By: Ryan Guinan
Base stealing has become quite a habit for the 2011 Fresno Grizzlies. The team has eclipsed three stolen base records this season and demonstrated they can put the pressure on the base paths. Led by the PCL’s leading base stealer Tyler Graham, this group of speedsters has not hesitated to gamble an extra 90 feet if it could mean the difference in a game.
Tyler Graham has become known for lightning quick plays on the bases. This year, he has surpassed the old franchise mark for stolen bags in a season (42) set by Calvin Murray in 1999. Graham accomplished the feat in a winning effort on July 9th to set up a walk-off hit by Justin Christian. Graham stole second, third and eventually scored the winning run. Its plays like this that can change the course of a close game and perhaps a season if the situation presents itself.
Graham’s aggressive base running has proven successful for him throughout his entire career. Heading into an eight game road trip against Iowa and Omaha, Graham was successful in 51 of his 61 attempts to swipe an extra bag. Graham currently leads the PCL in steals and has done so by leaving the rest of the pack in the dust. He holds a 13 base cushion to Esteban German of the Round Rock Express who ranks second in the league. He constantly has pushed the limit to get on base and look for an extra 90 feet that could be the difference maker.
Tyler has led this Grizzlies team to a record of their own, the franchise’s single season mark for most stolen bases by a team. They beat out the 1999 Grizzlies who had 145 thefts that season. On July 23rd, in a game against the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, Justin Christian stole second base to make it 146 on the year for the 2011 Grizzlies. The benchmark seemed destined to be broken after last year’s club totaled 143 stolen bases, just two shy of the old franchise record. On their way to the record, the team also recorded 10 stolen bags on April 10th against Las Vegas. This number was good enough for another Grizzlies record, most stolen bases in a game. The group was filled with the potential to overcome the team record with guys like Graham, Darren Ford, Emmanuel Burriss, and Christian. Grizzlies’ fans would expect nothing else while under the management of Steve Decker. He has been known to harass opposing pitchers with the constant threat of a base stealer. His ball club in San Jose totaled 205 bags swiped in 2008 and his Grizzlies last year compiled 143. Stealing bases is no surprise for a Decker team, but much more of an expectation.
This team has made the franchise record more of a spectacle to see as they have run wild on the bases. With the Giants ranking in the bottom of the league in run production, aggressive base running could be their answer to more runs. Fans can recall a Grizzlies September call-up last year that led to a big win against Colorado on September 1st.
In a 1-1 deadlock, Darren Ford was put into action, pinch-running for Mike Fontenot. He would go on to flash his speed that day for the go-ahead run. He didn’t hesitate one bit in his first Major League appearance. He advanced to second base on a wild pitch and than made his way home on a throwing error to third for the game-winning score, which eventually proved to be just as important as any other run that season. The Giants had to use all 162 games in order to clinch the division and a spot in the post-season, making Ford’s speed more valuable than ever for the club. The Giant’s base running threats are limited this year and their run production ranks amongst the bottom half of the league. Aggressive base running could prove to be their only hope, meaning one of the Grizzlies could be called up solely for speed purposes as Ford was last year.
The Giants are attempting to repeat their World Series performance of last year while fending off surging Arizona. San Francisco has been thriving off of one-run ballgames. If this continues to be the case, they may need to call up another speedster from Fresno. Although the Giants main need is hitting, they may look to have one man on the bench who can change the game in a foot race between him and the catcher’s arm for an extra 90 feet. If this is the case, Fresno is ready to go with numerous guys who can add their speed to a World Champion. The Grizzlies will continue to extend their records for the rest of the season and hopefully, one of them can make it up for a September call up to help make another run to the World Series.