Judging the Royals

How do base coaches avoid 100 mph line drives? Here’s Rusty Kuntz’s advice

Kansas City Royals first-base coach Rusty Kuntz
Kansas City Royals first-base coach Rusty Kuntz jsleezer@kcstar.com

Let’s say you’re a base coach in the big leagues, you’re in your 60s, you have cranky knees, your reflexes aren’t what they used to be and, at times, you’re required to stand as close to home plate as a first or third baseman.

Big-league first and third basemen tend to be in their primes and, generally speaking, carry gloves for protection; you’ve got nothing but a batting helmet without ear flaps and whatever wits you have left.

Big-league hitters are also in their prime and if they catch a ball just right, it can leave the bat at 100 mph or more.

According to the people who put this kind of information on the Internet, an object traveling 100 mph is covering 146.667 feet per second. So a first- or third-base coach standing 90 feet away has less than a second to get out of the way of a line drive.

Now let’s say you’re starting to have vision problems.

Take all that into account and it’s not hard to figure out why Royals first-base coach Rusty Kuntz will not be on the field for the rest of the year. He’ll still be in the dugout, but Rusty will no longer coach first base.

Pedro Grifol has temporarily replaced Rusty as first-base coach until the Royals can get a coach up from the minors to replace Pedro; then they’ll let the minor-league guy go stand in the line of fire.

So if the minor-league guy doesn’t already know Rusty Kuntz’ trick for avoiding line drives, here it is.

How to hear an off-speed pitch is on its way

Middle infielders can see the catcher’s signs; corner infielders can’t.

So if the second baseman sees that the pitcher is about to deliver an off-speed pitch to a left-handed batter, that’s something the first baseman might like to know; the ball is likely to be hit in the first baseman’s direction.

As pitches are delivered infielders shuffle a couple steps forward — that puts them on the balls of their feet — and if they know the pitch is going to be off-speed, they can gain a step in the right direction by shuffling to the pull side of the field.

OK, so far so good, but how do the middle infielders alert the corner infielders that an off-speed pitch is about to be thrown?

If the pitch is a fastball, they remain quiet, but if the pitch is something off speed, they make a hissing sound; loud enough to be heard by the corner infielders, but not the hitter. But if the first baseman can hear that sound, can’t it also be heard by the first-base coach?

Sure, but the sound comes too late in the pitcher’s windup for the first-base coach to pass that information along to the hitter. But the first-base coach does what he can to protect himself.

If Rusty heard a hissing sound with a lefty at the plate he would be ready to move: that’s one way he avoided being hit by line drives.

So whether the new first base coach in tonight’s game against the Twins is Pedro Grifol or a guy just up from the minors, they need to keep their ears open.

And if a pitcher is about to throw a change-up to Mike Moustakas — back up.

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