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World Series Star Scott Podsednik Shares His Keys for Running the Bases

Scott Podsednik led the National League in stolen bases with 70 in 2004. He swiped 59 to pace a productive Chicago White Sox lineup to a World Series title in 2005. For his career, Podsednik stole 309 bases.

He demonstrated the value of a good leadoff man in his first full season in 2003 by scoring 100 runs for the Milwaukee Brewers.

So even at 41, retired for a half-decade and serving as a White Sox pre- and post-game analyst on CSN Chicago, Podsednik should be an authority on speed and proper base running techniques.

Always proud of his swiftness, affable Texan Podsednik once gave a telling response when informed of someone in his category of motoring.

“So let’s race,” he said.

Those blessed with speed can refine that skill set, like anything else in the game, Podsednik said. But there’s no perfect drill for improving one’s speed, and there are always limits.

“Can you make a guy faster? Yes,” said Podsednik. “Can you make a guy world-class speed? No. You’re born to run a certain speed. That’s what’s you’re given at birth — they are the genetics to do this.”

Podsednik said his recommended drill is very low-tech — simply to run sprints at the maximum speed and effort an athlete can generate.

“Do it at 100 percent threshold,” he said. “You’ve got to teach the body and the nervous system how to fire at 100 percent. You can run sprints at 70 percent, 50 percent, 80 percent, and you’re not going to improve your foot speed. You have to hit threshold and you have to reach 100 percent when running sprints.

“That’s why a lot of guys find it hard to improve speed. It takes effort. You have to hurt, and you have to work and you have to put in the time.”

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In going from Point A to Point A, home plate to home plate, speed isn’t the entire answer in the quickest way to scoring runs. Sometimes a smart base runner can prove more productive than a straight speedster.

“When I came across a player who did what I was trying to do, I would pick their brain and talk with them, get their perspective on how they developed,” Podsednik said.

“Talking with players is one thing. I learned a lot simply by watching the game and really paying attention. Base stealers paying attention to pitchers, paying attention to pitchers. There are so many different situations, plays, and times to run that are dictated by the score and who’s at bat. You don’t learn those instincts without being around the game. I watched films on Rickey Henderson and his jumps.

“I felt like I kept my mouth shut, and my eyes and ears open most of the time. That’s how I gained most of my information.”

Advance preparation is key. Podsednik does not recommend players start scanning their entire surroundings — the overall defense and field conditions — once they reach base.

“The trick is knowing as much of that information as you can before you reach base,” he said. “I wanted to be as prepared as possible before I ever got to first.

“I knew all the pitcher’s times. I knew what he threw in situations. I knew the outfielders’ arms. I knew their tendencies. I knew how they were going to throw Tadahito (Iguchi, the No. 2 Sox hitter). I knew how they were going to pitch to (Paul) Konerko. I knew as much information as possible to give me a slight edge out there.

“If you’re surprised once you get to first base and you’re trying to compute all this information without doing some homework, you’re going to be kind of behind the eight-ball.”

Some base runners lose multiple steps taking too wide of a turn around third. Podsednik simply practiced over time cutting the base properly after being thrown out.

“In the minor leagues, you do so many things wrong for so long, I learned what not to do,” he said. “You make the adjustment or find something else to do.”

Another variance in base runners’ styles is some will look back at the outfielder on a hit to right as they start motoring from first to third. That takes physical coordination to not lose speed in their strides, and not totally rely on their third-base coach.

“I never relied on the third-base coach,” Podsednik said. “I would take a few steps. Based on how hard the ball was hit and based on where the right fielder was playing, you take a three or four strides looking and gathering that information. Before I get to second, I know if I’m going to third or not.”

One final duty of the base runner is avoiding getting deked by middle infielders pretending the ball is where it isn’t.

“No question,” Podsednik said. “Later in my career I felt, stealing a base, a little more comfortable just peeking in to see if that ball was or wasn’t hit. But sometimes you get caught in-between. Those guys do a good job deking you. I don’t think it slows you down enough to get a slight peek in just to see where that ball was hit. I would probably encourage base stealers to get a listen and take a brief look in and see if that ball crossed home plate.”

During the 2005 season, Podsednik strictly followed White Sox brass’ instructions to spray the ball around the field, and not try for home runs as the leadoff man. He had slugged 12 homers with the Brewers in 2004, but batted just .244. Following the game plan the next season, he had no regular season homers, but batted .290.

All that went out in the window in one memorable at-bat in the ninth inning of Game 2 of the World Series in Chicago. Against Houston Astros’ closer Brad Lidge, Podsednik slugged a walk-off homer to help the White Sox eventually sweep the Fall Classic. He is one of the handful of players in World Series history to end a game with a homer.

Twelve years later, Podsednik still regards that moment with disbelief.

“I have quite a few pictures hanging in my office dealing with the World Series, and then specifically that Game 2 home run,” he said. “When I walk in, I see Sports Illustrated with me on the cover hitting that home run and right next to it is a picture of Aaron Rowand holding me up with teammates right after.

“I catch myself looking up and saying, ‘How in the world did I run into that ball?’ I only hit 42 homers in my career and none in the (2005) regular season. How in the world did you weasel your way into hitting one in the World Series?’” 

From GameChanger and George Castle

Baseball, Baseball Player Development, Baseball Tips & Drills