SALADO —Chad Krempin called time.
With his usual steely glare, the Salado baseball coach trotted down the third-base line and whispered something to senior Reagan Bazar.
When he returned to the third-base coaches box, Krempin’s next few words were magic to Jake Bloomer’s ears.
“Whenever I say ‘Go,’ you need to go,” he told his junior courtesy runner.
With two long strides and a couple of quick shuffles to his right, Bloomer got a dangerous lead off third.
Cameron Yoe left-handed ace Jason Kopriva came set, awaiting the sign with the ball still squarely nestled in his glove, and Krempin said the magic word.
Taking off with hair-trigger quickness, Bloomer was halfway down the line before Kopriva could react. Unable to get out of his stance for fear of a balk, the Yoemen senior hastily threw the ball to batterymate Adam Charanza as the 6-foot-7 Bazar casually backed away from the batters box.
“I remember looking over and I’m (almost home) and I see the ball in the air, and I slid in and the catcher didn’t even have time to tag me,” Bloomer said about stealing home in Salado’s 5-1 victory over Cameron on March 23.
Stealing home is one of the more daring plays in baseball, as the runner attempts to outrace a baseball coming at a rate of 75-85 mph over the 60-foot distance from the mound to home plate.
“It’s brazen, but it can be a big momentum swing too and it can be something that really takes the air out of the other team,” Krempin said.
But that’s the way the second-year Salado skipper likes to do things — especially when it comes to his courtesy and pinch runners.
“You get more kids involved and you take advantage of some strengths that maybe other kids don’t have,” Krempin said. “Now, with the re-enter rule (in high school), if you need it, you’ve got speed one through nine. So you can run at any time and you can (play) aggressive baseball instead of station to station.”
Salado’s ability to create a little havoc on the base paths has the second-ranked Eagles (34-6-1) two wins shy of securing the program’s second Class 2A state championship. Salado plays No. 7 Hallettsville (33-3) in the second 2A state semifinal at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Round Rock’s Dell Diamond. The other semifinal is at 4 p.m. between No. 1 Hughes Springs (35-1) and Bangs (27-8). The 2A final is Thursday at noon.
Under Krempin, Salado has torn up the base paths to the tune of more than 110 stolen bases while opponents have less than 20 against them.
“I’ve never seen anyone use (pinch runners) as much as I do,” Krempin laughed.
“But I want to play aggressive baseball and if it’s there, we’re going to take it.”
Bloomer, who is the personal courtesy runner for junior catcher Cole Haag, leads the team with 21 steals while sophomore Keaton Mims, usually the courtesy runner for whomever is pitching, has 19 on the year.
“My biggest (motivation) is how many stolen bases I can get for a season and my goal is 25 and right now I’m at 21, so that’s what I try to do,” Bloomer said.
Both Bloomer and Mims claim to be able to make it from first to second base in 3.33 seconds, while fellow junior Tyler Tischler is slightly more humble about his 3.4-second speed.
“They’re not sitting on the bench just chilling out, they’re prepared and prepared to run. They do their job and they do it well,” Krempin said.
And they do it with swagger.
“I’m smart about it but I kind of live on the edge I guess, like you just have to have fun and be a little cocky while you’re out there,” Bloomer said. “You’ve got to be confident or else it won’t work.”
With attitudes like that, recklessness and bravado only seem to enhance their ability to advance a base without the necessity of a hit — a luxury few teams can afford.
“(With) Keaton, if we put a piece of plywood up there at home plate and said he had to slide through it, he would,” Krempin said. “He has absolutely zero fear out there and he likes to run.”
Pinch running is not a glamor job.
It’s one that rarely receives the credit it warrants, but always comes with a heavy responsibility to produce with pressure on. But acclaim isn’t part of the deal. It’s about making the most of someone else’s accomplishment.
“I don’t want to mess up because I think of it as it’s their run, they got the hit and so I want to score for them,” Mims said.
In the single-game Region III-2A semifinal against Elkhart, pinch runners accounted for 3/4 of Salado’s runs in a 4-2 win May 25, with Bloomer scoring twice.
“They know that it may depend on them if we win or lose sometimes and whether or not they do their job well,” Krempin said.
With most of the JV and freshmen players available after being brought up for the postseason, Krempin takes full advantage of his extra bodies, using six different replacement runners during the Region III-2A final series against Troy.
“When you’re brought up, coach expects you to do everything right, so (you) just do it,” said Tischler, who called the opportunity “nerve-wracking” at first.
Nerves or not, pinch running is a battle of wills and the entered runner tries to outwit the pitcher and catcher by working off cues to gain a better advantage.
“I usually watch the front foot because if it’s a right-handed pitcher, if he’s going to go to the plate, he’s going to pick up his foot,” Bloomer said. “So as soon as you see that slight movement, you take off.”
And because of Krempin’s frequency for using them, Salado’s courtesy and pinch runners view themselves as the team’s assembly-line workers. They have a highly specialized job, but without it, the entire production falls apart.
“I take a lot of pride in it because that’s the only thing you get to do,” Mims said, “that’s your job so you go out there and do your job.”
Contact Alex Byington at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7566