COLUMBIA – Blake Brown carefully prances off first base.
The Missouri outfielder takes a rigid hop, his hands pinned to his knees, as he inches closer and closer to stealing second base.
He quickly freezes. Iowa pitcher Jarred Hippen is staring directly at him from the mound. An innocent Brown shyly shuffles back toward first, easing Hippen’s nerves.
But with the next pitch, Brown was gone, sliding safely into second.
"When the pitcher looks at me, I try to go back toward the base and make him think that I’m not really doing anything," Brown said. "But when they look away, I shuffle toward second base, or whatever base I need to steal."
Brown helped lead the Tigers in their 9-1 victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes on Saturday, but more importantly he tested out a new style of base running.
His new technique is entertaining.
He shuffles back and forth, sharp on his toes, gracefully yet playfully moving on every pitch.
"People ask me, 'What are you doing out there? Are you dancing?'" Brown said, laughing at his own depiction. "My teammates are just all over me about it."
But there’s a reason for Brown’s new dance.
"It’s a lot easier to get going and get your top speed, and it makes it a lot easier to steal bases," Brown said, who led the team with 20 stolen bases in the spring. "It also gets you farther away from the base than if you take a slow shuffle."
Brown’s new method, which he admits looks a little goofy, is an experiment by head coach Tim Jamieson. He figures an ongoing shuffle on the base paths results in a smoother rhythm and an increased reaction time. But it’s also a distraction.
"It splits the focus for the pitcher. It’s difficult for that pitcher to throw strikes when he’s worried about the base runner," Jamieson said. "So hopefully this will give our hitters better pitches to hit, as well as maybe give us a chance to steal some bases ... and if it looks funny, so be it."
The Tigers stole two bases in Saturday’s Joplin relief benefit game. They got on the board quickly, scoring one run in the second inning and adding two more in the third to make it an early 3-0 lead. Aided by strong pitching and a two-run home run in the eighth inning from infielder Michael McGraw, Missouri cruised to an easy victory over the Hawkeyes.
With one more exhibition game left to play against Iowa on Sunday, the Tigers will head into the next few months preparing for the season.