The Man of Steals

By Charles McKenzie, September 12, 2019
This big-league Bomber is breaking records ... but hopefully not bones.

If you connect all of the bruises Tim Locastro ’18 has earned this summer, you’ll see a roadmap to a gritty, grinding style that made him the most prolific Major League Baseball player in IC history.

Ball after ball. Bump after bump. Bruise on top of bruise. Baseballs have left countless marks on Locastro, and now after seven seasons of ups and downs, Locastro is leaving his mark on baseball.

In May, during his first game back playing in the majors, the Diamondback outfielder was hit by three pitches, tying what is literally a whopping MLB record. Last weekend, he was hit for the twentieth time, breaking Arizona’s single-season record and placing him in a tie for fourth in MLB. And he continues to add to that total.

As fearless as he is at the plate, he’s also flawless on the base paths. He has stolen 20 consecutive bases without being caught, a streak placing him in fifth place all-time for consecutive stolen bases to start a career (the record is 27 by Hall of Famer Tim Raines).  Even if all these baseball statistics are lost on you, just know these two facts about his Major League career: The fastest player in the league by several metrics, Locastro has never been caught stealing a base. Never. No modern player (since 1900) has been hit by pitches as often as he has (once every 11 plate appearances).

The latter has been brutal to watch for his family, friends and fans. When he tied the MLB record, the first pitch hit his calf at 82 mph and bounced almost to third base. The second careened off his elbow at 87 mph, and the third was a 92-mph thud right into his left cheek (fortunately, the one below the belt). The incredulous TV commentators couldn’t stop laughing, almost shouting, “Oh my goodness! His third hit-by-pitch tonight! They said it couldn’t be done, but Tim Locastro finds a way! Right in the wallet! He’s magnetic? I don’t know what it is. It’s physics? Somebody explain it to me. It’s amazing!”

Even the Diamondbacks Tweeted that being hit by a pitch was now known as “The Locastro.” "We believe he's really some sort of superhero," they tweeted.  Diamondback fans launched a Tweetstorm of support:

They praise the fan favorite as an anachronism, a time traveler from an era when players were more rugged and ruthless, willing to do whatever it took to get on base and help their team. They see him as special, and they’re right. Among more than a thousand active MLB players, only seven have been hit by more pitches in a season, and all had played in far more games. In Locastro’s entire lifetime, only eight players have had more stolen bases and been hit by more pitches in a season, and they were all All-Stars who averaged more than three times the plate appearances (names like Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, Andres Galarraga and Chase Utley). For batters with fewer than 500 plate appearances, he stands alone, and he has fewer than half of those. 

The Sacrifice Hit 

It’s hard for a non-players to grasp what it’s like to face a major league pitcher. Imagine standing in the aisle on one end of a train car while at the other stands a man with one of the most powerful arms in the world. After a few dozen practice throws, he hurls an object the weight of a D battery 96 mph down the aisle. In .4 seconds, it will either whizz past you or hit you, so you have a quarter of a second to put your body in motion.

Appreciative Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo says Locastro has a really keen ability “to slow things down and determine where the ball’s going to go,” even if it’s right at him.

“He’s fearless and he’s just going to let the ball hit him. It’s hard to do. It takes a lot of courage to see a 96-mph two-seam fastball that’s wrapped in barbed wire and to let it hit you,” Lovullo has told the press.

Locastro seems surprised when people ask how he does it. His three-word philosophy is simple. Regardless of whether it is rooted in toughness, stubbornness or ambition, he says simply, “Just don’t move. I won’t get out of the way.”

Locastro has been hit so many times, he’s now been supplied with 10 customized and even personalized guards to protect his left elbow and tricep. But it doesn’t cover everything. “I’ve been hit everywhere. Literally everywhere.” 

Other than the obvious areas, some places are worse than others.

"Getting hit in the calf, that hurts a lot,” he told Forbes. “Getting hit in the butt hurts.”

Almost more impressive to baseball fans is how Locastro gets drilled by a fastball but seems unfazed. As if in one fluid motion, he absorbs the blow, tosses his guard toward his dugout and runs briskly, often smiling, like a Little Leaguer running to the ice cream truck. There’s no glaring at the pitcher. Hardly any wincing. At first base, his face and focus are always the same whether he’s hit the ball or it’s hit him.

