Gophers become aggressive on bases

Gophers infielder Connor Schaefbauer

Alex Tuthill-Preus

Gophers infielder Connor Schaefbauer

Ben Gotz

As sophomore Austin Athmann dived into second base on Tuesday, an ovation erupted from the Gophers dugout.
 
Teammates cheered as Athmann got up and dusted himself off after stealing the second base of his career.
 
“Austin would probably be [in] the competition for slowest guy on the team, so it was pretty cool to see him swipe a bag,” sophomore Matt Fiedler said.
 
Athmann and many of his teammates don’t exactly have blazing speed, but that hasn’t stopped the Gophers from becoming one of the most efficient base-running teams in the Big Ten. 
 
“All year, if you look at our numbers, we’re trying to steal bases,” head coach John Anderson said. “We’re trying to put pressure on the defense. I think it’s part of who we are.”
 
Through 24 games this season, the Gophers have made off with a total of 34 extra bases while being caught only 10 times. They’re only five steals away from matching last year’s season total.
 
But the difference isn’t as simple as the team adding more speed.
 
“We have a little bit more team speed for sure, but I think we’ve been more aggressive in all phases of the game this year, on offense and on the bases,” Fiedler said. “Guys who had the ability to steal bases in years past maybe were a little more tentative, and this year we made it clear that it doesn’t matter if you get thrown out. We want you to
keep stealing, and it’s worked out in our favor for sure.”
 
Anderson said the difference is also that players like Fiedler are gaining more experience and having a better idea of when they can be aggressive on the base paths.
 
With a year of college baseball under his belt, Fiedler has a better understanding of how to read pitchers’ tendencies, their speed to the plate and their moves back to first.
 
Now, Fiedler and many of the Gophers are putting that extra experience to good use. The coaching staff isn’t afraid to give players the green light to steal whenever they choose, and Fiedler and a few select other players on the team have that ability.
 
“I’m not the fastest guy on the team for sure, and guys let me know that, [but I] definitely get pretty good jumps and have a sense [of] when to go,” Fiedler said. “But the coaches kind of let me turn it loose when I feel the situation’s right, and a bunch of other guys have that ability, too.”
 
Another reason for the Gophers’ increased theft rate is that they’ve been getting on base at the right time to steal. Timely at-bats have given the team chances.
 
“We’ve got ourselves in the situations where we can run more,” junior Connor Schaefbauer said. “Like getting the leadoff guy on or getting on with less than two outs. We do have a lot of team speed, I think. We just had to get ourselves in position, and this year we’ve done a lot better at just swiping the bag.”
 
And in better situations, even guys like Athmann have been picking up steals.
 
“Really, when the situation calls for it, we’ve got quite a bit of guys who can actually do it,” Schaefbauer said.