NORTH ADAMS -- Jeff Roy has been making splash after splash this season with his base stealing. But Saturday night was about his defensive abilities and how great they are.
Time after time, Roy raced across the outfield grass to steal away what should have been extra-base hits. He ran left. He ran right. But in the eighth and ninth innings, he turned and sprinted toward the center field wall for two over-the-shoulder catches that kept the North Adams SteepleCats in the lead and prolonged their season another day.
"I personally wasn’t surprised," catcher and University of Rhode Island teammate Shane O’Connell said. "I played with him all year. I’ve seen him make unbelievable plays more so during the season at URI than here. But I told him, ‘I’m no longer surprised at anything you do out there. You literally track balls down hundreds of feet away from you and catch them over your head.’ It’s unbelievable. I love it. As a catcher, you can’t ask for more from your center fielder."
It’s that kind of speed and tracking ability that has given O’Connell confidence to tell pitchers not to be afraid of grooving a fastball in crucial situations. That’s exactly the message Matt Longfield received in the late innings Saturday night. Roy didn’t disappoint.
"It gives me the most confidence to just fill up the zone with strikes because if they hit a ball out in center
Earlier in the game, he made a play equally as good without making a catch. Instead, he showed off his well-above-average arm.
Chris Bielak had just given up a solo home run, and the SteepleCats were now in a 2-0 hole with one out in the fourth. The next batter sliced a shot hard into the left-center field gap, just out of Roy’s reach. He got a hand on it after one bounce and knocked it down. He quickly picked it up and fired it to second base, holding Daniel Spingola to a long single.
But perhaps his best catch came in the middle innings. He dashed from left-center through center and into right-center before stretching his glove hand out and snaring a would-be double out of the air.
"Game changer. We don’t win the game and more importantly, we don’t save enough of our arms because the fact that he can make those plays, we obviously have quicker innings for our pitchers," manager Bryan Adamski said.
All this talk about his speed begs one question: Just how fast is he?
Roy said he was clocked at 6.5 seconds in the 60-meter dash at the All-Star game two weeks ago, which puts him right up there with the major leaguers. So it should come as no surprise that the rising senior is attracting the attention of some scouts.
His success has not come by accident. He has put in the time, especially after being cut from his high school’s varsity team and relegated to the junior varsity as a sophomore. He quit his other sports and focused on baseball. He got faster, stronger and overall better. Now the reigning Atlantic-10 Player of the Year is helping the SteepleCats battle their way through the postseason.
"I pretty much played the outfield my whole life. In Little League, I played very little first base," the admittedly 5-foot-9-inch Roy said. "I was never big, was never going to be big. But I just got to use my speed to my advantage."
But there’s much more that goes into playing a sound center field than just speed and good reads.
"It’s not just ‘Oh, let’s go out there and play the outfield,’ " he said. "It’s ‘All right, they have the bottom of the lineup up. This kid hit it to right field his first at-bat. This kid hit a home run his last at-bat.’ You just got to know where you are in the lineup and also where our pitchers are going to throw it."
That’s why playing with O’Connell in college helps Roy.
"With Shane being our catcher from URI, and I know how he pitches to guys, [it’s] key for me to know where to set up and get ready for if a ball’s going to be hit to me."
O’Connell has seen him play since early spring and knows exactly how good Roy is. Adamski has seen him for two months and is overly impressed.
"When he’s playing within himself and he’s hitting his cut-off man and actually thinking his way through the game," Adamski said, "he’s the best outfielder in the league, and I’m pretty confident to say that."