Hammonds takes it 1 step at a time

April 03, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

Orioles coach Davey Lopes twice led the National League in stolen bases, so his is a voice of authority on the difference between a runner who can steal bases and a base stealer.

"To be a base stealer, you have to have a certain mental attitude," Lopes said. "There is a lot more to it than just having great physical tools. You can't be afraid to run when everybody ** in the ballpark knows you are going to run if you want to be known as a base stealer and not just a guy who steals bases."

Rookie right fielder Jeffrey Hammonds, the fastest runner on the Orioles, wants to earn that reputation.

In time.

"I don't know much yet about all that goes into reading pitchers," Hammonds said. "That's something that will come with experience. The more experienced you are, the more relaxed you are. The more relaxed you are, the more you can let your instincts take over. The more you let your instincts take over, the less you have to think."

The less you think, the more decisively you act.

Hammonds, 23, has the first necessary ingredient for a base-stealer. He can fly.

"I don't think we know, and I don't think he knows yet," Lopes said of Hammonds' base-stealing potential. "But I won't be surprised by anything he does. In my seven years as a coach, I've never seen a right-handed hitter come down the first-base line as fast as he does. That last 20 feet, he is just so explosive."

In 93 professional games last season, Hammonds stole 14 bases in 20 attempts.

"Until I have some experience under my belt, until I know the pitchers more, know their tendencies better, I won't be a base stealer," Hammonds said. "But there is nothing I would want to hear more than to be called a base stealer."

Hammonds has limited his advisers on the subject to one.

"Davey," Hammonds said. "Period. I'll be watching all the great ones out there, but Davey is the one I'll be talking to. Davey knows. That's his job. I watched him play in the late '70s and early '80s and I do remember him running the bases. That's why you have to give him that respect. He's earned it."

Hammonds does not expect his transition from a player who steals bases to a base stealer to take place immediately. Neither does manager Johnny Oates.

"He's going to be an outstanding base runner," Oates said. "We haven't let him run a whole lot yet. No. 1, with our lineup, we don't want to be running into too many outs. No. 2, we're going to break him in slowly. He's not going to be running wildly."

Other than his speed, what Oates likes best about Hammonds' base-stealing potential is his willingness to start sentences with, "I don't know."

Oates notes the genuine respect Hammonds shows Lopes and smiles.

"That's why he's going to be so good," Oates said. "It's refreshing seeing someone his age come along who doesn't already know everything. I've been in the game 27 years and I know I don't know everything about the game.

"You find today so many young players, especially those who come from the good college programs, have all the answers. He's not like that. He likes to listen. That's what makes him so special. He's a very educable young man."

Fleet, smart and open-minded. A nice start. Only time will give Hammonds the experience. Then the steepest hurdle awaits. It involves embracing a bold attitude. Daring but not foolish. Wise yet fearless. Most of all, a base stealer must be devoid of excuses not to run.

"All base stealers have that certain attitude, the attitude that they are going to take control of the game," Lopes said. "I had it. I wasn't going to take control of a game at the plate, so I knew

the only way I could do it was when I got on base."

Lopes has answers for all the rationalizations for not stealing a base.

Excuse No. 1: With so many run-producers in the lineup, trying to steal a base is too risky.

"Time out," Lopes said. "I think I played with some pretty good ballplayers so I don't want to hear that, OK? Timmy Raines played with some pretty good ballplayers when he was stealing all those bases. Same for Joe Morgan."

Excuse No. 2: It's the manager's fault. He won't give me the green light.

"Johnny gives a lot of freedom, but you have to earn your green light," said Lopes, who had a career success rate of 83 percent. "And when he does give it to you, you better be ready. You have to A) want to run, and B) you better be successful a good percentage of the time when you do run.

"It's no different than hitting. In order for him to put your name in the lineup you have to show something with your bat. So if you want the green light, you have to earn that respect. Don't blame the manager for not letting you run. I don't want to hear that stuff. Go talk to someone who will listen and make you feel good.

"You think if Johnny had Kenny Lofton or Roberto Alomar he would be putting the reins on them?"

Hammonds draws on Lopes' knowledge daily. He also studies pitchers from the dugout. When the time comes to make the final sprint into the elite group he wants to join, he knows where to look.

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