A few days ago during his daily early-morning clubhouse meeting with his team, Texas Rangers manager Jeff Banister presented the room with a hypothetical.
There are two outs, the Rangers have a runner on second base. The batter hits a ground ball in the hole at shortstop. The shortstop has the range to track it down and fires across the diamond to first.
“If you have the mindset out of the box you’re going to beat that play and you’re running hard down the line, and you beat that throw by half a step,” Banister explained. “[Meanwhile] the base runner at second base is anticipating the swing and takes off on contact and he comes all the way around and scores on that play?”
Banister made the statement — the classroom lesson, he doesn’t mind calling it — and turned it into a question to make his point.
“That’s a team event,” he said, underlining his point of how smart and aggressive base running is the purest team aspect of baseball.
The opposite, Banister illustrated, is also a team event: When the runner loafs out of the box toward first, gets beat by a half-step at first while his teammate is “busting his butt” trying to score but doesn’t because the inning is over.
“Run on, and run off,” Banister summed up the lesson. “It’s the one thing you can actually do for your teammates. It’s [the] team aspect. It takes all 25.”
Banister’s running philosophy isn’t all the much different than his predecessor’s, Ron Washington.
The aggressive but smart style he wants to employ this season has been driven home on nearly a daily basis to his players this spring.
On Wednesday, players went through a base-running drill that included a full defense and orange cones representing different high-percentage and low-percentage running situations.
A coach hit fungos to different parts of the field while runners worked on reading outfielders’ jumps, infielders’ ranges and determining whether attempting an extra base is wise.
Veteran Adrian Beltre doesn’t remember doing a similar drill in is 18th season in the big leagues.
“It was fun. It’s something new. It can create some different tools we may not have,” Beltre said. “Since I got here, it’s always been like that. That’s been the mindset, and if you do make a mistake being aggressive it’s not a big deal.”
That may not be the case with Banister. Although Beltre’s reputation likely keeps him free of Banister’s wagging finger, younger, less-experienced players better buy into the concept of knowing the situation before they’re even on base.
Great base running starts long before you get on the field, Banister said.
That’s why his running philosophy involves more studying than speed training.
He wants his base runners to know who’s playing where with what kind of range, what kind of arm in every spot on the field. They should know each pitcher’s pickoff tendencies, the time it takes him to deliver a pitch, and what sort of pitches he likes to throw in certain counts.
It’s a lot to keep in a base runner’s head. Leonys Martin and Shin-Soo Choo, two Rangers expected to hit near the top of the order, are excited about the style.
“Base running is the one event that really doesn’t take a lot of talent,” he said. “It’s [being] fearless, it’s effort.”
During one of his team meetings earlier this week Banister and his coaches asked players the following question: You’re a good base runner when …?
The best answer he heard, he said, is the backbone to his running philosophy.
The answer: The other team has to plan for me when I’m on base.
Put pressure on the defense, he said, make them make the play.
“I just love the aspect of putting pressure where pressure is needed,” he said. “It doesn’t take a lot of talent, it takes effort, education and being fearless. Base running can win and lose you games as much or more than anything else.”
Stefan Stevenson, 817-390-7760