October 2011 Vine Line preview: Speed’s contagious

Bob Dernier and Tony Campana conduct a clinic with the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, which has a wheelchair softball team sponsored by Cubs Care. (Photo courtesy Cubs Community Affairs.) The following is the Leading Off column from the upcoming October 2011 issue, previewing some of the content in this issue and expanded coverage coming up. Subscribe to Vine Line today.

Bob Dernier said they had a term for it in his playing days.

“Spook-you speed.”

A former speedster himself—and one who still looks fit enough at 54 years old to get down the line in four seconds—Dernier glows when talking about Tony Campana. Leave it to the coach whose stopwatch is permanently affixed to his hand to best appreciate how a 5-foot-9, 165-pound kid can change a baseball game.

You’ll see in Bruce Miles’ cover feature that the Cubs’ first base coach doesn’t just believe in Campana’s athleticism, however. He has a deep appreciation for the challenges Campana has faced his whole life, including Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a 7-year-old and then the continual need to prove himself as able to play with the big boys in professional baseball.

Earlier this year, the two helped lead a clinic for a group from the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, with which Cubs Care sponsors a wheelchair softball team. Dernier encouraged Campana to talk to everyone about his own background.

As the 25-year-old, fresh-faced Campana described all the times people told him he couldn’t play baseball—he was too sick, too small, too weak—he had a direct message for each individual.

“I never listened to that stuff, and the next thing you know, I was in the big leagues,” he said. “Don’t let anybody ever tell you that you can’t do something. You have to believe
in yourself.”

One preteen stood up and told everyone how he had been inspired to play by Campana’s story. If you want to find the true significance of sports, perhaps the opportunity it lends people to achieve great things and be a part of a team is the place to start.

Who can forget Campana’s inside-the-park homer on Aug. 5, in which he raced around the bases in 14.61 seconds, according to a time recorded by Wezen-Ball? It made me seek out exactly how fast that was—outside of spook-you fast. If we are to assume he ran exactly 360 feet, then Campana went around the diamond at an average speed of 16.8 miles per hour. If we add an extra 20 feet for having to round the bags, then he touched them all at an astounding 17.7 miles per hour.

Makes you want to grab your own stopwatch, doesn’t it?

This month, we encourage you to do just that, thanks to new contributor Jason Parks, a scout and writer for Baseball Prospectus. As we wrote last month, we’re dedicated to expanding our coverage of scouting and player development of the next generation of Cubs.

In the sidebar to the Campana cover feature, Parks breaks down what a scout looks for in speed, describing the tool as “catalytic.” It may not be enough in itself to make a great major leaguer, but raw athleticism gives players possibilities that just don’t exist otherwise. And though Campana’s ultimate ceiling will depend on how he continues to develop his ability to get on base, he’s already shown that his elite speed can play at the big league level in one form or another.

Parks also will be contributing firsthand reports of Cubs prospects for Vine Line, including a look at some of the organization’s noted 2011 draft class in the coming several months. With the Cubs having made a franchise-record investment in this year’s selections, you’ll read about the present and future abilities of these top prospects before anyone else.

Perhaps all this speed talk has gotten to us. Covering the Cubs organization from top to bottom, we’re racing around all the bases in Vine Line.

—Sean Ahmed

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