By Brian Yauger
The art of stealing a base is not something every baseball player has the skill for.
Two notorious masters of the craft are Jackie Robinson and Rickey Henderson.
Robinson once famously stole home in the 1955 World Series, which is one of the most prominent photos in the sport and Henderson, the all-time leader in stolen bases, stole 1,406 bases during his illustrious 25-year career.
Youngstown State University’s baseball team has its own artist in the making with sophomore Jeff Wehler.
Wehler has 14 stolen bases on the season and 39 throughout his two-year career. He’s already tied for seventh place all-time with Mike Szenborn, a member of the YSU Athletics Hall of Fame.
What goes into stealing a base? Not much, according to Wehler.
“There’s not really much to go into it,” Wehler said. “You just find the pitchers tendencies and [assistant] coach [Eric] Smith. Coach Smith is really good at preparing us to pick up pitcher tendencies. Every guy is different. You got some guys that are ‘shoulder guys.’ Some guys are when they breathe. It’s just — there’s a whole plan on it, but I just pick it up, and I really pay attention to in film, and I just get good reads and that’s the end of it.”
The Penguins have had a resurgence since their rough start. A start like they had could kill morale, but Wehler says the team is feeling a lot better as of late.
“I think we’ve done a great job,” Wehler said. “At the beginning of the year, we started off a little slow. We played a couple tough teams, and then I think we got a little bit of frustrated. I think we got a little bit down on ourselves because we weren’t — we weren’t winning as much as we wanted to. But as of now, I think we’re handling it awesome. I think the guys are we’re starting to play some baseball, and the guys are really excited to just come to the yard every day and play.”
According to Wehler, playing at home a lot more has something to do with that.
“I think playing here at Eastwood [Field] in front of our home crowd is actually really exciting for the guys,” Wehler said. “I know we got a few young guys who haven’t really experienced it, and I think they’re really excited to just kind of play in front of the home crowd and come here every day.”
Wehler had a good freshman year, averaging around a hit-per-game and 25 stolen bases, but knew there were things about his game he needed to change. Mainly increasing his mental toughness and his awareness.
“Individually, there’s a lot of things I needed to change since last year,” Wehler said. “I mean, I had endless conversations with the coaches on just things I need to improve on the off season and I came back more of a better player. I came back more mentally strong and more aware of what was going on around me.
Like many in the sport, Wehler’s love of the game comes from family ties. His dad and brothers all played baseball all the way through college.
“My dad and two brothers, they played in college,” Wehler said. “They all went to the same college, they went to school in Erie. So, just growing up I was just always around the game of baseball and just just learning new things, and I’ve just always found interest in it. So, just being around the game. My whole life just really drew my interest as I was growing up, and I’ve just been playing it ever since.
They all attended Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, a Division III school. With those ties getting him into the sport, it would make sense for Wehler to follow in their footsteps, but instead Wehler chose YSU becoming the first in his family to play Division I baseball.
“It’s just a great opportunity,” Wehler said. “The coaches were really young. [They’re] more my type of coaches and just coaches you want to be around. You just want to be here … When I got on campus, it just just felt like home. It felt like I could be here. It’s something I could be at for the next four years.”
If Wehler maintains the pace established in his freshman season, he should be able to pass everyone and become the all-time stolen base leader. Nick Gesacion, another YSU Athletics Hall of Famer is the current all-time leader with 97 stolen bases that he set in his time with the Penguins from 1968 to 1971.
By watching and learning from the pitchers, Wehler has shown his skills as a base thief. Wehler may not pull a Robinson, but there is a very good chance for the sophomore to become the Penguins’ Henderson. But like they say, you can’t rush art.