By Jim Riggs
For a couple of decades, I sat beside the late Bob Payne in the Diethrick Park pressbox as he operated the scoreboard for Jamestown Expos and Jammers games in the New York-Penn League. And I can still hear him mumbling in disgust because Jamestown wouldn't try to advance a base runner with a sacrifice bunt.
This has been a familiar site for the Jamestown Jammers this season — laying down a bunt. Erik Lunde is seen doing it here. Jamestown leads the New York-Penn League in sacrifice bunts with 29.
P-J photo by Jim Riggs
Payne would enjoy watching the 2014 Jammers.
Coming into Wednesday night's game with Tri-City, the Jammers led the NY-P League in sacrifices with 29. And that almost doubles the total of the team in second, Tri-City, with 16.
''It's something that this organization believes firmly in - that we have all of our guys bunt,'' Jamestown manager Brian Esposito said about the Jammers' parent team, the Pittsburgh Pirates. ''It starts from the big league level all the way down. It's an organizational thing where everyone, one through nine, has to bunt.''
See BUNTS, Page B2
From Page B1
He added, '' I'm a firm believer in the bunt as well. It was part of my game.''
Esposito was a fifth-round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox in 2000 and he also played in the minor leagues for Anaheim and Texas, all teams in the American League with the designated hitter. But he finished his career affiliated with four National League teams, St. Louis, Houston, Colorado and the Chicago Cubs, and appeared in the major leagues for the Cardinals and Astros.
''The first three teams in my career were American League teams and bunting didn't exist,'' Esposito said. ''It wasn't something we ever worked on. Every now and then you've got a runner on first and second with a chance to put a bunt down and players weren't able to.''
He added, ''That comes from if it's not important to the organization and it's not worked on, then you have a hard time summoning someone to get a sacrifice bunt down.''
In the National League, without the DH, getting that bunt down is important.
''Playing for the one run really helps out a club,'' Esposito said. ''If we're down three, we're able to chip away.''
That's contrary to the Earl Weaver strategy of ''pitching, defense and the three-run homer.''
''Bunting for us has been very, very valuable,'' Esposito said. ''I don't know the exact statistics of it, but I would have to say more than 75 percent of our runners that we bunted over have scored. We're in no position to be looking to drive the ball out of the ballpark. We're just going to play for the runs.''
And what better place to teach that than in a short-season Class A league.
''I think these guys at this young age, if they learn the value of just scoring runs, whether it's one run at a time or in bunches, scoring is how you win ballgames,'' Esposito said. ''I learned the value of getting runners over, staying out of the double play. Why sacrifice two outs when you can move a guy over in scoring position and still have that one out as opposed to giving up that one pitch-two outs.''
With their abundance of sacrifice bunts, opposing teams are usually prepared for it when the Jammers get a runner on first base. But Esposito notes they still have to handle the bunt correctly.
''As far as I'm concerned I'll let them know we are bunting,'' he said. ''If you notice and you watch some of these games, a lot of these teams are having a hard time defending it. Our aggressive mentality and our identity of who we are, running hard out of the box, running hard on the bases, puts pressure on the defense. It creates an environment of where we are applying the pressure versus having the pressure applied to us.''
And sometimes the result is not a sacrifice bunt, but a bunt single.
''We've had 29 sacrifice bunts, but we probably have 35, 36 bunts (all together) because six or seven of those bunts have gone for base hits,'' Esposito said.
The most important players to teach the art of bunting are pitchers and they aren't overlooked.
''Even though we don't hit in this organization until they (pitchers) reach the Double A level, we will bunt,'' Esposito said. ''They'll be out here bunting tomorrow against a live defense to get their hands dirty. Learn how to get a bunt down, learn where the defense is going to be and getting familiar with being on the bases.''
He added, ''It's something these guys are going to have to do in the long run.''
And that long run is in the National League.