If you watched the Royals play the Rays last week in St. Petersburg, Fla., you might have seen Alex Gordon run into the center-field wall while making a catch.
One of the ways ballplayers judge the toughness of outfielders is what those outfielders do when they’re chasing a fly ball and hit the warning track.
If the outfielder slows down when he hits the track and decides to play the carom, he might be smart, but he’s not that tough.
If the outfielder keeps going and collides with the wall in order to make the catch, you might be watching Alex Gordon or Lorenzo Cain.
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But in this case, Gordon didn’t have to make the decision to slow down or keep going, because there is no warning track in Tampa Bay.
The turf might be a different color — and it looks terrific on TV — but it’s made of the same material as the rest of the outfield.
On a real warning track, outfielders can tell they’ve gone from grass to dirt without looking. Lorenzo Cain says once he hits the track in Kauffman Stadium he knows he has two or three strides left before he hits the wall.
Tampa Bay’s dome makes tracking a fly ball difficult and outfielders are told to never take their eye off the ball, and that means they can’t take a quick peek to figure out how close they are to impact.
So the fact that there is no real warning track tends to complicate matters.
If the Rays get a new park to play in, they might want to go to the expense of building a real warning track.
I bet Alex Gordon would appreciate it.
And there aren’t that many pads on the wall in Kauffman
Look at the outfield fence in Kauffman Stadium and you’ll see the wall is padded in center field, but in left and right you’ll mostly see an electronic scoreboard.
Those scoreboards are covered with chain link, but both Gordon and Cain said it has almost no give to it, so running into those scoreboards hurts.
And when those scoreboards are lit up, it makes it hard for people in the infield to see what’s happening in the outfield.
If a catch is being attempted in front of a scoreboard, base coaches can be blinded when they look into the outfield; all they see are silhouettes.
And sometimes those coaches have to make decisions based on crowd noise; if the visitors are batting and the crowd cheers, the third-base coach knows the ball was caught — if the crowd moans, the coach can send the runner.
So if you’re sitting in the outfield and could organize everyone around you to make the wrong sound when the visiting team is batting, you might help the Royals win a game.
Why Kevin Kiermaier missed those grounders
In that Tampa Bay series fans were probably shocked when Gold Glove center fielder Kevin Kiermaier ran right past a couple of grounders and allowed the Royals to circle the bases.
Lots of guys can tell you Kiermaier needed to get his glove down, not many guys can tell you why he didn’t — and I ain’t one of them.
But lucky for you, Rusty Kuntz is.
According to Rusty, Kiermaier charges the ball like his hair’s on fire and that means he can run his way into a bad hop.
Ideally, an outfielder wants to field the ball with his glove-side foot forward. That pushes his glove out in front and allows the outfielder to watch the ball all the way in.
Field the ball with the glove-side foot back and the glove will also be back and that means the outfielder might lose track of the ball at the last second.
As both balls arrived, Kiermaier was starting to take a step forward with his glove-side foot, raising that side of his body.
Now add the fact that Kiermaier is playing on relatively new turf that deadens the ball more than the old turf, so when his glove came up, he didn’t get the usual hop.
If you read that sitting down and it made sense to you I’m happy, because I had to walk through it all while Rusty explained what was happening.
And if Kiermaier managed to lose the Gold Glove in just one series, now you know why.