At the risk of being called the old man who yells at clouds or hollers at kids to get off my burned-up lawn, modern baseball can at times be downright tedious.
When guys aren’t striking out or hitting home runs, there’s a lot of loitering taking place over the course of nine innings.
There’s no standing around when it comes to Springfield Cardinals center fielder Mike Antico. I love the way this guy plays. Once he reaches first base, he will be sliding into second in a blink. Defensively, he tracks down anything hit within the 417 area code.
It’s baseball as it’s meant to be played — especially in a Cardinals uniform, where speed is one of the organization’s pillars. Antico, a New Jersey native who grew up cheering on the New York Yankees, might be the new sultan of speed in the organization.
Antico’s walk-up song is fellow New Jersey native Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” a perfect match if there ever was one.
“Mike is havoc on the basepaths,” Springfield hitting coach Tyger Pederson said earlier this week, before Antico went out and stole two bases in a win over the Tulsa Drillers.
Finding a home in Springfield’s lineup
Since his promotion from High-A Peoria on July 1, Antico has found a home at the top of the Springfield lineup. He is a perfect 11-for-11 in stolen-base attempts after swiping 37 of 40 in 71 games at Peoria to lead all of High-A.
Antico led off Thursday night’s 13-5 victory over Tulsa — the Cardinals’ fourth straight triumph — with a walk, stole second on the first pitch and scored on Masyn Winn’s single.
Later, he walked and scored again before flexing his muscle with his first Springfield home run.
Overall, he’s 48 of 51 this season to rank in a tie for fourth most steals in all of the minor leagues. Antico said he doesn’t steal with reckless abandon, picking his spots and studying the opposing pitchers which is why his success rate is ridiculously high.
Antico, 24, would like for people to recognize that he’s more than a base-stealer, though.
“I think that stealing bases is definitely the strong suit of my game,” Antico said. “So I go with that. But I also like to make nice plays in center field and I like to hit, get on base, get some extra-base hits. I like to do it all. I even had an assist last week from the outfield.
“Obviously stealing bases is my strongest part of my game, but I like to do it all.”
A detour on the way to the minors
Antico, 5-10 and 205 pounds, is a native of Colts Neck, New Jersey, and his favorite player growing up was Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. He went on to play four seasons at nearby St. John’s University, appearing in 153 games with a .332 career batting average and 44 steals.
But after the pandemic cut his 2020 season to a handful of games and sliced the Major League Baseball draft to only five rounds, his hope for pro ball that summer was dashed.
Antico wound up going to Texas as a graduate transfer to play in 2021. It was a big step up in competition from the Big East to the Big 12 and he started slowly, hitting only .202 through the first six weeks of the season.
But Antico adjusted and finished at .273 with 41 stolen bases. A dozen of those steals came in the NCAA Tournament as Antico helped the Longhorns reach the College World Series. Texas won four games before losing in the finals to Mississippi State.
Scouts took notice and Antico was selected by the Cardinals in the eighth round last summer.
“They weren’t really on my radar,” Antico said of the Cardinals, “but once they drafted me I was very excited. Everybody I had talked to told me how great of an organization they are and how it was a great place for me to be. Seems like it all worked out.
“Historically, I have known that they emphasize speed a lot. Once they picked me, I said, ‘Hey, this might be a good fit.’ And it has been.”
Antico said the season at Texas, while unplanned prior to the pandemic, “changed my whole career and changed my life.”
He credits former Colorado Rockies all-star Troy Tulowitzki, an assistant with the Longhorns, for helping sharpen his game and handing out helpful advice from a major leaguer’s eyes.
“It’s probably the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said of the season at Texas. “I never would have expected it. It just kind of came about. It was an experience of a lifetime and I learned so much over the course of that year.”
Now, having already climbed to Double-A in a calendar year, Antico seems on the fast track (pun intended) to make a run at the big show. He’s 56 of 60 in stolen bases as a pro, but he knows there’s work to do, chiefly an ability to show continued improvement and consistency at the plate.
After all, the old saying “you can’t steal first base” does still apply, in any era of baseball.
“I know that I’m pretty good in all parts of my game, but being able to go out there every night and do it all consistently,” Antico said of his goals for the rest of the season.
Cardinals homestand at a glance
The Springfield Cardinals are in the midst of a six-game homestand at Hammons Field against the Tulsa Drillers, Double-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers. A look at the results and schedule:
- Tuesday – Cardinals 7, Drillers 6
- Wednesday – Cardinals 3, Drillers 1
- Thursday – Cardinals 13, Drillers 5
- Friday – 7:05 p.m. (Mercy Dri-Fit Polo Shirt, first 2,000 fans; Friday Night Fireworks)
- Saturday – 6:35 p.m. (Hiland Dairy Captain America Bobblehead, first 2,000 fans; Kids Pre-Game Super Hero Parade)
- Sunday – 6:05 p.m. (Hiland Ice Cream Sunday; Kids Run the Bases)