Cool Papa Bell was one of the speediest players in baseball history. Legend has it, he was so fast he once laced a line drive up the middle and the ball hit him in the butt sliding into second. So fast he could get out of bed, turn the lights out across the room, and be back in bed before it got dark. Trea Turner might not be quite that fast, but he’s close.
Since being called up from Triple-A Syracuse last month by the Washington Nationals, the 23-year-old rookie -- a former first-round pick of the San Diego Padres in 2014 -- has wreaked havoc on the base paths. In the opener of a three-game set against the Los Angeles Dodgers, he hit his first big-league triple, in the process recording a top running speed of 22.7 miles an hour that, according to MLB Statcast, was the fastest by any big-leaguer on a triple this season (and yes, that includes Billy Hamilton). The following night, Turner tripled again, this time on a line drive to left field -- as in, the field that’s closest to third base. As if that weren’t impressive enough, two batters later he stole home. So yeah, he’s fast.
Just how fast is Trea Turner? So fast that … well … let’s hear it straight from those who’ve laid eyes on him.
Josh Byrnes, former Padres GM (and current Dodgers exec): "The analogy we used with Trea was the AlterG treadmill. It's for guys coming off injuries, where the pounding of running takes a toll on them. So you put yourself in a harness and calibrate it to where it's like 50 percent of your body weight. It's a crazy sensation, running while weighing 100 pounds. Well, watching Trea run, it’s like he’s on an AlterG treadmill. His legs and feet are so light. It's like he's barely touching the ground. He's that fast."
Teal Turner, sister: "Our family is runners. My parents run every day. My mom was a sprinter. I was a runner. I was on the high school cross-country team, and I was a sprinter as well. We used to have races through the neighborhood all the time, cutting through the yard from friend's house to friend's house. Being five years older, I had an advantage, but overnight it changed. He just took off. He just kept winning. I think he was in kindergarten and I was in fifth grade."
Alex Leighton, lifelong friend: "We were 12 years old in sixth grade. At the first practice, all these eighth graders would get up and sprint, and Trea comes out. No one knows him, and he’s tiny. But he smokes 'em. Kills 'em all. Then he turns around and says, 'Should I sprint now?'"
Larry Greenstein, head coach, Park Vista High (Florida): "I had a weight-training class and I had most of the baseball players in there, so I tried to time them in the 60-yard dash during class. Trea's in my lane. My brother Stu, who played some pro ball and is my assistant coach, has the other kid. I get a 6.3 for Trea, and I say, "Stu, he just ran a 6.3. I must have screwed up." I've been in high school baseball for 31 years, and I don't think I've ever seen anybody run a 6.3. So he runs it again in my brother’s lane. Stu goes, "I got the same thing." I go, "You gotta be kidding me." After school, some of the kids that couldn't run during class, they had to run, and there was one at the end who was by himself. It was Trea's good friend Tyler Kendall. So Trea offered to run with Tyler. I didn't want him to because I was afraid he'd get hurt -- he always had the tightest hamstrings, he's already run twice, and he wasn't even loose. But he insisted. Sure enough, he ran a 6.3 again. I was like, holy cow. He just went from pretty good D1 speed to this guy could be a prospect. You can't teach a kid how to throw 90, and you can't teach a kid how to run a 6.3."
Elliott Avent, head coach, NC State: "We're playing in the ACC tournament one time, and he's at third base. We're down one to Carolina. Big game, packed house. Probably 10,000 people. It was an 11 in the morning game. All the sudden, as the catcher's throwing it back to the pitcher, he takes off from third. He just did it on his own. Nobody was expecting it. The umpire wasn't even watching. He turned his head for a second and Trea slides in. He does things that shock you. He's gonna become the kind of player that people are gonna put their hot dog down until he finishes the at-bat 'cuz they wanna watch everything he does."
Tyler Stubblefield, Padres area scout: "Junior year. At Clemson. Monday night. ESPN game. And he steals home. He takes off running when the catcher releases the ball. He’s halfway home by the time the pitcher catches the ball. And by the time the pitcher turns and throws it back to the catcher, Trea’s already sliding across the plate. The umpire's not paying attention so it catches him off guard and he calls him out. They said it was bang-bang, but he was safe. Nobody expected him to do anything because he's standing flat-footed. Next thing you know, he's zero to 60. He blew up on the ump and got thrown out of the game, but he was safe as safe could be. They replayed it over and over again on ESPN throughout the week, and it was hilarious because he was safe by a foot and a half."
"We were 12 years old in sixth grade. At the first practice, all these eighth graders would get up and sprint and Trea comes out. No one knows him, and he's tiny. But he smokes 'em. Kills 'em all. Then he turns around and says, 'Should I sprint now?'" Alex Leighton, Trea Turner's lifelong friend
Mark Connor, Padres scouting director: "When I scouted him, he was faster than everyone he played against -- just an obvious different level of speed. During scout day, junior year in college, he ran a 6.2 60. There's guys that have run that fast, but not many -- 6.2 and below is rare air."
Avent: "I've been in the college game for 37 years, and his time is the fastest I've ever seen on a clock. And it plays in the game. I saw him a few weeks ago when he was still in Triple-A and they were playing a shift on the hitter. So the shortstop was on the second-base side of second, but holding Trea on. He's right on top of second base, so Trea can't move. And the pitcher is like a 1.3 [seconds] to the plate. So it's an impossible steal situation. But Trea gets a little jump and slides into third almost without a throw. It's incredible the things he can do. He does things sometimes that leave your mouth open. Like, did that really happen?"
Byrnes: "The speed of the game at the big-league level is so fast, and there are a lot of guys who are fast, so fielders are used to it. But there were a couple instances during that series in Washington where he surprised our guys with just how fast he was. A triple in the left-field corner doesn't happen too much. Even the steal of home was a non-competitive play. He beat that easily. You just don’t see that in the big leagues very often."
Tony Campana, former Syracuse teammate: "Billy Hamilton, hitting from the left side, he gets down the line a little bit quicker because [he's] batting lefty. But if they lined up in a race, I think Trea would get him. I think Trea's faster."
Stubblefield: "I played against Billy Hamilton in A-ball, and Trea Turner's right there with him. Billy's first step is a little quicker than Trea's, but if you put those guys in a straight-line 60, I think Trea gets him every day."
Byrnes: "It's hard to knock Billy Hamilton's speed. I know that last year, those two were at the top end of the top end. If you lined 'em up, I don't know who would win. I guess Statcast will have to settle it."