There are times the adrenaline gets going, and I don’t even feel the pain until after the game, and I think, ‘Wow, I really should’ve gotten out of the way of that one.’”

That’s the price he’s willing to pay, and it’s all part of his plan.

Pitching In

Baseball today values power hitters, and Locastro is not one, although he can come through in a clutch — this summer at the home of his boyhood favorite New York Yankees and with his family there watching, he hit his first and only MLB home run. A month earlier, he got his first walk-off hit, winning an 11-inning game against the Mets.

But his swing doesn’t have a ton of power, and it also has a weak spot. Ironically, he’s painstakingly turning his two biggest weaknesses into a trap, and opponents are literally pitching in.

“My whole career, I’d say even back to Little League, people know my cold spot is inside,” Locastro said, meaning he’d rather reach out and swing at a pitch that’s farther away than attempt to hit one pitched closer to his body. “There’s no secret to that, so they try to pitch me in, and if they miss a little bit… I have to use it to my advantage.” That’s when he gets hit.

Always trading bruises for bases, Locastro says that selfless style of play was instilled in him by two former Bombers-turned head coaches. Auburn High School coach TJ Gamba ‘87 played three seasons in the Cleveland Indians organization. He and Locastro were each coached at IC by George Valesente ‘66, MS ‘75. Locastro would set an IC record for — you guessed it — being hit by pitches (29) and stealing bases (40). Both were early displays of his gritty strategy and team-first mindset.

“At Auburn and Ithaca, we were such selfless teams: always working for the guy behind us in the batting order. We just wanted to help each other win,” he said. “No matter how.”

Later at Triple-A Oklahoma City, the then Dodger was once hit by a pitch every day from Wednesday through Saturday, which was an improvement over the previous weekend, when he was hit five times in four games. The Dodgers took notice, specifically Andrew Friedman, their president of baseball operations.

Locastro is the most prolific hit-by-pitch guy I’ve ever seen,” Friedman told the Los Angeles Times, who noted Locastro was hit at least 25 times in each of the previous five minor league seasons.

Stealing for a Living

“I'm not going to hit 30 home runs in a year. That's for the guys behind me. I realized the name of my game was to get on base, steal and score runs. That just translated once I got to the pros.”

Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo says that awareness has really helped the Diamondbacks. “He knows what the at-bat is asking for. Part of his game is all about on-base percentage. I don’t care how it happens. He’s a catalyst, and he does a good job.”

Once on base, he immediately shifts from batter to runner and starts thinking about stealing the next base. 

Getting hit by a pitch and stealing a base. That's a poor man's double,” said Locastro, who is freaky fast, possibly the fastest in MLB

Even when you can run from second to home in seven seconds, stealing a base is a science that requires concentration, cunning and a knowledge of the pitcher and catcher. When the game and score call for it, you have to make up your mind and totally commit, Locastro says.

“If you're thinking negatively, like, 'Hmm. Maybe. Should I go?,' you're going to hesitate.”

The numbers prove his point. Consider stealing second base. Most MLB pitchers take 1 to 1.5 seconds to get the ball to the catcher, who gets the ball to second base in an average “pop time” of 2 seconds. A good base stealer gets to second in the exact same 3 to 3.5 seconds. They’re rough averages, but they put the ball and the runner on a collision course. Every millisecond counts, and he who doubts, hesitates.

“That’s the worst thing you can do as a base-stealer. You've got to use your athletic ability and trust yourself.” Locastro said. “Before taking off, I’ve really never had any doubts."

At the Dodger’s Spring Training in 2018, Locastro dazzled fans at an intrasquad game by reaching first on a single up the middle, then stealing second and then third before finally scoring on a wild pitch.

That run scored because of Locastro’s cunning and his journeyman-like attitude, which rarely bring the fame and fortune heaped upon the powerful home run kings, but Locastro likes it that way.

“I’ve never tried to be like ‘the guy’ or anything like that. I just try to keep to myself and to get the job done.”

He performed that job amazingly well at Auburn and then at IC, and he’s getting better and better at doing it on the biggest baseball stage in the world. Like every success, every failure is a now a public one, but sometimes, he just has to take one on the chin.

Or at least the hip, elbow, thigh, butt, calf...