I’ve got a theory about big-league ballplayers. (Actually, I have quite a few theories about big-league ballplayers, but most of them don’t belong in a family newspaper or family baseball blog or whatever this thing has turned into.)
Now here’s the theory:
Nobody in their right mind goes to an NFL game or NBA game and thinks they could play with the athletes their watching. Unless you’re 6 feet 10 and weigh 275 pound, the size difference is pretty obvious.
But all kinds of ex-high school and Little League ballplayers go to a big-league baseball game, down a couple beers and then announce they’re pretty sure they could hit a big-league fastball.
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And that leads me to make three observations:
1.) No they can’t.
2.) Get up close and those ballplayers are bigger than they think.
3.) What makes big-league ballplayers special isn’t always obvious.
Every guy in the big leagues can do something fast: run fast, swing a bat fast or throw a baseball fast and speed is often hard to appreciate. Big-league ballplayers also tend to have phenomenal hand-eye coordination and I’ve got a couple stories that make that point.
George Brett, Tony Gwynn and Russ Morman
I’ve been told that back in the day George Brett was out playing golf with some buddies. George was on the green when a buddy hit a shot his way and George used a golf club to hit the ball back at his buddy.
One more time: George Brett hit a flying golf ball with the handle of a golf club and squared it up. (And, George, if that story isn’t true please don’t tell me; I want it to be true.)
Now here’s the Tony Gwynn story and I’m pretty sure it’s true because a guy who was there told me about it.
One afternoon Jerry Dipoto — currently general manager of the Seattle Mariners, but as a big-league relief pitcher at the time — was “running poles” in the outfield. (Pitchers sometimes run from foul pole to foul pole as a workout.)
Tony Gwynn was taking some early batting practice, but it was BP with a difference; each ball was marked with a colored dot — if memory serves the dots were red, green or blue. I can’t remember which color went to which field (let’s say red went to left field, green went to center and blue went to right). But the point of the drill was for Tony to pick up the dot’s color as the ball was thrown to him and then hit the ball to the correct field.
Jerry said as he ran his poles, the outfield began to fill up with balls and Tony was doing it; hitting the same color baseball to the same field. Jerry’s next thought was how the heck was he supposed to get this guy out? Mainly he didn’t; over their careers, Tony went 3 for 5 off Jerry.
OK, the Russ Morman story happened for sure because I saw it myself.
In 1994, I was playing and managing in the Kansas City Men’s Senior Baseball League when the big-league players went on strike. Suddenly I was getting calls from big-league ballplayers who wanted to get into a game, which would have broken several Men’s Senior League rules. I would have been happy to break them, but if a guy showed up throwing 95 mph, it might have seemed suspicious.
But then a manager of another team wanted to play a practice game and said I could bring anybody I liked — bingo! My shortstop was from the Dodgers, my center fielder was out of the Texas Rangers system, I had two guys who pitched in the Orioles system, Jerry Dipoto was my closer and Russ Morman — at that point a Florida Marlin — was playing first base.
We won the game and I’m pretty sure it was my managing that did the trick.
Anyway … Russ was at the plate when the guy from the Dodgers tried to steal second base. The opposing shortstop moved to cover second and Russ took a funky, rollover swing, hitting the ball through the vacated spot at short. Russ singled and the Dodger dude wound up on third.
Afterward I asked Russ if he’d done that on purpose and he looked at me with a mixture of pity and disgust. Of course he’d done it on purpose; the shortstop broke too soon, Russ saw it and while the pitch was being delivered, altered his swing to pull a grounder to the left side of the field.
That’s how the best players in the game play.
What made Dyson’s catch so special
On Thursday night against the Miami Marlins, Jarrod Dyson robbed Christian Yelich of a home run. According to the numbers, Dyson ran 98 feet and hit a top speed of 19.8 mph, which is fascinating if you’re the kind of guy who thinks a pocket calculator makes a great Christmas gift.
What made the Dyson catch so spectacular was the timing and you didn’t need numbers to appreciate it.
Yeah, Dyson ran a long way fast, but timing his leap — and he slowed down just a bit as he hit the warning track to get it right — was crucial. Dyson also had to plant his left foot on the outfield wall to get to the right spot at the right time. Outfielders use their spikes to get traction; they dig them into the outfield wall’s padding.
Planting his left foot into the padding appeared to help Dyson hang in the right spot just a bit longer and that allowed him to make the catch. Dyson and I have talked about these kinds of catches — using the wall to get higher — and he said they’re the hardest kind of catch because you never practice them. The opportunity presents itself and you time it right or you don’t.
On Thursday night, Jarrod Dyson timed it right and showed what makes big league ballplayers so special.
So remember: no matter how many beers you drink, you still can’t hit a big-league fastball, but I’d pay good money to see you try.
I’ll even buy the beer.