Mattituck’s stolen-base king gives pitchers, pants a workout

Joe Tardif's penchant for stealing bases is tough on his pants. Port Jefferson/Knox shortstop Andy Vasquez could not prevent the Mattituck sophomore from bagging one of his three steals on Friday.
Joe Tardif’s penchant for stealing bases is tough on his pants. Port Jefferson/Knox shortstop Andy Vasquez could not prevent the Mattituck sophomore from bagging one of his three steals on Friday. (Credit: Garret Meade)

Joe Tardif is tough on opposing pitchers, catchers and baseball pants.

As for Tardif’s problem with baseball pants, he really has his speed — and his base-stealing ability — to blame. The Mattituck High School sophomore said he always seems to rip the pants on the back left leg as a result of sliding. He has even ripped sliding shorts. A few weeks ago, he sustained a bothersome cut on the back of his left leg as a result of all the sliding.

It couldn’t be as bothersome, however, as Tardif’s activity on the base paths has been to opposing teams.

The Tuckers have had some good base stealers over the years, players like Kevin Litchhult, Rich Pisacano, Tommy Smith and Brian Tardif, Joe Tardif’s older brother. But none of them have matched what Joe Tardif has done this season, stealing a school-record 33 bases in 20 games. He has been thrown out only once this season.

“He’s one of the best base stealers I’ve ever seen,” said Pisacano, who is now one of Mattituck’s assistant coaches.

Tardif is seen as a virtual automatic run when he gets on base, an ideal leadoff batter who kick-starts the offense.

“He’s the fastest kid I know,” said Tuckers pitcher/shortstop Marcos Perivolaris.

Tardif said he has run 60 yards in 6.85 seconds. That speed is one of the reasons why he has free reign to take off for a base when the mood strikes him.

“He can do anything he wants,” Tuckers coach Steve DeCaro said. “It’s easier than me to keep giving the steal sign over and over and over.”

Tardif’s answers to interview questions are concise and without much, if any, elaboration.

Asked for his secret to stealing, he replied, “Just getting a good read off the pitcher.”

Tardif has had as many as six steals in one game. It looked like he was headed in that direction during a 7-2 win over Port Jefferson/Knox on Friday at Mattituck High School. Through the first three innings, he already had three thefts, twice stealing second base, and taking third once.

On his second steal of the game, Tardif appeared to be in pain and he walked somewhat gingerly around the second-base bag. Some wondered if he had pulled a hamstring, but that wasn’t the case. It was another instance of that troublesome cut bothering him. Asked later about the cut, Tardif said, “It’s not that bad.”

Once on base, Tardif can be quite a distraction. Pitchers know he will try to steal and do everything they can to try to prevent it, but more often than not it seems, he still gets the steal anyway. During one sequence on Friday, Port Jefferson/Knox pitcher Matt Keresztes made seven straight throws to first base in an attempt to keep Tardif close to the bag.

It didn’t deter Tardif. He stole second anyway.

“He’s a pain in the butt on the bases,” said Pisacano. Pisacano said that as soon as Tardif sees the pitcher move toward home plate “he’s gone.”

DeCaro said: “Joe has grown up quite a bit in the two years he’s [been] on the varsity. Last year he was just fast but this year he’s done a good job of reading pitchers and actually thinking about what’s about to happen and anticipating.”

Although he is quiet, with a serious demeanor, Tardif also has an unmistakable funny side to him that his coaches and teammates see.

“He’s quiet, but when he speaks he’s hilarious,” Pisacano said. “He’s a great personality. He’s one of the people that will just sneak in and say something funny and walk away. You have to laugh.”

Tardif benefits from Mattituck’s aggressive playing style. Taking liberties on the base paths is part of the team’s nature.

That was evident Friday. Tardif wasn’t the only Mattituck player to pilfer. The Tuckers were successful on all five bases they attempted to steal, including two by John Dwyer and one by Perivolaris.

“We love to steal in Mattituck,” said Pisacano. He added, “I used to say, singles are more fun than doubles because I get to steal second on a single.”

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