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Calling the shots: Goldstein acts as Illinois’ on-the-field coach

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Calling the shots: Goldstein acts as Illinois’ on-the-field coach

Illinois’ Jason Goldstein makes solid contact with the ball during game one of the series against St. Louis University at Illinois Field on Friday, April 15. The Illini won 6-4.

Illinois’ Jason Goldstein makes solid contact with the ball during game one of the series against St. Louis University at Illinois Field on Friday, April 15. The Illini won 6-4.

Austin Yattoni | The Daily Illini

Illinois’ Jason Goldstein makes solid contact with the ball during game one of the series against St. Louis University at Illinois Field on Friday, April 15. The Illini won 6-4.

Austin Yattoni | The Daily Illini

Austin Yattoni | The Daily Illini

Illinois’ Jason Goldstein makes solid contact with the ball during game one of the series against St. Louis University at Illinois Field on Friday, April 15. The Illini won 6-4.

By Cole Henke, Staff Writer

On May 3 of last season, the Illinois baseball team held a four-run lead over Ohio State.

When the bottom of the ninth came around, Illini catcher Jason Goldstein took his spot behind the plate. He looked up to see the Illini’s best pitcher – and soon-to-be sixth overall pick in the 2015 MLB draft – walking to the mound.

For the people in the stands, this was the moment they were waiting for as they were going to see Tyler Jay pitch.

For the guy squatting behind home plate, throwing down the sign for Jay’s first pitch, this is when he really got to have fun.

Then a junior, Goldstein didn’t worry about the “right pitch” in this situation. He knew Jay was too good for that and a four-run lead was more than enough.

By the end of each at-bat with Jay on the mound, the batter would end up totally lost.

If he guessed breaking ball, he would get blind-sided by a fastball in the upper-90s. If he guessed fastball, he would receive a knee-buckling changeup. If he guessed changeup, he would get a nightmare slider.

All the while, Goldstein was right behind him, knowing that he was in his head and loving every second of it.

***

Goldstein was and still is in a rare position for a college catcher. He has the power behind the plate, calling all of the shots and acts as another coach on the field.

In a college baseball game, the actions between pitches can take a while.

First, the catcher has to check with the dugout. Then, the head coach and his assistants can take time to make the next call and send a signal to the catcher who relays it to the pitcher. Finally, the pitcher gets ready to make his move.

Illinois pitching coach Drew Dickinson said this whole process takes 20-25 seconds.

But Illinois baseball doesn’t have this problem as catcher and team captain Jason Goldstein doesn’t look to the dugout between pitches.

He immediately throws down the next sign.

“Me and Jason are always on the same page,” Dickinson said. “We are talking all the time. The kid is crazy smart in terms of coaching. He is like a big league catcher behind the dish, but he is in a college game. There is a total trust there.”

Dickinson calls some pitches himself, but the number varies game-to-game. Sometimes he calls 40 pitches in a game, sometimes he doesn’t call any.

Even when Dickinson decides to make the call, it is often the same pitch that Goldstein was going to call.

Decisions behind the plate are anything but random for the Illini captain. There are numerous factors that Goldstein takes into account before he shows his pitcher the signal.

“Before the weekend starts, the team gets a scouting report on our opponents for the weekend, and that is probably the biggest piece of information that I get,” Goldstein said.

The report goes out Thursday night, and Goldstein will look at it for about 15 minutes. Then the next day he will give it a quick review.

That’s all the time he needs to learn how to dismantle the opponent’s lineup.

Reading the scouting report, Goldstein focuses on the other team’s best hitters. He learns their tendencies, their favorite pitches and where they like them.

“I observe from behind the plate,” Goldstein said. “For instance, if we call a pitch, and he is late on that pitch, then maybe the next pitch we throw will be further inside, or maybe we will elevate it. I will change things based on what I can only see from behind the plate.”

The best hitters are able to make adjustments between at-bats. Goldstein takes that into account when he is behind the plate because he does the same when he is in their cleats.

As one of the best offensive players, Goldstein knows whats going through a batter’s mind. This season he is leading the Illini in batting average (.348), hits (46), RBI’s (26), slugging percentage (.477) and on base percentage (.429).

From personal experience, Goldstein can tell when a hitter starts to catch on to the Illini’s game plan and it’s something that only Goldstein can see.

Goldstein doesn’t just look at the ball as it comes out of the pitcher’s hand. He is looking at every small move the hitter makes. He notices where he steps, where he swings, whether he tries to pull the ball or take it to opposite field.

With all the information Goldstein is taking in, it is enough to warrant a few mishaps per game.

But Goldstein rarely makes mistakes.

A senior Industrial Engineering major, Goldstein has been balancing his schoolwork and baseball career for four years — he was named Academic All-Big Ten the past two seasons. But Dickinson is still blown away by Goldstein’s baseball IQ.

“We are dealing with a kid who just has a great mind,” Dickinson said. “I will give that kid a scouting report, and literally the next day he will be able to recite back to you everything that he has seen. That in its own right is a skill. I don’t know if he has a photographic memory or what.”

Trust in Goldstein

Goldstein is the undisputed captain of the team, and the senior has seen it all.

He has started 168 games for the Illini in four years and was a big contributor to the 27-game winning streak and the Big Ten championship last season.

So when he throws down the sign behind the plate, it is more likely going to be followed. Dickinson said that the Illini pitchers hardly ever shake off Goldstein, and even then, it’s only upperclassman.

Illini closer and senior classman Nick Blackburn admits to shaking Goldstein’s sign off, but even he said that it is only under special circumstances.

“If he thinks I should throw a fastball in a certain situation, but I really like how my slider was feeling in the bullpen, that is the only time I will shake him off,” Blackburn said. “If I do then he will immediately understand why I did it.”

However, if one of the younger players shakes off Goldstein, the man behind the plate isn’t as understanding.

He immediately throws down the same signal to make sure that they know he is running the show and he said that it doesn’t take longer than one time to get the message across.

Blackburn’s role has increased significantly this season. This has made him realize that he takes Goldstein’s presence for granted.

During summer ball, Blackburn played with many great catchers but he said none of them compare to Goldstein.

As much as Goldstein helps him, Blackburn said that Goldstein helps the younger players even more. The freshmen feel more comfortable on the field with Goldstein out there with them, and Blackburn added that the team’s success from the past couple years are largely because of Goldstein.

“It is unbelievable having him back there,” Blackburn said. “The way he thinks about the game is unbelievable, and it is one less thing I have to worry about when I head out there. Every time I go out there it always seems like we are on the same page. The way he thinks takes him to the next level.” AR

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@cole_Henke

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