There wasn't a lot of glam to the Buffalo Bisons offense last year. The Herd ranked last in the International League with just 78 home runs and was second-last on the circuit with 544 runs scored.
But manager Bobby Meacham isn’t concerned about home runs or power hitting. He says his team is going to outwork the other team, and that means taking advantage of every opportunity on the bases to score runs. That's the plan of attack for 2018.
The Herd will have to wait an extra day before putting that plan into action. Friday's season opener against the Rochester Red Wings was postponed due to snow. They will open instead at 3:05 p.m. on Saturday at Frontier Field.
And when they do, Meacham thinks fans will see a team that's aggressive on the base paths and eager to jump on any miscues by the opposition.
"I think if I'm going to hang my hat on anything, I'm going to bet these guys are going to play as hard as anyone's seen them play," Meacham said on Thursday as the team held a media day before practice at Coca-Cola Field. "We're used to seeing guys pop up and jog around because it's going to be caught. Now, we're expecting more than that. We're expecting: 'Hey if they drop it, I'm going to be on second. If this guy doesn’t hit the cutoff man we're going to score from first on a double.'
"I think the fans and the baseball population in general is going to see these players go out and play as hard as they can every day and each and every one is going to push each other to do that. I don't think you see that very often. That's what we're shooting for."
To be clear, Meacham has said this group works hard and always has. They put in the time and effort before the game in preparation and batting practice and extra fielding work. It's just that the young players had trouble taking the intensity from their pregame work into the actual game.
"They work extremely hard before the game and my goal is to have them take the intensity from the preparation they do every day into the game," Meacham said. "I want them to think 'Man, I'm just going to look to raise the bar. I'm not going to settle for single. I'm going to go for a double. I’m not going to settle for first to third, I’m going to push it if they throw to the wrong base and try to score.'"
That aggressive attitude suits outfielder Roemon Fields. He led the International League in 2017 with 43 stolen bases – 12 more than anyone else on the circuit.
The key to stealing bases?
"Run," Fields said. "Get on base first of all and then once I do that, I'm out. There really is no key. "
Well, that's not entirely true. Fields said he studies pitchers before the game to see their speed to the plate and to pick up on any tendencies. He watches a pitcher's leg during the game to see if it's a bit slow and then, well, he just takes off.
"I think the key is don't be afraid to get thrown out," Fields said. "A lot of guys are afraid, 'Aw, I got caught stealing.' But good base stealers, you're aggressive and it really doesn't matter. But be smart at the same time."
Understanding the situation is an important part of the game, and will continue to be as the Bisons will try to use their team speed to manufacture runs.
"We have a lot of different ingredients to score runs and we're going to try to do some things on the bases with (position coach Devon White) spearheading some things," Meacham said. "We're going to try and do some extra things to make us an even better team as far as scoring runs."
But in order to score runs, and for Fields to steal bases, he has to first get on base.
That was the focus for Fields at spring training.
In 103 games with the Herd last year, Fields hit .291, but he struck out (65) twice as much as he walked (32).
He kicked of 2018 by playing in 27 games with the Toronto Blue Jays in MLB Spring Training where he hit .354.
"I came into spring really focusing on the hitting and getting better and trying to stay more consistent," Fields said. "I had some bad times at times, but I tried to stick with my approach and it worked pretty well.
"It's just more or less staying on the fastball and being aggressive. When I'm not as aggressive or getting on the fastball, I feel like I'm not as good. My brother says the aggressive Roe is a lot better. So I take his advice."