Greetings, sports fans! I’m coming to you from high over the desert southwest, winging my way from Phoenix to Portland-The Last leg of my return flight from Austin. By the way, dude in the row behind us, we were wondering why you ordered a vodka cranberry at 8:00 in the morning? Maybe because you ended up sitting in front of three boys between the ages of 5-8? No judgment, bro.
It was comforting to visit the Mother Ship and drink in all the Longhorn spirit I could stand. During my visit, the Longhorn baseball team was kind enough to schedule a game with the Houston Cougars. Did I attend? You bet your sweet bippy I did. But I wasn’t alone at the glorious UFCU Disch-Falk field (hereinafter known as “The Disch”). Aside from the other Longhorn faithful and the misguided but well-intentioned Cougar fans, I had some family and friends with me. My hubby H was along, and my kiddo C, step-kids M and P, C’s brothers from another mother T and T, and C’s childhood friend (and all-around good guy) B. Who, incidentally, just got a job offer! Way to go, B! The Horns won in a convincing fashion. I got to hear “Wabash Cannonball” and chant along to “March Grandioso.” I may or may not have been the only person shouting, “T!” “E!” “X!” “A!” “S!” “TEXAS FIGHT!” I regret nothing.
Hearing “Wabash Cannonball” over the loudspeakers was not quite the same as the real deal–fourth quarter of the football game, when the Longhorn Band low brass section becomes a traveling minstrel show and regales each part of the stadium with the live rendition. I’ve gotta get back for a football game. Sigh.
But for now, baseball! I have the green light from the lovely and talented Nichole to write some baseball posts, and help raise your appreciation for America’s pastime. Many of you don’t watch baseball because perhaps it’s confusing. Or mysterious, like cricket. Let’s talk about cricket. I know it’s huge in a large part of the English-speaking world, but what the what? The pitcher is called the “bowler.” The bat looks like a paddle you’d find in a 1920s Catholic school and used when little Johnny can’t remember his multiplication tables. And you call that base running? As far as I can tell, the batter just dashes back and forth between the pitcher’s mound (whatever) and home plate (whatever x2). No one wears a mitt, and everyone wears tennis whites. It’s totally unnerving. How do you stay so CLEAN? Why does one guy have a sweater with stripes around the neck but no one else does? What’s a googly? I consulted the Great Gazoogle and his pal Wikipedia, and found this definition, unaltered from its original British English, as it should be: “In cricket, a googly is a type of delivery bowled by a right-arm leg spin bowler. It is occasionally referred to as a Bosie (or Bosey), an eponym in honour of its inventor Bernard Bosanquet. It can also be described, colloquially, as a wrong’un.” (Link here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Googly)
Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Moving on, or back, to baseball. This is a straightforward game, honestly. Nine dudes on each side. Pitcher, catcher, four infielders, three outfielders. Nine innings of play (go crazy, numerologists!). One team is designated as “home,” and they bat second in the inning. There is a strategic advantage to batting second, or as they say in the parlance, in the “bottom of the inning.” For example, if the home team is behind in the ninth (last) inning, they get one final shot to make some runs and win the game. The team at bat is on offense, and the team in the field is playing defense. Each position in the field has a number assigned for statistical purposes, and knowing this can help unravel some of the mystery of the play-by-play calling. I know you like sports, and I know I’ve advised you to stretch your brain muscles and check out other sports besides football. Because I know you always take my advice, you’ve certainly heard the announcers chanting something like, “That was a 6-4-3 double play!” Nope, that’s not a secret call to arms for the Illuminati. They’re telling you the batter hit the ball to the shortstop, who threw to the second baseman for one out, who then threw to the first baseman for another out. Two outs off one batter = a double play. Triple plays happen too, but rarely. Here are the positions and their corresponding numbers:
Pitcher = 1
Catcher = 2
First Base = 3
Second Base = 4
Third Base = 5
Shortstop = 6
Left Field = 7
Center Field = 8
Right Field = 9
Each team bats once per inning. H just pointed out that the teams actually bat until there are three outs. If one team is on a roll, you can see the same players bat several times in an inning.
