Judging the Royals

If you’re bored, do what baseball coaches do: play a little fungo golf

Pitch, golf, tag and other games to play with a fungo bat

Kansas City Royals first-base coach Rusty Kuntz teaches The Kansas City Star's Lee Judge how to be a better fungo hitter, by playing pitch, golf, tag and other games.
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Kansas City Royals first-base coach Rusty Kuntz teaches The Kansas City Star's Lee Judge how to be a better fungo hitter, by playing pitch, golf, tag and other games.

Today is Monday and the Royals clubhouse will open at 9 a.m. At 10 a.m. the players will be on the field to stretch and after that they’ll play catch, work on a fundamental — like cutoffs and relays — and then take batting practice. At 1:05 p.m. the Royals will play a baseball game.

This is what the Kansas City Royals have been doing pretty much every day since spring training began in February.

The players and coaches spend most of their waking hours at the ballpark and because they do the same thing every day, every day seems like Groundhog Day. They lose track of time; ask a player what day of the week it is and there’s a good chance he won’t know.

Big-league baseball is pretty glamorous, but if you’re lucky enough to be allowed backstage, you’ll see how bored people can get.

So when a reporter comes up with something goofy and different, players and coaches usually welcome the break in monotony.

A while back I wanted to see how accurate outfield coach Rusty Kuntz was when he hit fly balls to outfielders, so I stuck a frying pan down my pants to see if he could hit it from halfway across the field — and he did.

But after that, Rusty wasn’t done playing.

He had some more fungo games to show me and that’s what you’ll see in this video. These are games the coaches play when they’re on the field early, waiting for the players to arrive.

Catcher Fungo

I’m not sure that’s the right name for this game, because Rusty didn’t tell me. If I were a better reporter I would have asked, but I was too busy worrying about getting hit in the frying pan.

Rusty had me get down in a catcher’s stance and then tried to hit me a fungo that I could catch without coming out of my stance. If he short-hopped me, my only protection would be quick hands, which means I had no protection at all.

Not to worry; Rusty hit a ball right into my glove on his second try.

Fungo Golf

Pick an object — a base, a dugout opening, a ball bag — and whoever hits a fungo closest to it wins the hole. You can also pick an object close to you and test your “touch and feel.” It’s the fungo golf equivalent of chipping onto a green and ending up close to the pin.

Tag

The first contestant hits a ball — a.k.a. the “rabbit” — and the next contestant tries to hit the rabbit. If he misses the rabbit, the next guy can win by hitting a fungo between the two previous fungos.

I was better at hitting fungos than Rusty expected me to be, mainly because Rusty’s expectations were so low. But that didn’t prevent me from swinging and missing completely on one fungo (and I’d really like to thank Star videographer John Sleezer for making sure that shot was included).

But I have an excuse; I was wearing a GoPro camera strapped to my chest and I’m pretty sure that threw my swing off. I didn’t have to wear it — we didn’t use any shots from the GoPro — but wearing it provided me with an excuse if things went bad.

Winners prepare to win; losers prepare excuses.

So if you’re coaching a kid’s baseball team this summer and you and the other coaches get bored, try a little fungo golf.

But make sure you strap a camera to your chest so you have an excuse for losing.

How accurate is scorekeeping?

A while back the Royals were playing the Brewers when Christian Colon hit what could have been scored a single or an error. During spring training, they don’t use official scorers, so the scorekeeping is usually done by front-office guys.

What I assume was a Brewers front office-guy turned to the rest of us in the press box and asked what we thought.

One fellow said it was an error, and then the front-office guy turned and looked at us (and by “us,” I mean me and 610 sports radio’s Brad Fanning). Brad said: “Give him a hit,” and that’s what happened.

The next morning, we told Colon how he got his hit and he fist-bumped us and said: “I love you guys!”

I’ve also seen official scorers make sketchy decisions during the regular season. I’ve seen unsuccessful bunts for hits scored as sacrifices, doubles scored as triples and stolen bases scored as defensive indifference.

If the scorekeeping decision is questionable enough, someone is likely to have a talk with the scorekeeper ... and rulings get changed on a fairly regular basis.

So keep that in mind: If you like to view baseball through numbers, remember that a lot of those numbers start with a scorekeeper who may or may not know what he’s doing.

It’s comforting to think things are well-thought out — reporters know what they’re talking about, Wins Above Replacement accurately reflects a player’s worth and God has a plan for us — but from what I’ve seen, things are a lot more random than we think.

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