The ball dribbled its way through the infield dirt, slowly and surely.
As slowly as it was hit, it was still outside the reach of Shoemaker second baseman Jamie Funk. He dove and scooped up the ball, but he had no play.
Mark Herrington was safe at first base already. He had followed the old baseball mantra – hit ’em where they ain’t.
That is exactly how Belton beat Shoemaker 11-0 on Friday. However, the Tigers are not an old-school baseball team.
They are more about playing moneyball, more knowing sabermetrics and pulling it all together with the sound fundamentals that Belton has been playing with for years.
And it is no coincidence.
Belton baseball coach Eddie Cornblum has followed the career of Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane, who is usually credited with bringing moneyball to major league baseball, closely. Cornblum and Beane both went to Mt. Carmel High School in San Diego, Calif.
Beane actually went to school with Cornblum’s brother. It would be stretching the truth to say the two are close friends. Cornblum, though, has taken the lessons Beane has repeatedly shown all of major league baseball and has passed them on to the Tigers and rubbed them in the faces of the rest of the Tigers’ district competition.
“I have learned a lot from that dude over the years,” Cornblum said. “He is a guy that went to my high school.”
Belton had five singles to start the game against Shoemaker. Four of them came with two strikes in the count. The Tigers only walked three times — and took one hit by pitch — against Grey Wolves ace Roberto Delgado. But that speaks more to Delgado than it does to Belton’s plate patience.
In a win over Harker Heights on April 4 they scored 17 runs on 11 hits and one error in four innings. That is efficiency. But it was not laced with extra-base hits and a few walks. They had nine singles and a home run by Chase Sortor. They also drew 13 walks.
Forget Kevin “The Greek God of Walks” Youkilis. Belton deserves the title given to the former Boston Red Sox and current New York Yankees third baseman in Michael Lewis’ book “Moneyball.”
But it’s not any one player. It’s the entire team. In a 6-1 win over Heights to open District 8-5A play, Belton only had two hits. But again, they kept walking down to first base, drawing an unbelievable 14 bases on balls. In 10-1 and 14-3 wins over Copperas Cove they drew a combined 17 walks in 11 innings.
“We take time teaching the players ‘What can you do well?” Cornblum said. “What is your strength and what is your weakness? I think the guys have an understanding what they are good at and we have a lot of hitters right now that are unselfish and will take a walk over a hit. And when you have guys that will do that 1 through 9 ,and even guys on the bench to do that, then we are able to do things.”
There are few box scores out there where the Tigers did not draw at least five walks in a game.
And that is exactly why they keep winning.
It doesn’t matter how Herrington gets on base. It doesn’t matter if Sortor is trotting after a home run or after taking four pitches that didn’t quite catch the corner of the plate.
All that matters is that Belton always has base runners. And with a few well-placed hits, those runners score. The Tigers do not have Shane Hoelscher setting the team home run record this season. They don’t have Dillon Newman striking every other batter out.
Instead they play a brand of baseball that is one part fundamentals and one part moneyball.
And slowly and surely it works.