Campana Thievery On Record Pace

The Cincinnati baseball team has never seen a thief like Tony Campana, and this season the little Italian from Springboro is proving to be a top earner for the Bearcats on the base paths.

Tony Soprano, the popular HBO mobster, may be the best known Italian thief in the country, but that could quickly change on Big East campuses if Tony Campana continues his crime wave on the college base paths. The 5' 7"/144 speedster is having a breakout season swiping bases. After twelve games as a Bearcat, the Springboro native has 18 stolen bases in 21 attempts for an 89% success rate. Although Campana has always possessed blazing speed, the junior transfer from the University of North Carolina-Asheville, had not enjoyed this kind of success on the bases in his two previous collegiate seasons. As an underclassman for the Bulldogs in 72 starts, Campana stole only 22 bases in 32 attempts for a 69% success rate, but the Bearcat leadoff hitter is already halfway to owning the Bearcat season single record of 35 steals held by Ken Schneider since 1991. Tony may be ready to enter the Cincinnati record books, but he's oblivious to it. "I really didn't know that. No one's really talked to me about the record. They just want me to keep doing what I'm doing."

As a leadoff hitter with frightening speed, it's important for Campana to consistently get the bat on the ball and put pressure of the opposing defenses to throw him out, but Tony hasn't always done a good enough job with that. As a freshman in Asheville, Campana struck out 40 times in 212 at bats. That's a ratio of 1 strikeout for every 5 at bats and simply not good enough for a young man with his kind of speed. As a sophomore, Tony showed improvement. In 2006 Campana struck out only 11 times in 92 at bats for a 1 to 8 ratio. This season with the Bearcats, Tony has pretty much continued with that 1 to 8 ratio, but he wants to improve on those numbers. "I know that I have a chance to get on base every time I hit the ball. They're working with me to know the strike zone better and not go after bad pitches. My goal is to have no more than 15 strikeouts this year." After a dozen games, Tony has 6 strikeouts in 49 at bats. Although weather will likely force some cancellations, Cincinnati has forty-three more regular season games scheduled. If Tony is to reach his goal of only 15 whiffs, he'll need to significantly cut down on strikeouts the remainder of the year.

Last season North Carolina-Asheville won the Big South tournament despite posting a 28-35 overall record and qualified for play in the NCAA regional at Clemson University, but Tony was no longer a part of the squad. Tony explained how he came to be a Bearcat. "They (UNC-Asheville) knew I was planning to leave at the end of the year so they released me from the team. I called Coach Cleary about playing at Cincinnati, and he was very interested in having me. I knew about all the new facilities and wanted to play closer to my family and friends."

The Bearcats did not recruit the Springboro star in 2004. Tony speculated on the reason. "I was pretty small back then. I was only about 140 pounds and a couple inches smaller." Campana would still be considered small, but it's tough to defend his speed. "I've run the forty-yard-dash in the 4.3's." That kind of speed has helped him steal bases, but he says it's not the only reason for his inflated numbers. "I've gotten more opportunities here. I have the green light to run except when Coach Cleary takes it off." Like many of the best baseball thiefs, Tony thinks its easier stealing third base than second. "Personally, I think stealing third base is easier. You can get a bigger jump."

Two weeks ago, Campana was named Big East Player of the Week along with being one of Collegiate Baseball's Players of the Week. He accomplished this by hitting .533 (8 for 15) in four games, but Tony also created havoc once on base by collecting 12 stolen bases in 14 attempts including a school record 6 thefts in one game. Tony also scored 7 times and drove in a run while recording a .667 on-base percentage.

In preparing to write this story, I spoke with Mike Weiss an assistant coach of Storm Club, one of the best amateur programs in Cincinnati of which Tony was a member. Coach Weiss said, "Tony was the fastest player from home to first base that I have ever seen. A routine ground ball to second base would often be a bang-bang play at first with Tony."

Wednesday night in Lexington, Campana and the Bearcats were pummeled by the #17 ranked Wildcats after a disastrous fifth inning saw Kentucky score 9 runs on their way to a 21-7 victory, but Cincinnati will return to action this Friday at Marge Schott Stadium for a three game series with Cleveland State. First pitch in the series opener will be 4 o'clock.

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