Thursday, August 30

A Good Day to Play Baseball in JAX

baseball field jax
I've written about playing baseball before, including the night after an awesome defensive game I had a few years back. Since an offensive explosion for me is 2 for 4 with two singles, defense is where I can help a team. Tonight, I got to play a "perfect" game at third base for the Bold City Kings that included one really good play, so it was a good day.

Perfect is in quotes because two of my throws were in the dirt, one scooped by Bill and one by Kevin over at first. And because no one really cares all that much, even though the guys did see flashes of what I can do. Technically, I had one better game this year while playing for the 35-plus Cubs, at least as far as spectacular stops are concerned. Two diving stops and two outs. But I think we lost that game, and it wasn't in the playoffs.

Back in Milwaukee, they used to call me The Glove, partially because I use this giant Rawlings glove that I've had since I was thirteen (about thirty years). Andy Paul from the Cubs broke the webbing in warm ups early this year, at which point I could tell he'd been a pitcher. I was lucky enough to have some black leather lace that I used to re-web it. I know, I should get it fixed, but it's currently held together nicely with some shoelaces. The Glove is brown, but it has enough bits of black lacing to make it quite unique. And it's still got some magic.

Technically, I only had one tough play, one decent play, and maybe five fairly easy chances. The easy plays are often the ones that get me. I spent most of my best years as a first baseman or second baseman, so I got used to knocking the ball down and having time to throw. But when you don't glove the ball cleanly at third, it's a long throw, especially when it squirts away. And you're always getting in-between hops or balls off the infield lip, so it's really tough to get out of a game without an error. I've always told everyone that the toughest throw in baseball is from third over to second on a double play. And I've played every position.

I didn't have to turn a 5-4-3 double play in this game, but I did have to make one of the other throws that infielders often blow: the throw home for a tag play at home. That play was in the first inning off a hard hit ball. I was playing back and would have conceded the run on a chopper, but it was hit so hard that we got the runner from third out in a run-down. Then there were the other easy plays. At least two were in the rain, so I didn't make my best throws to first, but I made each of the plays. It's difficult to charge the ball and get the perfect hop at third like you can do at second, so I tend to get my whole body way low, often with a knee on the ground. Probably not perfect technique, but it takes a horrible hop to beat me, and I still have enough of an arm to finish the plays.

The one play that I finished that was unique for me was my diving stop. Normally, I dive (more of a controlled fall) and then get up and make a strong throw. This particular ball, however, was not solidly in the glove, and the ball was all wet from the rain. I was on my knees and looked up to see the runner too far up the line for me to get up and throw, so I channeled my years as a catcher and just whipped it over to first from my knees. Granted, when I played a deep third base on turf, I could have never made the throw from that position, but I was playing about even with the bag, and it was the only option. Without Kevin's scoop at first, it's just another in my line of awesome stops with poor throws (The Glove doesn't make the throws for me). Anyhow, this play was big because it stopped a rally, possibly a double down the line with a runner on. And we won the game by one run, with Alex's two extra-base hits and Rodney's monstrous blast. Actually, I wasn't even in the batting lineup, but I'm kind of used to that, often called on to be a defensive stopper in big games over the years, as my hitting has fallen off a bit.

One funny part about the play was that Walt wanted to celebrate it, and the opposing team all called out to me in appreciation of something they might not see again, but there was still a runner on second base, so Matt had to remind everyone that the game was still in progress. But that's kind of fun, when fellow athletes appreciate something you do so much that the game doesn't matter as much as the play, like when the Angels' center fielder later took a hit away from Matt on a diving play in center that most of us knew we could never make.

At one point, someone on my team asked what I'd been eating to play third that way, and I told him I've always played third that way. No, not error-free, but with some amazing stops. I literally stand there ready to dive, slide, or fall on every single play, often imagining how it will play out. In the previous game, I dove for two balls that got past me, and I really wasn't even close on those. I think making one or two solid plays on defense really helps the rest of the team play defense, so I kind of blame myself for mistiming my dive early in that loss. A spectacular play instead of a double down the line could have been huge. I probably analyze defense a lot more than other guys because I'm still good at that part of the game, except I can't track pop-ups under the lights at all anymore. Luckily, Alex, the shortstop, has me covered on those.

I suppose my diving plays are probably a result of growing up in Milwaukee when one of the best infields in baseball history played for the Brewers: Molitor, Yount, and Gantner. I used to have my dad throw me ground balls in the front yard as a six year-old, always diving and sliding after them, even if I didn't need to. I had to actually learn how to get in front of the ball when I started playing baseball--I already had all the diving and sliding plays down to a science. But I suppose that throw from third to first from my knees was still something new, and that's why it was a good day to play baseball in Jacksonville today.

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