Being fast is something Marland Williams has had to live with his entire
life. The 22-year old, former high school running back from Gainesville, Fla.,
has been so fast for so long that the proverbial "man" tagged him with
a nickname fitting for those select few athletes who can track down a line shot
supposedly destined for the gap or steal a base with little more than a pump
fake and a sigh.
Known by most simply as "Smoke", Williams celebrated his first
full season in double-A by stealing 48 bases for the now defunct El Paso
Diablos. That performance plus his penchant for making the spectacular catch
seem routine has earned him an invite to the prestigious Arizona Fall League
where he will be roaming centerfield for the Scottsdale Scorpions starting in
November. But before any of that, the man who smacked 21 doubles, drove in 43
runs and scored 82 more this season slowed down long enough to talk to
FutureBacks.com about the challenges of batting leadoff, how he plans to help
bring the stolen base back to baseball and of course his name.
Do you prefer to be called Smoke or Marland?
I’ve been called Smoke for so long, for about five years now so it really
doesn’t matter, I answer to both of them.
Where did you pick up the name?
I picked it up my freshman year in junior college. One of my buddies saw me
running and I was running I was kicking up dirt and they said it looked like
smoke was coming up behind me so he just called me that and it just stuck with
Is it true you first wanted to be a football player?
Actually football was the first sport I played. It was the first sport I fell
in love with but as I grew up I think what changed my mine is that I had got
hurt so I picked baseball over football.
So when do first pick up a baseball?
I started playing about seven years old. I just got hooked because sports is
like a big thing to me. I watch basketball, football, baseball. Sports just
hooked me right off the bat and it’s stuck with me ever since.
Who are some of the players you like to watch?
I like Ken Griffey Jr. Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds
You got 48 stolen bases this year and speed is a major weapon in your
arsenal. How does that help you in the field and on the base paths?
I think speed is a big advantage. Coaches always say you can’t teach speed.
It’s fun to get out there and run around the bases, run balls down in the
outfield or just make things happen and make the game exciting. Speed is
something I’ve been blessed with and I just go out there wanting to make the
fans happy by show it off. I just use it to make people want to come to the game
by making a good play.
What goes through your mind as you prepare to steal a base?
I tend to watch the pitcher and study their moves and any little thing that
can help me out. I like to run early in the count so whenever I can go, I go but
it’s not a big thing to me stealing bases because I’ve been doing it my
It seems the role of the stolen base has diminished in baseball over the last
few years. What do you think someone who can steal bases brings to a team?
You are always going to need somebody to get on a steal a base in the eighth
or ninth inning when you are down by a run or in a tie game. It’s been
drifting away the last couple of years, but I think it’s coming back. I know a
lot of guys who I’ve played against the last couple of years that are good
leadoff hitters and base stealers so I think it’s coming back around and in
two or three years it will be back.
Speed and to a lesser extent stealing bases are a prerequisite for being a
leadoff hitter, but what else does it take to be effective at the top of the
You’ve got to get on base definitely. You’ve got to watch pitches so the
hitters behind you can see what they have. You got to try and make the pitcher
throw everything he’s got. I think the lead off hitter is one the biggest
parts of the game because if the lead off hitter is on then the whole team is
coming up. Coach always tells me to lead and they’ll follow me.
Cooley ( Diablos manager Scott Coolbaugh) said you are relatively new to
baseball, so how would you rate your progression so far?
You can learn something new from everything from your coach to other players
who’ve been around for a while but there’s some things I still need to do
and improve on but I think my defense is pretty good and I know I can get better
at that and I’m pretty good at base running.
You’ve been invited to play with the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona
Fall League this year, what do you hope to learn from that experience and what
are your plans for the rest of the off season to prepare for next year?
I plan on playing a lot and going in there and making a big impact by just
trying to get better and help out team win. Lee Tinsley is our hitting coach so
I know I’ll be working with him a lot and he’s going to be a big help to me.
We are going to be doing a lot of one on one work and I just plan on doing my
best and see what happens. As for the off season, one of my buddies (Exis Snead)
plays for the Mets and we work out together.
But you are going back to Florida?
Did you have any family affected by Hurricane Francis? And how do you keep
your concentration knowing your family could be in danger?
My mother is supposed to be here tomorrow but they are alright right now. Me
thinking about this and they being in the hurricane has been on my mind and it
bothers me but I know I can’t do anything about so I just got to come out here
When can the fans expect to see you at the next level whether it is in Tucson
Hopefully I’ll get the chance next year but if I don’t I think I’ll be
there in two years. I’m just getting better every year and when ever I get the
opportunity I’ll just go out there and try my hardest
What would it mean to you to get the call up and join the big leagues?
It would be a big relief. I’ve been thinking about it ever since they
drafted me. To be on TV playing in front of everybody it will be very exciting.
I’ll probably have some jitters the first couple of innings but I get excited
just seeing the people I played with on TV and that’s good motivation because
it doesn’t matter what time or what level if somebody gets hurt your nothing
but a phone call away. But being in the big leagues would just be a big thrill.
It’s everybody’s dream. I know everybody isn’t going to make it but if
they do you just go to live in the moment and be happy that you are up there.