A few steps behind the Royals' dugout is the team’s indoor batting cage. The door to the batting cage is painted blue, made of metal and covered with dozens of dents; it looks like the hood of a car left out in a hail storm.
But those dents are right where they should be: away from the public eye.
If a player “snaps” — baseball slang for having a temper tantrum — it’s a good idea to leave the dugout. Wise major-leaguers don’t let TV cameras catch them smashing dugout water coolers with baseball bats; it’s a bad look that will get a guy on SportsCenter for all the wrong reasons.
If a player feels the need to hit something with a baseball bat — often because he failed to hit a baseball with a baseball bat — the metal door to the indoor batting cage is a good choice. Nobody will see you having that temper tantrum, and the only people who will know about it are your teammates.
Unless you break something.
Hud buys The K a toilet
Ask Royals TV announcer Rex Hudler about snapping, and he'll tell you that he failed so much as a player he rarely got mad about it.
But then he might tell a story about a Kauffman Stadium toilet.
Back when he was playing for the Angels, Hudler was known for his hustle. But he remembers one day when he eased up while running out a ground ball and allowed the Royals to complete a double play.
Hudler was so mad at himself that he left the visitor’s dugout, walked up the tunnel and threw his bat. The bat ricocheted and broke the toilet just outside the visitor’s dugout. Suddenly, the City of Fountains had one more: water was spraying up in the air.
Hudler left a note with his name and uniform number on it and admitted his guilt. Just three innings later, the toilet was replaced. Hudler said that’s when he knew the Royals were a well-organized team.
In fact, the Royals were so well-organized that the next spring Hudler found a bill for the toilet waiting in his locker.
Rusty tries to get a ball in play
The Royals' former outfield coach has a million stories. Ask Rusty Kuntz about his most memorable snap, and he tells a story about his days in the minor leagues while playing in Evansville, Ind.
Rusty recalled that he had struck out 11 or 12 times in a row. Then came a strikeout on a pitch in the dirt that the opposing catcher blocked. The ball rolled out in front of home plate and the catcher bent over to pick it up.
That’s when Rusty shoved him. The opposing pitcher was headed toward him, and Rusty warned him off: “I’m getting a ball in play!” So Rusty picked up the ball, flipped it in the air and hit it with his bat … and the ball went foul into the stands.
The umpire asked Rusty if he was about done, and a few seconds later the ball wasn’t the only thing that left the playing field.
So, about today's Royals ...
Ask current Royals players about snapping and you'll get some interesting answers.
Third baseman Mike Moustakas claims he doesn’t do it anymore, but when he had a bad trip to the plate he used to break his bat over his knee.
Pitcher Ian Kennedy tries not to cuss, but if he feels that he must, he’ll leave the dugout to do it. Other pitchers might drop an F-bomb but cover their faces with their gloves so fans (and umps) can’t lip-read their profanity. If he can’t leave the mound to cuss, Kennedy admits he sometimes bites the webbing of his glove as hard as he can.
Catcher Drew Butera says he tries not to do it anymore, but he used to throw his batting helmet. He says he would throw it at the padded trainer’s table just outside the dugout to avoid breaking anything.
Outfielder Alex Gordon — seemingly the most stoic of players — admitted that he’ll leave the dugout to yell and is good for one or two broken bats per year.
Second baseman Whit Merrifield says he doesn’t snap.
... And a few anonymous accounts
People who have been around the Royals for years are reluctant to name names, but they have lots of snapping stories to tell.
Broken doors and broken chairs are pretty common. One player had a habit of ripping off his jersey before undoing the buttons. Another guy went into the showers and set his hat and shoes on fire. Another one gathered up all the cans of beer in the clubhouse, took them down to the indoor batting cage and hit them off a batting tee.
(As soon as I heard that last story, I really wanted to see what happens when you hit a can of beer with a baseball bat. If you’ve already watched the video we shot to accompany this story, you know it’s pretty spectacular.)
After hearing a few of these stories, a common theme emerged: The worst snappers might be starting pitchers.
And that makes sense. If a starting pitcher is forced to leave a game early, he's likely to wind up angry and alone in the clubhouse. He can’t do anything about a bad performance until he pitches again five days later; in the meantime, hitting cans of beer off a batting tee might seem like a good idea.
In the old days, when the clubhouse was pretty much a concrete floor with metal lockers and stools, a guy could go nuts with a baseball bat and not do that much damage. Now clubhouses have leather couches and captain’s chairs, wood paneling and flat-screen TVs. If today's player needs to snap, he usually does so outside the clubhouse.
Smart teams might provide players a chance to snap without doing much damage. Apparently, at least one big-league team has a punching bag hanging just outside the dugout. If an irate player on that team feels the need to punch something, he’s got a better alternative than a concrete wall.
On more thing. If a guy snaps and does some damage but doesn’t own up to it, that’s considered bush-league. A real pro admits his guilt, gets out his checkbook and pays for the damage he’s done.
Smashing a flat-screen TV is a bad idea from a financial standpoint. At the low, low cost of $8.49, I can highly recommend hitting cans of beer off a batting tee.