CHICAGO – Northern Illinois senior Jamison Wells watched Kent State left-handed pitcher Brian Clark as he stood on first base during the eighth inning of Friday’s 3-2 loss, searching for tendencies that would make it difficult to steal second base.
Amonth the four pitches he watched, Wells didn’t see the slide step that has become popular among pitchers to keep him honest when he’s on base. He didn’t see the pitcher paying him any special attention, somewhat surprising given the fact that the senior led the Mid-American Conference in stolen bases last season with approximately one every other game.
So Wells took off, using the speed that he uses as a receiver on NIU’s football team to easily beat the catcher’s throw to second for his 71st career stolen base, tying for the NIU record with Alvin Maynard.
“It was an easy stolen base,” Wells said.
Stealing bases is a thinking man’s game more than a test of pure speed. A runner needs to know the precise moment to take off. He needs to be able to pick out what pitch is coming next and whether they’re going to pitch out or slide-step. That’s what makes Wells such a good base-stealer, NIU coach Ed Mathey said.
“It’s not just speed,” Mathey said. “We’ve had guys maybe as fast as Jamison that couldn’t steal a base. We’ve had guys who are slower than Jamison who have stolen a lot of bases. You’ve got to have a mentality that you’re not going to be afraid to try it. You’ve got to study pitchers a little bit, you’ve got to understand when you get good jumps and when you don’t.”
Wells has improved at stealing bases each year, even as pitchers begin to focus more on him. His sophomore year, he finished second in the MAC with 27 stolen bases. The following year, he stole just two fewer bases despite reaching base 22 less times.
He’s stolen seven bases in 22 games this season, and conference play is just underway. Ever since he stole a base against Austin Peay during his freshman year, Wells has always known that he had the speed to take catchers on.
Now, he knows that it’s not all about speed.
“My freshman and sophomore year, it was just, ‘Get on base and go,’ “ Wells said. “Every year, it definitely gets tougher because your name gets out there and you’ve got to avoid pitch-outs ... I’ve learned a few things along the way, trying to get signs from the catcher, reading the pitcher’s moves, just telling yourself you’re not going to steal, just watch and see what he’s doing out there, try to figure out if he’s crossing the mid-line or not.
“It’s just a big game out there.”
By the numbers
Stolen bases by season for Jamison Wells