BROADWAY – Growing up on his family’s farm in Linville, the always-quick Zane Hostetler had to race the weather at times, mowing or making hay before a rainstorm rolled in. As he put it, “You can’t waste time” in farming.
Hostetler’s father, Peter, taught him a few things in the rural setting near Harrisonburg: Do things when you’re told, do them quickly and don’t steal.
The Broadway High School center fielder listened – for the most part.
Eight stolen bases shy of the school’s career record held by his physical-education teacher, Brian Ratliff, Hostetler has contributed to the resurrected art of stealing as his three-year varsity career has basically coincided with high school baseball’s mandatory switch to the less-powerful BBCOR bats last season.
He was a perfect 20-for-20 in career steals for the Gobblers (8-6) until Tuesday’s loss at R.E. Lee.
Even when he was caught stealing for the first time, Hostetler still managed to help Broadway – distracting the defense on an intentional delayed double steal to allow Forrest Miller to score a game-tying run during a first-and-third situation.
“I think it took six or seven throws in a rundown before they got him,” BHS coach Charlie Shepard recalled.
Across the diamond that night was the current Valley District leader in stolen bases: senior shortstop Joe Moore (11 steals on 12 attempts).
Last spring, designated hitter Dylan Horne led the Leemen in that category, finishing an 18-game regular season with 14. Moore is easily on pace to break that. Elsewhere in the district, signs of increased base swiping is clearly evident. Junior third baseman Evan Hanifee, for example, leads Turner Ashby with 10 and had a team-best six last year. Fellow junior Jordan Elyard has eight as a pinch-runner specialist for the Knights (11-3).
TA, which managed seven steals in a 6-4 loss at Waynesboro Tuesday, now leads the Valley with 40 in 14 games (2.86 stolen bases per game), followed closely by Broadway’s 38 in 14 games (2.71 per game) and Lee’s 25 in 12 games (2.08 per game).
“The dynamic art of proper base-running has definitely made a comeback since high school baseball has gone to the BBCOR bats,” Lee coach George Laase said in an e-mail. “The big inning has given way to a small-ball attack, almost similar to the Major League approach in the 1980s of ground and pound, move them over, and get them in.
“Being a student of the game, I hate to see teams steal a base against us, but when it’s done correctly, you have to tip your hat to the effort of the player and the coach.”
Laase was probably sick over Lee’s first meeting with the Gobblers, who managed a season-high nine steals during a 7-2 win in Broadway on March 22.
Hostetler is the only BHS player who has the automatic green light on the base paths.
“He gets an excellent jump. He’s very good at reading the pitcher and he pushes his lead,” said Shepard, an aggressive base-running coach whose team has 86 steals in 92 attempts since the 2012 opener.
Less potent bats might not be the only reason for the boost in steals at Broadway.
Shepard said stealing has become more of a necessity this season to produce runs because of the graduation of three power hitters: Josh Eberly, Nathan Wisman and Ian Eberly. Of Broadway’s 100 hits so far this season, 85 have been singles.
“But we’ve scored 75 runs,” Shepard said. “By putting guys on the move and getting them from first to second, a single can score them.”
Hostetler, who recently saw the movie “42” depicting the legendary Jackie Robinson, said he’s been in a friendly battle with teammate Tristan Bailey, hitting behind the junior leadoff hitter. Bailey has nine steals in 11 attempts.
While Hostetler likes to get in the pitcher’s head, the 5-foot-8, 155-pounder said he doesn’t hop around and wiggle his fingers like the iconic Robinson.
“But at third, I like to a little bit,” the 18-year-old Hostetler said. “Just, you know, scare ’em a little bit. Get your steps, get up, get a good lead and get on base if the catcher catches it. Just let the pitcher know you’re there.”
Shepard plans to keep on stealing runs as much as possible — that’s essentially been his reputation in his 20 years of coaching. Even in the Rockingham County Baseball League last summer, the Bridgewater Reds’ manager had the services of former TA graduates Josh Wright and Kevin Bocock, who is TA’s single-season steals record holder with 24 in 2008.
In Shepard’s mind, it’s a numbers game. Risk versus reward. As he put it, if a catcher is considered elite for throwing out roughly 30 percent of base stealers in the pros, then that number is probably lower at the college level and even lower in high school.
And with an intelligent, speedy player like Hostetler – not to mention nine other Gobblers with at least one stolen base – it’s usually a win-win situation for Shepard.
“Overall, the percentages of high school catchers throwing out base-runners is real low,” Shepard said. “So to me, it’s a part of the game that, OK, why not use it?”