Embarrassment is not part of baseball

Tom West, West Words
Tom West, West Words

Major League Baseball’s All-Star game was played in Minneapolis 12 days ago. I watched because it is the only professional all-star game that is truly competitive.

Pitchers and hitters don’t want to embarrass themselves. It isn’t like that in other sports, where all-stars suddenly forget defense when the elite get together.

As your enterprising investigator, I decided to go to the far opposite end of baseball’s spectrum, to see if baseball’s least developed players are embarrassed, or if there is something about baseball that, difficult though it may be, causes all players to magically shed embarrassment when they step over the foul lines.

OK, I went to my grandson’s tee-ball game.

The only thing that tee ball and Target Field have in common is that they both begin with “T.” Tee ball rules are different from those applied by Major League Baseball.

For starters, tee ball has no balls and strikes. The ball is always in the strike zone until it is hit.

A few players may require a few swings before they dribble it off the tee, but even if it takes a half dozen mighty whiffs, they get to keep swinging until they hit it.

The second thing noticeably different is that there are no outs. I don’t know if that is always true in tee ball, but in this three-inning contest there were nada, not one, zilch.

Instead, each team gets to bat around. Every player swings until he hits. Midway through the season, every batter now runs to first base, even though third was under consideration at the season’s start.

Thus, everybody hits a single — except for a team’s last batter. The last batter hits a grand slam home run, clearing the bases.

The grand slam is not hit any further than the singles, but is fielded with the same aplomb as all the other hits.

The hits are of two varieties. Some are dribblers to the infield, which usually two or three players converge upon and fight over, kicking the ball this way and that until someone gains control.

Then the coach begins screaming instructions like, “First base, first base, first base.”

This causes confusion in the lucky fielder’s mind. What is first base? Is that not where the batter hits? Is it the base closest to me? Or is it where the runner is running to and the coach is frantically pointing?

After several seconds, the fielder opts for the last option, and gives the ball a heave. In this game, no throw to first was caught, including the few that were catchable.

Some throws to first went home. Others went into right field. It made no difference. In the scorebook it was a single.

The second variety of hits are those that find a gap and make it into the outfield. Even on this small field, no balls roll to the fence. It is incumbent upon the second baseman or shortstop — there being no actual outfielders — to chase down the rolling ball, and heave it back to the infield. It is during those tosses that fans along the sidelines need to be especially aware. Does the word, “Incoming,” mean anything to you?

At first glance, it appears the players are just as alert as their all-star counterparts. But significant differences appear after a few seconds. The biggest difference is to what they are alert.

For example, my grandson, a budding athlete, played second base one inning. Midway through, he hollered to his father, “Hey, dad,” while pointing with his finger. “Airplane.”

Sure enough, a single-engine prop job was on approach to the local airport at 500 feet.

Also on approach was a ground ball that eased into short right field. That was OK. It was only a single.

A greater difference was attrition. All-star managers have to be careful to hold a few pitchers in reserve in case the game goes into extra innings. Tee ball managers just hope that they have enough players to last three innings.

Both teams started the game with 10 players. However, by the third inning, the opposition was down to four.

One player came running over yelling, “Hey, mom. I need to go to the bathroom.” He was then led away and failed to return.

Another more spectacular example happened at the beginning of the second inning, when two teammates ran out, claiming they wanted to play first base. The one who got there first, jumped on the bag.

The other one then screamed again, “I want to play first base.” When the other player didn’t move, he then took his glove and threw it about 10 feet, squeezed his arms around himself as if giving himself a hug, and began bawling. After a minute of this mini-rain delay, his mother came out, patted him on the shoulder and they walked off together.

I’m sure it has happened before, but that was the first time I have ever witnessed that. Players sometimes cry after they lose, but never in the middle of the game. Someday, he may be a candidate for the chess club, where one often realizes that he is about to lose before it happens.

But was there embarrassment? Not a whit. There were no catcalls, no bullying. There were only singles and then a climactic home run, with the game ending in a tie.

The chances of becoming a Major League Baseball player are one in a million. None of these tee ballers jumped out with their ability, suggesting they had God-given talent far beyond their peers.

But it’s probably too soon to tell. My advice is, don’t be embarrassed. It’s not baseball-like. Just keep practicing.

Tom West is the editor and general manager of the Record. Reach him at (320) 616-1932 or by email at [email protected].