OAKLAND — The visiting clubhouse attendants in Oakland have impressed Adam Eaton, who was surprised Saturday to find no white mark near the toes of his cleats.
Normally Eaton’s base running style — one he prominently displayed during Friday’s seventh-inning White Sox rally (Robin Ventura called it a “straight hustle play”) — leaves the tips of his shoes with a white scuffmark from how he hits the front of first base when running down the line.
Eaton and ex-Arizona Diamondbacks teammate A.J. Pollock have practiced the base-running style for several seasons.
Seemingly a minor detail, the play paid big dividends on Friday as Eaton just beat the relay throw on a potential inning-ending double play to extend the inning and the White Sox capitalized with five runs.
“I know it’s a really small thing that seems very kind of a waste of time,” Eaton said. “But if you’re a speed guy like him and I, you work on that. …
“They always say hit the front of the bag and we take it to the extreme of hitting the front of the bag and saving yourself a half step. It makes a big difference.”
Up in the Oakland broadcast booth Eric Chavez, a former teammate of Eaton’s, noticed the minor detail. Eaton said he and Chavez had plenty of time to discuss baseball with the Diamondbacks in 2013 and the move is a function of trying to make an impact no matter the situation.
“If I’m going to stink, make something positive out of it and beat this ball out, keep the line moving and it happened to work out,” Eaton said. “And sometimes mentally it can cause a pitcher to think ‘I was that close to getting out of the inning’ and it kind of implodes a little.”
Eaton said he previously used the ploy at Triple-A to fool umpires, who couldn’t tell if he truly reached the base or not from 10-15 feet behind the bag. Several years ago, Eaton said he hardly ever touched the base and then just dragged the toe across because it had the same look from an umpire’s perspective.
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Instant replay has of course changed Eaton’s path to first and he now has to make sure he touches the front of the base with his toe. But the practice still is effective because Eaton saves a half step every time.
“(Chavez) shouldn’t be giving away my secrets,” Eaton said with a laugh. “Before replay, realistically I would never even hit the bag. I would hit the front of the bag and drag my toe over it because from an umpire’s perspective, he’s 10, 15 feet behind the bag, all he sees is my foot hit something and in Triple-A there was quite a few times where I wouldn’t hit the bag and I’d be safe by a half-step. But now with replay you still have to hit the bag … Really I just try to nudge the front of the bag and then drag my foot over the top of it.
“It does make a difference.”