Butler Walks with Pride; Wolfson Slugger Sees Few Strikes

Article excerpt

Byline: Chase Goodbread, The Times-Union

John Gwynes decided he'd been beaten by Billy Butler for the last time.

On March 2, the White High baseball coach watched Wolfson's star slugger crack a home run and a double for four RBI in the Wolfpack's 5-0 victory. So when White and Wolfson met again last week, the Commanders walked Butler three times.

That's nothing Butler isn't used to.

But one of those walks illustrated just how much fear the senior right-handed third baseman puts into the opposition. Gwynes walked Butler intentionally with a runner already on first base and none out, and the score tied.

"You bet I did," Gwynes said. "And they scored three runs that inning to beat us, but I was going to make sure someone else did the damage."

Gwynes said it was the first time he has intentionally walked a batter to force the winning run into scoring position -- much less with no outs -- and he has been coaching baseball at White for 25 years.

"If first base is open, nobody is challenging him," Wolfson coach Scott Marabell said. "People pitched around him last year, too, but this year has been ridiculous."

Projected as a high choice for the Major League First-Year Players Draft this June, Butler also is a candidate for Baseball America Player of the Year. The same publication recently called him "perhaps the best power prospect [nationally] in the high school class of 2004."

Yet for all those accolades, his home run total is holding at just two, thanks in large part to all the free passes to first base.

"I'm getting about one pitch to hit per game," Butler said. "And if I don't hit it, I don't get anything. But we're 12-1, so I can't get mad about it as long as we're winning."

Butler has walked 16 times this season in only 33 at-bats, and more than half of those walks have been intentional. That's a walk every three plate appearances, roughly the same rate of respect at which Barry Bonds is walked.

"My strike zone isn't always the same as the umpire's," Butler said. "Sometimes I'll get a curveball that I know I could take for a ball away, but if it's in my zone I'll take it to right-center. Fastballs are home runs, curveballs are doubles."

As opponents continue to take the bat out of Butler's hands, Kenny Ford's role becomes all the more important. Batting cleanup behind Butler in Wolfson's batting order, Ford is the hitter who must make pitchers pay the price of runs for walking Butler.

It's a high-pressure spot in the lineup when Butler is standing helplessly on first base with the winning run in scoring position. …