Judging the Royals

Don’t kid yourself; you can’t hit big-league pitching

Yordano Ventura throws in the first inning during Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Angels at Kauffman Stadium
Yordano Ventura throws in the first inning during Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Angels at Kauffman Stadium JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

Sunday afternoon I was talking with two big-league scouts and one of them told me that the night before he’d been sitting near a guy who was convinced he could hit .200 in the big leagues.

The scout said he wanted to turn around and tell the guy it was doubtful he could hit .002 in the big leagues because to have any average at all, you have to get a hit — and regular people can’t hit big-league pitching.

I know; I tried for three winters.

Jerry Dipoto was a former big-league pitcher before he became former general manager of the Angels.

Jerry’s a smart guy and I’m sure before long he’ll be a former something else. Anyway, Jerry lived in Kansas City for a while and we worked out at the same baseball facility. Every off-season for three years running Jerry would pitch to me and strike me out about 100 times a winter.

I don’t know what Jerry got out of it except a giant boost of confidence, but I know I got something out of it: the knowledge that people who watch big-league baseball games and say they could hit big-league pitching don’t know what they’re talking about.

At the time I was playing in a men’s amateur league and facing ex-college pitchers with a few former pros sprinkled in, and I was holding my own.

But facing a big-leaguer in his prime was a whole different deal. Jerry’s velocity was ungodly and nothing he threw was straight. His fastball would actually make a buzzing noise as it went past — and they pretty much all went past — and Jerry would say he “had the good fuzz” that day.

I had absolutely no chance at hitting a sinker or slider or splitter. If I started my swing when Jerry walked in the building I might have a chance of making some contact on a heater, but in three years I only barreled one up, and Jerry immediately declared it a foul ball.

Why fans think they can play big-league baseball

The other scout talked about fans feeling an “ownership” of baseball that they rarely feel about any other sport. Most people have played some form of the game at some time, somewhere. A lot fewer people have suited up for football and run full tilt into another human being.

And then there’s the size issue … and despite what you may have heard, size matters.

I don’t think anyone in their right mind goes to an NBA game and thinks they could play with guys who are 7 feet tall. Same with football. You hear about the 300-pound linemen and unless you’ve had one too many Boulevard Beers you don’t think you could be on the field with those guys.

But because baseball players seem to be of normal size (they’re actually bigger than you think) people assume they could get out on the field and play the game without embarrassing themselves.

If you think that, you’re wrong.

Face it, you weren’t that good

I had a friend tell me he was a pretty good high school baseball player and if it weren’t for some unfortunate personal events, he might have played professionally.

I asked how many scouts showed up when he played. He said ‘None.’

“Then you weren’t that good.”

If a kid is throwing 90 mph in high school, people hear about it and someone will show up to take a look. If a kid is hitting balls into the parking lot, word gets around and sooner or later a scout will drop by.

We can all see it when a guy is 7 feet tall or weighs 300 pounds. What’s deceiving about baseball players is their speed. They can all do something fast — run, throw a baseball or swing a bat — and most of us can’t gauge just how fast they are from the upper deck of a big-league ballpark.

That’s what leads to the baseball saying: “The further you get from dirt, the easier the game becomes.”

Well, I’ve stood on dirt and I can tell you the game ain’t easy.

So if you have a couple beers at the K and decide to let everyone within earshot know you could hit big league pitching, take me advice: don’t say it.

Because you can’t.

To reach Lee Judge, call 816-234-4482 or send email to ljudge@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @leejudge8.

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