The goal of the offense is to score as many runs as possible. That requires that you get some dudes on base, which can happen in one of several ways. The most straightforward is that the batter picks his pitch and connects with the ball, hitting it on the ground or in the air where a defensive player can’t get it, and reaches first base. While a team is batting, you’ll see they put a coach-type person next to first base, and third base. Aside from modeling the team’s uniform, these fellows are called base coaches. They tell the runners whether to go or stay when the ball is hit. The runner has enough to worry about without having to watch whether a fly ball is caught or whether he needs to go head-first into the next base. So the base coach becomes the runner’s brain. You’ll see all kinds of hand gestures and body touching going on with these base coaches. They’re not throwing gang signs, people. They’re relaying instructions to the runners. Or perhaps they have an itch; you never know. These signs are closely guarded secrets, so perhaps the Illuminati is involved after all. Woe be to the runner who ignores his base coach, even if the dude is 100% wrong.
OK, so the runner can hit the ball. Easy enough. He can also get a base on balls. Now that might sound like a painful medical condition, but it’s not. It means the pitcher threw four pitches outside the strike zone, and the batter is awarded the base. We’ll cover strike zones and stuff later. (Man, this is more complicated than I thought!) The pitcher’s goal is to strike out the batter by throwing three strikes inside the strike zone, or having the batter swing and miss, which is also a strike. If you’re a batter, strikes are bad. Behind the plate and the catcher, covered in as much padding as possible plus a face-cage is the umpire. That’s the dude who decides whether a pitch is a ball or strike. He often gets booed by the fans. Never by me. I wouldn’t do something like that. As far as you know. You will hear people yelling something like, “Blue! That was a strike! Come on, blue!” Not me, mind you, but other people. “Blue” = shorthand for the umpires, because at the college level and below their uniforms were traditionally blue. Once you get to the major leagues, the umpires are called by their names to show respect for their authority. The more you know, right?
There are a couple of other things worth mentioning. If the batter is hit by a pitch, he gets to go to first base. Unless! If the umpire believes the batter leaned into the pitch to get hit, his con is discovered and he has to keep batting. The batter can also “steal” first base, which is pretty exciting, and happened during the Texas vs. Houston game earlier this week. If a batter has two strikes and the third strike gets away from the catcher, the runner can take off for first base. It doesn’t happen very often, but it’s always fun to see. That’s called a “dropped third strike” for those of you looking to get into scorekeeping (it can be fun!).
Once on base, the runner’s goal is to move around the bases and eventually score a run.
The team in the field is on defense, and their goal is to get three batters out. The pitcher can strike out a batter. The batter can hit a ball on the ground and be thrown out at the base. Now, that’s not like being thrown out of a club or anything, not that I’d know about that, but I’ve heard stories from other people. Ahem. It means one of the players in the field scoops up the ground ball and throws it to their teammate covering that base before the runner gets there. If you watch baseball, you’ll see umpires out in the field, whose job it is to determine calls at the bases. The technique is interesting: they usually stare at the base so they can see when the runner touches it while listening for the slap of the ball in the baseman’s glove.
I have a story for you that I swear I am not making up. I played softball for years on both co-ed and all women’s teams. Once, during a co-ed game, I was up to bat with a teammate already on first base. My hit was lousy; a ground ball right to the short stop. He threw my teammate out at second base, because he was the lead runner (strategy!) but he could have also thrown to first base and gotten me out. That, dear readers, is called a “fielder’s choice.” That means the dude in the field has his pick of runners to throw out. As we left the field to get our gloves to play defense, I told my teammate, “Sorry for the fielder’s choice, man.” He was so impressed he proposed marriage on the spot, which I politely declined. So ladies, throw that out at the next cocktail party or backyard BBQ. “Did you see (insert player’s name) get thrown out on that fielder’s choice in the third inning? He was robbed.” Your stock will rise approximately 1000%.
Thus endeth the first lesson of baseball. Oh, there’s so much more, but I don’t want to lose you so early in the journey. I’ll be updating the progress of both UT and the Ducks. I’m fortunate to live in Eugene where I can see them whenever there’s a home game. They’re doing quite well, as is Oregon State. You may recall the OSU Beavers winning a little thing called the College World Series not too long ago. Yes, children, baseball has a legitimate playoff system that football can only dream of. One day I will travel to the college football Mecca of Omaha, Nebraska to see the CWS. Because otherwise, why would I go to Nebraska?
I hope I piqued your baseball interest. Have specific questions? Feel free to leave a comment. If I don’t know the answer I will either make something up or consult the Great Gazoogle. Maybe even the Magic 8 Ball, always reliable for stuff like this.
Keep your horns up, and until next time, Hook ’em!