Four springs ago I was asked if I’d be willing to watch every Royals game and enter information into a computer program. I figured I was going to watch almost every Royals game anyway, so why not get paid to do it?
By LEE JUDGE
The Kansas City Star
That’s how my KansasCity.com blog, Judging the Royals, got started. It’s billed as “an inside look at baseball and the Kansas City Royals.” Since 2010, I’ve watched pretty much every pitch of every Royals game.
Watching baseball for a living is a pretty sweet deal — until you realize you can’t stop. Want to catch a movie tonight? Forget it; you’re going to the ballgame. The Royals are getting crushed and it’s only the third inning? Too bad — you’re watching the whole thing. Smack dab in the middle of a two-hour rain delay? Get comfortable, because you’re not going anywhere.
I’ve spent my birthday, my kids’ birthdays and my wedding anniversary at the ballpark. I get a break of sorts when the team is out of town, but I still have to watch the games on TV. Watching baseball is what I do almost every day from mid-March, when I go to spring training, to sometime in October. Late October if things go well.
OK, so I’ve done a lot of whining about watching 162 baseball games a year. Isn’t there an upside?
Sure there is: I’ve had the rare opportunity to spend time around the best baseball players and coaches in the world. What they’ve taught me about baseball has made watching all those games bearable.
Once you know what to look for, there’s so much to see that you can’t take it all in. For example:
• The shortstop uses his feet to smooth out the dirt in front of him and in the process moves two steps to his right. There’s a right-handed batter at the plate. Translation: The shortstop move means that the hitter’s getting an off-speed pitch. The batter’s more likely to pull the ball; the shortstop just disguised a move to be in the right position.
• With a runner on second base, the catcher holds up his hand and spins his finger. Translation: He’s telling the rest of the infield that the runner may be stealing signs and relaying them to the hitter. With runners on second base, catchers use a more complicated set of signs to disguise the real one. Spinning his finger tells everybody that the catcher thinks the runner has figured out the first set of signs and now the catcher is going to use a secondary set of signs.
If the batter gets hit by a pitch, it may be a message to the other team: Don’t steal our signs.
• With a runner on second base, the outfield coach comes to the top of the dugout steps and pats the top of his head. Translation: He’s telling the outfielders not to throw home to get the runner if there’s a base hit. The sign means the run doesn’t matter and the outfielders should hit the cutoff man and keep the double play in order.
This kind of thing happens every night on every pitch. Once you know where to look and what to look for, the game becomes incredibly rich in detail. Every at-bat becomes a fascinating encounter with multiple story lines.
That’s how you watch 162 baseball games and keep coming back for more.
But it’s still a whole lot of baseball games.
Lee Judge is also The Star’s editorial cartoonist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.