There’s a phenomenon that occurs in the infield at Bob Wren Stadium. It’s called the “Bob Wren Hop”.
For some, it causes havoc.
Due to a few uneven bumps in the infield grass, a hard hit groundball will sometimes seemingly jump off the grass and past the outstretched gloves of opposing infielders.
But for Ohio’s infielders, the irregular hop hasn’t been a problem. Its defense has been the team’s biggest strength.
After the the weekend series against Central Michigan, the Bobcats’ defense is ranked fourth in the nation.
And, this year, Ohio’s defense has been anchored by their infield.
But, for a team that has so much success in the infield, the infield isn’t exactly made up of crafty veterans.
There's Ty Black and Tyler Finkler up the middle, both seniors. Black, the second baseman, has been a starter for most of his four years at Ohio, while Finkler, the shortstop, is just in his second year of holding down a starting role.
Then there’s Connor Callery and Rudy Rott.
Rott is the sophomore first baseman who may be known more for his bat. But this year, he’s made significant strides with his glove.
“I don’t know if there’s a ball in the dirt he hasn’t picked,” Black said. “He’s definitely not an odd man out. He’s a little bit more quiet than we are. His glove is just about as good as his bat now.”
Callery, a senior, has had a much more different path to the infield than Rott.
He’s been a utility infielder for most of his four-year career at Ohio. But, with the departure of last year’s starting third baseman John Adryan, he found his shot to be a full-time starter on Ohio.
And he’s taken full advantage of his opportunity.
Callery has just one error at third base. Last year, Adryan finished the season with 12.
“He’s got one of the best gloves in the MAC,” Finkler said. “And one of the best in the nation as well.”
After four years spent at second base, Black has seen the development of Ohio’s infield.
It hasn’t always been pretty, but it’s slowly gotten better.
Ohio committed 80 errors in 2015, but dropped that number to 63 last year.
Halfway through the 2017 campaign, Ohio has only committed 18.
With one of the best fielding percentages in the nation, Black isn’t surprised about how good Ohio’s defense has been.
“I knew we could do it,” he said. “It’s something we take pride in. It was a goal the infield had before the season so it was definitely in our minds well before we started playing.”
It’s not just Bobcat infielders who are taking notice of their success. The pitchers have taken notice, and are extremely grateful.
Ohio’s pitching staff boasts a 3.59 ERA right now, best in the conference.
The pitchers know that’s in no small part thanks to the infield defense.
“Oh, it’s awesome,” relief pitcher Kenny Ogg said after an outing against Dayton. “I don’t have to go and strike everybody out. Today, I didn’t strike anybody out. (Finkler) made some great plays behind me. I know they’re always behind me to make me. I can just go out there and throw strikes.”
There’s not exactly a secret to Ohio’s success in the infield right now, but more of a science.
Ohio’s current infield defense has only been together for one year, but they’re gelling.
And the importance of the infield being on the same page can’t be understated, especially when they’re turning double plays, which they’ve done 22 times this season.
That chemistry has been solidified by the two veterans up the middle. As the two senior middle infielders, they admittedly have the best relationship in the infield.
Black credits their success to their friendship.
“Finkler and I, I’d say he’s one of my best friends on the team,” he said. “It’s funny because we have a lot of classes together so sometimes I have to carry him through class and sometimes through games and practices. Him and I are really good friends. We do pretty much everything together. The chemistry is unbelievable.”
Finkler and Black’s relationship has sparked something special for Ohio’s infield defense.
It shows in not just the way the defense interacts with each other, but the way they are performing on the field.
And Ohio’s defense on the field has been keeping them in games. Finkler just hopes that their relationship will help them put outs and wins on the board.
“Just having one of your buddies at second base when he makes a good play, I’m excited when he does it and when I do it, he’s excited for me,” he said. “We’re just trying to make outs for our pitches and put W’s on the board.”