PHOENIX — High socks. High motor. High IQ.
In a day and age where the game of baseball has slowly but surely welcomed increasing forms of new-age analytics and technology, an old-fashioned mentality still has it’s place.
Look no further than the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Tony Campana.
The team’s fifth outfielder, at least with Cody Ross back in the fold, Campana has turned a crowded situation into a luxury for the D-backs.
Campana might not boast Ross’ World Series experience, Mark Trumbo’s light tower power, Gerardo Parra’s cannon of an arm or A.J. Pollock’s superb range, but he’s earned a role with the big-league club for one main reason.
He’s the ultimate spark plug.
On a team that has stumbled out to a 5-14 start, Campana has found his way onto the field simply by executing the little things when called upon.
“I just try to make the most of what I get,” Campana said. “I know my role. I’m a guy who is going to get some spot starts and some chances to make a difference with a spot appearance here and there off the bench. I have my routine that keeps me ready, and so far it’s done a good job.”
The former 13th-round pick is being modest.
In Arizona’s last two wins, both extra-inning affairs, the 5-foot-8 speed demon in spikes has had a hand in the final result.
Back on April 10, the former Cincinnati standout did his damage with the bat, recording a career-high four hits, including the game-winning knock in a 6-5 victory against the San Francisco Giants.
“The big thing for me is swinging at strikes,” said Campana, who is currently batting .350. “And so far, I haven’t tried to take any hacks at pitches out of the zone. People have come at me with balls in the zone, and I’ve been able to do a good job of sneaking balls through the infield.”
Friday night at Dodger Stadium, the Kettering, Ohio native was at it again, this time using his elite speed as a weapon.
Pinch running for catcher Miguel Montero in the top of the ninth, Campana stole second with ease, then advanced to third on a grounder to second.
Three pitches later, the 27-year-old found himself plating the go-ahead run after Los Angeles reliever Chris Withrow uncorked an intentional ball over the head of Tim Federowicz.
For a reserve who spent the first eight-plus innings on the pine, Campana found a way to change the complexion of the contest in a matter of minutes — one the D-backs went on to take 4-2 in 12 innings.
“You just try to make the most of what you get,” said Campana I know my role. I’m a guy who is going to get some spot starts and some chances to make a difference with a spot appearance here and there off the bench. I have my routine that keeps me ready, and so far it’s worked out.”
Campana speaks in cautious tones, because the industry has been harsh at times during the early portion of his career.
After getting selected by the Chicago Cubs in 2008, he’s been greeted with revolving door after revolving door.
At-bats have never been guaranteed, and neither has job security.
He’s been traded, demoted, promoted, and designated for assignment.
Yet through it all, he’s found a way to embrace his professional circumstances.
“It’s hard, a tough role,” said Campana, who was traded to the D-backs in Feb. 2013. “Right now, though, this is who I am. Hopefully, one day I become a guy who you can pencil in to the lineup year after year. But right now, I’m a guy who has to fight for his place every night. I’ve embraced it, because it’s the only way I’m going to be here.
“I’ve always been the small guy that can run. Coming up through the minors is kind of where I started that. I was going to be the guy who gets things going for the team, who gets into scoring position whenever I can and let the big guys in the lineup drive me in.”
Even with his early-season spark, there’s no way of knowing how long his ride with the D-backs will last.
So for now, the determined engine that could is savoring every minute of his time in Arizona.
“I’m the kind of guy that’s usually one of the last guys on the roster to make the team,” said Campana, who has never played in more than 95 games in a season. “I know that going in. But that just pushes me to battle during spring to get one of those last spots. I was able to do that this year, so to do that and then be able to do my part to win some games here and there has been gratifying. Hopefully it continues.”