Games » Minnesota TwinsJun5
Take your eye off the ball
The tendency to visually follow the ball wherever it goes leads a lot of people to believe that baseball is boring. If the ball isn’t doing anything, nothing must be happening. But if fans can force themselves to take their eyes off the ball and look around, they will see some interesting things.
Let’s start with the pitcher’s warm-up throws between innings. Watch his glove. If he points it at the catcher palm down, he’s going to throw a fastball. If he flips it over palm up, he’s throwing a curve. If he swipes it sideways, he’s throwing a slider. If he points it at the catcher palm down and then pulls it back, he’s throwing a change-up.
The hitters already know what the pitcher has, so the guy on the mound isn’t giving anything away. He’s just warning the catcher what’s coming. If the pitcher holds up two fingers, he’s reminding the catcher that he has two throws left. (He gets eight, but he doesn’t have to use all of them.) The umpire behind the plate will do the same thing to let the infielders know that the pitcher’s almost done. On the next-to-last warm-up toss, the pitcher will flip his glove or free hand back over his shoulder, signaling the catcher to throw to second base.
The catcher then will hold out a hand to let the second baseman know that the throw is coming, and the second baseman will acknowledge by holding out his hand.
This is just the pitcher’s warm-up signs. This stuff is happening all around the field, all the time. Watch the middle infielders signal who’s covering the bag on a hit and run (more on that shortly), or the umpires signal who’s got what coverage every time the situation changes. Royals coach Doug Sisson is at one end of the dugout signaling outfielders, coach Eddie Rodriguez is at the other end of the dugout signaling infielders. We got Eddie to go over the universal signs he uses at third base to remind runners of the situation at hand. (The video posted with these game notes shows what they are.)
Like I said, take you eye off the ball, and you’ll see a whole new world.
(One last thing: When a ball is hit into the air, the crowd goes bats, even on an F6. Take your eye off the ball and look at the fielders. They will let you know what’s really happening. It’s a pretty interesting game if you know where to look … and I’m still learning.)
With a runner on first base, you will see the middle infielders signal one another before every pitch. They will cover their mouths with their gloves and signal with an open mouth “you” or a closed mouth “me.” “You” means that if this runner on first base takes off for second, “you” will cover the bag. “Me’” means that I will cover the bag. I asked Chris Getz and Mike Aviles, and they both said the same thing: They almost always are on the same page as Alcides Escobar, and it’s rare that they have to do the sign a second time to get together.
So let’s say a dead-pull lefty is at the plate. The shortstop would have the bag because it’s more likely that the hitter will pull the ball toward second. The opposite would be true with a right-handed pull hitter. With a hitter who will go with the pitch, the infielders have to change it up and decide pitch by pitch who’s covering the bag. They base that on the speed and location of the pitch.
Chris said he also signals Eric Hosmer when a breaking pitch is coming to a left-handed batter. Getz makes a little hissing sound to let Eric know that he’s likely to get ball hit his way. All this needs to happen late enough in the pitcher’s motion so no one on the other team can pass along the signal. Getz said the first-base coach knows he’s signaling a breaking pitch, but it’s too late to do anything about it.
This is just another example of the stuff that happens between every pitch. Watch closely, and you’ll never be bored.
Trying to do too much
In the first inning of Sunday’s game, Eric Hosmer picked up a sacrifice bunt attempt from Twins batter Alexi Casilla and went after the lead runner, Ben Revere, who was sliding into second base. The attempt failed, the ball sailed into center field, the runners ended up on second and third and Hosmer got an E-3.
That opened up the inning. The Royals gave up three unearned runs scored, and for all intents and purposes, the game was over (even though we didn’t know it yet).
Two things about that play: First, according to Kevin Shank, a Fox Sports TV producer (who has the luxury of seeing as many replays as he likes), Royals pitcher Jeff Francis was not going to beat Casilla to first base. (Lefties fall off toward the third-base side and lose a step or two in a race to the first). So Hosmer going to second may have been the right play anyway … but if it wasn’t.
Secondly, it was not a dumb play. It was a case of Eric trying to do too much. When a team is scuffling, players sometimes feel the need to do something extra. Hit a home run, take an extra base or throw out a lead runner. When it doesn’t work, it can look bad. The team’s already losing, and someone does something that makes things worse.
The key to baseball is doing everything the same way all the time. I’m not excusing players who try to do something great but end up costing their team, but at least we can understand why they do it.
And then I make a mistake
By the way, I screwed up reporter protocol: Everyone was interviewing Francis, so I went over to Hosmer to ask about the play. Two seconds after he finished talking to me, the crowd showed up and made him say all the same stuff. If someone is likely to be interviewed by everyone, you wait until everyone is there so players don’t have to repeat the answer six times. I realized my mistake, and once everyone left, I apologized to Eric for making him talk about a mistake more than once. Eric smiled and said it was OK. “If I don’t screw up, I don’t have to talk about it at all,” he said.
Somebody raised that boy right.
I was walking down a hallway underneath Kauffman Stadium and came across Royals catcher Matt Treanor. He was dripping with sweat, throwing an 8-pound rubber ball against the cinderblock wall.
Matt had his back to the wall and was twisting around to throw the ball with both hands. Then he caught the ball after it came off the wall and did the whole thing again. I told Matt he looked like a lonely kid who couldn’t find anyone to play with, so he made me stand there and talk with him while he did it. This was only one part of an off-day workout (Brayan Pena was catching Francis), and it looked exhausting.
The good news is Matt likes Kansas City and hopes he gets to stay awhile. In fact, every new guy I’ve talked to, likes KC. So as Bill Murray would say, “We got that goin’ for us.”
(And if you don’t get that joke, go rent “Caddyshack” immediately.)
Royals coach Eddie Rodriquez and Lee Judge on base-running signs
Kansas City Royals third-base coach Eddie Rodriquez demonstrates to The Star's Lee Judge the universal signs he uses with base-runners, to help them navigate the base paths. June 5, 2011 (Video by John Sleezer/The Kansas City Star)