Cole Freeman knows that when he’s at his best, he is a thorn in the side — the really annoying type that is always on the mind because it’s visible but just out of reach.
That describes the LSU second baseman, and how he wants pitchers to think of him when he reaches first base. If Freeman’s game is going right, he’s in two places at once — standing on first base and inside the pitcher’s head.
“Maybe in the back of my mind I know I’m not going to steal this bag, but I want it in the pitcher’s mind that I could,” Freeman said.
He’s not alone.
Freeman, who stole 26 bases last season, sees seven players in the LSU lineup capable of distracting the pitcher with their ability to swipe bags.
The Tigers pulled off the base-running triple crown last season, leading the Southeastern Conference in steals (95), stolen base attempts (137) and, as a byproduct, times caught stealing (42).
They were aggressive. Some of that has been attributed to former hitting coach Andy Cannizaro, who made a point of making LSU more dynamic on the bases when he arrived a few years ago.
Cannizaro was a prolific base-stealer in college and was quoted in the Advocate two years ago as saying that base-stealing is a mindset.
Of course, Cannizaro abruptly left for a head coaching opportunity in November. But LSU Paul Mainieri is quick to dispute the notion that LSU’s aggressiveness on the bases will go away now that Cannizaro is at Mississippi State.
With the roster constructed the way it is, thievery is promoted at LSU.
“The last couple years, we’ve had some guys who cold really steal bases and we let them run,” Mainieri said. “This year we’ll do the same with Freeman, (Kramer) Robertson and (Antoine) Duplantis, guys that can run.”
Those are LSU’s three returning players that accumulated double-digit steals a year ago. They’ll likely get the same opportunity to cause some havoc between first and third.
What Mainieri said he’s not going to do is steal bases just for base-stealing’s sake.
“I’m not going to ask guys that aren’t base stealers to steal bases,” Mainieri said. “We’re going to have to figure out other ways to manufacture the runs when we need to.”
But this is all part of it, Freeman said. The mere threat of action on the bases should aid in the run-manufacturing process.
Even if he doesn’t attempt a steal, his presence can result in a positive outcome.
“I know they know I’m about to go,” Freeman said. “That’s what I want in their mind. If I can almost play mind games with them … maybe they start a guy off with a fastball because they don’t want to throw a breaking ball if I’m going on that pitch.”
He proposed a hypothetical situation: He reaches first base and is still there when fastball-crunching power hitter Greg Deichmann comes up to the plate.
“If you leave Greg Deichmann a fastball," Freeman said, "he’s going to hit it a long way.”
It’s not just limited to base-stealing, though that’s the only quantifiable measure of base-running in a box score.
LSU devotes a hefty amount of practice time to every aspect of base-running — going first-to-third on a base hit, getting reads off pitchers — things that Freeman termed “a lost art” in college baseball.
“We’re striving to be the best base-running team in America,” Freeman said.
Which is another way of Freeman saying LSU is striving to be the most annoying team in America for opposing pitchers.