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vs. West Michigan
When: 7:05 p.m. today
TV: Xfinity Channel 81
Radio: 1380 AM
Tickets: $12.50, $10, $9, $8, $5 (lawn)
Information: or 482-6400
Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
TinCaps centerfielder Mallex Smith leads all of professional baseball, majors and minors, in stolen bases. He had 39 entering Friday’s game at Bowling Green, Ky.

Baseball’s top thief not one to tally loot

The thought of counting his stolen bases is foreign to Mallex Smith.

He emanates a certain vibe as a fearless, charismatic player who suits up and plays without cluttering his mind.

As his stolen-base total mounts, the TinCaps center fielder is finding it harder to avoid the number.

Smith entered Friday with 39 steals – the most in baseball, majors or minors.

He only became conscious of the statistical lead last week when informed by a reporter.

“We’ll see if I can extend that,” Smith said with an air of nonchalance.

He enters today’s game against West Michigan on a better pace than Fort Wayne’s parent club, the Padres, who had stolen 34 bases through 54 games.

Last year, Smith stole 64 bases – with an 80 percent success rate – for the TinCaps.

He was one steal shy of tying the franchise record shared by Jeremy Owens and Rymer Liriano.

So Smith’s speed as a major weapon is no recent discovery, but he is still a work in progress.

This year, his on-base percentage has improved, and he continues to recognize that his baseball specialty is about more than just quickness.

“He’s still developing that (mental) part of it,” TinCaps manager Michael Collins said. “Most impressive is his aggressiveness. He wants an extra base at every opportunity.

“As he’s out there in more situations, he’s going to learn even more about when, where and how.”

Smith, 21, has become one of the must-see attractions at Parkview Field.

Teammates delight in Smith’s routine: Get on base. Distract the pitcher. Take a lead. Burst 90 feet. Slide in headfirst and be called safe.

“It’s fun,” TinCaps infielder Fernando Perez said. “I don’t have the words to explain it. It’s fast. It’s smart. Right now, he’s the best.”

Perez said Smith is always among the first to arrive at the stadium to get in agility drills.

“That’s where hard work pays off,” Perez said. “If he gets on, there’s a lot of chance he’ll get to second.”

Collins said Smith never refuses to run, never worries about getting caught.

“He’s looking for it,” Collins said. “He wants to help the team. He’s going to take his shot if you give it to him.”

Smith, who stole three bases in one game against Kane County in April, generally has the green light to run whenever he pleases.

“There are certainly times I’ll give him the red light: ‘Hey, hold up. This isn’t the time to run,’ ” Collins said.

That’s a rarity, though, because of the pressure Smith puts on opposing pitchers, catchers and defenses.

Despite his 5-foot-9, 170-pound frame, he’s a game-changer.

The nuances of base-stealing will supplement the physical gifts that led the Padres to select Smith in the fifth round of the 2012 draft.

“If he’s going to succeed at the major league level, that’s going to be his game,” Collins said.

“He’s learning how to do it now. So far he’s been pretty successful with it.”