Indiana Daily Student

Speedy base runner Evan Crawford is always a threat to steal

Junior outfielder Evan Crawford dives back to first base after Valparaiso's Ryan O'Gara tries to apply a tag on a pickoff play. Crawford had two hits in the 9-5 Hoosier win.
Junior outfielder Evan Crawford dives back to first base after Valparaiso's Ryan O'Gara tries to apply a tag on a pickoff play. Crawford had two hits in the 9-5 Hoosier win.

Standing in a crouched position, his hands tickling the air, Evan Crawford’s eyes are fixed on the opposing pitcher.

Crawford takes off after he sees the pitcher’s high-arching leg, a sign of an imminent thrust into his delivery. Within an instant, he safely slides into another stolen base.

“I just look for that front foot to come up,” Crawford said. “When it comes up, I’m gone.”

This scenario has played out in a Big Ten-leading 22 occasions this season. The junior center fielder has been tagged only four times, once when he tried to steal home.

Crawford’s stealing ability was heightened by time spent with base-stealing expert Mike Roberts in Massachusetts’ Cape Cod league. He transferred summer lessons to IU’s season, coupling Roberts’ philosophy with speed and instinctual skill on the base path.

The art of base stealing seems rather simple to most, but Roberts schooled Crawford on the subject when he played for the Cape Cod league’s Cotuit Kettleers. He used his son Brian, a second baseman for the Baltimore Orioles, as a prototype from whom Crawford could draw tips.

Brian Roberts is one of major league baseball’s most deadly on the bases, with 229 stolen bases in his nine-year career as a Baltimore second baseman.

Mike Roberts, a former North Carolina baseball coach, taught Crawford and his teammates many of the principles he compiled with his son and turned into a book called “You Can’t Steal Second and Keep Your Foot on First.”

“I take all position players and try to teach them how to be aggressive,” Roberts said in a phone interview. “My philosophy is: I always want you going right. We want to run in any situation.”

Roberts said no one took to the phrase quite like Crawford.

“He was extremely aggressive,” Roberts said. “He wanted the challenge of stealing bases, so my responsibility to him was teaching him technique.”

Technique is invaluable and can turn any player into a base stealer, Roberts said. Some of the slower players can put pressure on defenses by being assertive yet smart on the bases. Any runner can make it to second if they get a lead off first base and properly judge the pitcher’s and catcher’s awareness.

The work Crawford put in under the Massachusetts sun helped him force every pitcher to constantly peer over his left shoulder when the stealthy runner is on first base.

“It’s his job to make it very difficult for the pitcher to settle in out there,” IU coach Tracy Smith said. “We expect him to get good reads and understand what the pitcher is trying to do and be aggressive to put himself in position to score for us.”

As a former Hoosier lead-off hitter, Crawford never had trouble putting the ball in play and effectively running the bases.

He has a .321 batting average and a .411 on-base percentage, despite an early-season slump at the plate. Crawford improved his performance in the Big Ten with increases to .328 batting and .437 on-base percentage.

Crawford has been relentless once he reaches base.

He embraced Roberts’ rule of thumb: “You’re always moving right.” Ricky Bobby-esque in its simplicity, Roberts said the ability to take a lead toward second base is the first step to base stealing.

“You have to get rid of fear,” Roberts said. “You can’t worry about getting picked off. You have to believe that you are better than the pitcher and better than the catcher and better than the defense.”

Crawford has never been one to shy away from second base.

He leaps from the bag in every base appearance. Separation is critical when trying to get leverage on a catcher waiting to gun you down at second base, he said.

“You gotta get a pretty good jump if you want to steal bases,” Crawford said.

Unearned bases lead to easy runs, which could make all the difference in a close game. Smith said IU needs more players with the ability to advance on the bases.
“What we’re trying to do as a team is hopefully go out and get some of those guys that can run, because that really does frustrate a defense,” he said.

Because he is the lone base-stealer on the Hoosier roster, teams tend to key in on Crawford. Roberts said he thinks Crawford can improve, regardless of the attention he garners.

“If Evan gets on base enough, he’s the type that could average one steal per game,” Roberts said.

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