Originally created 04/02/04

Junior wired for speed

Imagine the Tasmanian Devil cartoon character in human form. The image would look a lot like Justin Safford on a baseball field. Richmond Academy's junior center fielder knows just one speed. It's a setting between a blip and a blur.

"I guess I am wired that way," Safford said. "I eat fast, I try to get my homework done as fast as possible so I can do other things. I do everything fast."

He doesn't seem menacing. It might take three Saffords to fill a school bus seat. The 5-foot-6, 147-pounder might be the smallest player on every field he takes this spring.

He might also be the toughest for opposing pitchers to stop. Safford, who's hitting over .400, has swiped 18 bases this season in 12 games.

"He gets a single and it might as well be a double," Richmond Academy coach Jamie Epps said. "It's almost automatic he'll be on second in a couple of pitches."

Safford's thievery begins with three big steps and a pivot once he reaches first base. He watches for his sign.

"I'm watching the pitcher and waiting for him to go home," Safford said. "That's when I know it's time for me to go."

When he does, it's no contest.

"It's almost too easy right now," Safford said. "Most teams don't even throw to second. I haven't seen anybody that can throw me out. It's going to take a quick move to the plate and a catcher with a good arm."

Safford stole second and third on consecutive pitches against Thomson this spring, and racked up seven steals last week.

"Right now watching him steal second is like watching somebody take candy from a baby," Richmond Academy teammate Crash Collins said. "Except it might be a little easier for Justin to steal second."

Safford excels at a facet of the game that's a lost art around the area. Greenbrier and Evans, for instance, don't have 18 total stolen bases between their two rosters.

According to Epps, Safford could set a school record with 30 steals this year. Unfortunately, that doesn't impress. Baseball verbiage is chicks did the long ball, not a little guy who runs fast enough to leave a dust cloud.

"The ladies treat me the same way no matter how many bases I steal," Safford said. "I have no clue if they like the players that steal bases." Safford's quick-twitch tendencies carry over into all facets of his life.

"The only thing faster than his legs is his mouth," Epps said. "He talks so fast it's like he's trying to swindle me. I have to ask him to slow it down so I can understand. If he doesn't make it as an engineer one day, he'd be one heck of a used car salesman."

When he thought it over, Safford's car of choice turned away from a sports utility vehicle.

"I guess an Explorer won't do," Safford said. "I guess I'd have to find something faster like a Lamborghini or a Ferrari."

Reach Jeff Sentell at (706) 823-3425 or



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