The greatest thing about baseball is that from game to game you never know what is going to happen.
One day your team can be involved in a pitchers’ duel and the next day there is a home run derby at the ballpark.
One of the most rare and exciting plays in baseball is when the runner steals home. River Cats fans have been lucky enough to witness this play successfully executed twicethis season.
Center fielder Eric Patterson was the speed racer on third in both instances. He first stole home on April 28 against the Las Vegas 51s to provide the winning margin in a 3-2 triumph. He did it again on May 19 against the Round Rock Express as part of an ever rarer triple steal.
“The pitcher has to be slow to the plate, he has to be going into his wind-up, he really just has to not be paying attention to you,” Patterson said.“That is something I will look at and something Tony (DeFrancesco) will look at. If we have a good feeling about it he will say, ‘Hey, go and take it.’ From there it is just about getting a good lead, getting a good jump and hopefully the hitter doesn’t swing.”
For DeFrancesco, the art of stealing home is not rocket science.
“The first thing is (whether) the runner on third (is fast enough) and (whether) the pitcher’s delivery (is slow enough),” said the manager, who also serves as the team’s third-base coach.“If (the pitcher) is in the stretch it doesn’t even come into play.”
In actuality, there are few more factors that come into play — the personnel on the field, the pitch count, if the pitcher is a right-hander or left-hander and the whether the batter may be in a slump.
That Patterson and DeFrancesco have teamed up to successfully implement this rare feat is amazing in its own right. Although fast as a kid, stealing home was never a dream of Patterson’s while growing up.
“I think I’ve done it one other time before this season,” he said. “It may have been something I had done once in summer ball when I was 16. It is something that is not common for me and probably not common for other guys.”
This type of baseball is unusual to DeFrancesco, as well.
“This is something new to me,” he said.“I’ve never done it before except for maybe one time in 15 years. Twice in one year is pretty special.”
Although rare, stealing home plate is a big part of baseball lore. The most famous example of the play took place during Game 1 of the 1955 World Series between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Yankees. Jackie Robinson stole home in the eighth inning to bring the Dodgers within a run. The Dodgers lost the game 6-5, but stunned the rival Yankees in seven games for the title.
Ivan Rodriguez, Carl Crawford and most recently Jacoby Ellsbury have also pulled off the play.
“You see the highlights on ESPN Classic,” Patterson said.“At that present time you don’t really think about it. You just are trying to focus on what you are trying to do.”
Against Las Vegas in April, DeFrancesco was trying to give his team a late lead.
“I said, ‘Hey, the guy’s in the wind-up.What do you think?’” DeFrancesco said, recalling his exchange with Patterson. “(Eric) made the comment, ‘I got it.’ I said ‘Well, then go for it,’
“That is how simple the communication is. It is not very complex.”
According to Patterson, against Round Rock “(I had to) make sure I got a good lead, to get out there far enough, that way I don’t have as much ground to cover. The pitcher was really slow to the plate. He wasn’t paying attention to me at third base. I was way off (during the) first couple of pitches when he was going to the plate. I saw the pitcher go into his motion; I just took off and darted for home plate.”
Now that the play has worked twice this year, the call is always lingering in the back of DeFrancesco’s mind.
“If I see a guy in a wind-up I think about stealing home,” he said. “I’m going to make sure if I am going to do that I’m going to take my highest-percentage runner to make it successful because there’s a chance you’re going to make an out there if it is not executed right.”
DeFrancesco wanted to make it clear that the call to steal home is not something just meant for Patterson. It depends on the situation and each of his players has to be ready to go.
“I think Carson could steal it, obviously Patterson,” the manager said. “There are a lot of guys on the team who could (steal home plate).”
As of May 13, Patterson leads the team and ranks tied for second in the Pacific Coast League with 25 stolen bases.
“I have pretty good instincts and I definitely feel comfortable running the base-pads,” Patterson said. “(Stealing home) is not very common in baseball, it does not happen a whole lot. To have a manager who has confidence in your ability and your instincts to give you the green light to go ahead to do that is big for me as a player. I love it,” Patterson said.