almost every time I tried to steal a base I was either safe or out by the blink of an eye. With that in mind my best advice is to stretch your lead as far as the pitcher will allow. Use your eyes to determine the pitcher's ability to pick and adjust your lead accordingly.
4) You gotta love it!
Stealing bases is no walk in the park. It's risky, it's painful, it's physically challenging, but it's worth it! There is nothing like stealing a bag when everyone in the stadium knows that you are going. But, the path to becoming a great base stealer is littered with scraped knees, jammed fingers, bruised shoulders, and sore hamstrings. When the other team knows you want to steal, be prepared for endless pick off attempts, slide steps, and pitch outs. With this in mind conditioning is important, but determination and desire are more important. You want to steal a lot of bases? You better love it!