|Holy smokes! That one landed in the outfield, atta boy Rocker!|
After watching these guys compete on the mound night after night - after admiring their fluid motion and the ease with which they're able to fling a ball 90-plus MPH - you can't help but expect more. But no. Nothing. In most cases, you could honestly walk down the street and compile a more capable lineup with the first nine guys you run into. Their ineptitude is actually quite amazing when you think about it - how could a professional athlete look so helpless, so unnatural, while playing his own sport?
The whole experience is what I assume it would be like watching Shaq shoot free throws for ten minutes straight.
You begin by laughing, enjoying the struggle, refusing to believe someone so close to the game could actually achieve such levels of futility. He's just warming up, shakin' off the cobwebs. But after a few minutes pass and no progress has been made, the laughs die down as the entire stadium is engulfed by second-hand embarrassment. Poor guy, has he always been so uncoordinated? You begin to reflect on how miserable a lifetime of baseball must be while possessing such laughable command of a bat, and suddenly, you're sympathy turns to wonderment. This guy has played baseball his whole life - how could he be this bad? He had to have hit at some point right? What, was he getting DH'ed for in tee-ball?
Meanwhile, you're standing by the warning track and so few balls have made their way out to you that you've actually turned away from home plate and sparked up a conversation with your pal in Center. You're defenseless against any ball headed your way out of the cage, yet you've never felt safer.
As pathetic a display as it may be, the pitchers are having the time of their lives. They're like kids in a candy store. They've asked around for spare batting gloves, they've scouted out the lightest bat, and they're swinging that donut around the on-deck circle faster than nunchucks - today is their day, and in their minds, the question isn't whether they'll hit one over the wall, it's how many they'll hit.
The reason they're so excited is because pitchers' BP is not a regular occurrence. It may only happen once or twice a season, and every team has their own rules behind this special occasion. In college, our pitchers got to swing solely after sweeps and shutouts - it was a privilege that they had a hand in earning. In pro ball, the factors have varied. Some managers offer the occasion after sizeable win streaks, while others simply choose random days or, more commonly, designate the last game of the year as pitchers' BP day. It's a fun event, but I can understand a manager's hesitation - it's probably not a fun phone call explaining to the farm director how your top pitching prospect strained his oblique playing Home Run Derby.
Now don't get me wrong, there are plenty of pitchers out there who can put a good swing on the ball. Ok, not plenty, but there's usually one or two on every team who can get their hacks in without it being overly obvious that they're a pitcher. A lot of times there's a guy who came up as a position player and somewhere along the line moved to the mound, and more often than not, even that guy is shocked at how bad his BP is. Let's face it, hitting is hard. I'll take batting practice every day for three months, wake up the next day and somehow, something is off. It's a craft you have to work on every single day - these pitchers are living proof that time off can be devastating to your swing.
But they love it. In my experience, the pitchers have combined for a total of one home run every single time (and often that's because they don't stop until they get one). The whole event is a big spectacle, and there are typically two or three guys in the home run discussion as bets are being placed. And then there's always that one smaller guy who hops in the cage and laces line drive after line drive to the opposite field - a strong display, in fact you're actually impressed until you realize he's trying to smash pull-side homers. But nonetheless, solid contact is a rarity for this crew so you can't help but tip your cap.
As long as there are pitchers in this world there will be requests for pitchers' BP. It's a rule - pitchers want to hit and hitters want to pitch. So managers, throw them a bone every now and then and let them get it out of their system - maybe the experience will make them a little more appreciative of what their hitters do every night - but at the very least, we know for certain it will be entertaining. And pitchers, please - for the sake of your manager's employment - don't hurt yourself.
MiLB LIFE Series
The Clubhouse Barber
Extended Spring Training
Big League Picture Day
"The Manager Wants to See You"
First Day of Spring Training [Part One]
First Day of Spring Training [Part Two]
Packing for Spring Training
The Dip Police
Do You Have an Agent?
How Long Until You're in the Bigs?
Being a Senior Sign
Universal Big League Dreams
Explaining My Profession to Non-Baseball Minds
Wasted Hat Collection
Dealing with Heckling Fans
Being the New Guy
My First Call-Up
A Typical Game Day [Part One]
A Typical Game Day [Part Two]
Being the 'K-Man'
A Taste of the Minor League Off-Season
New Helmets Issued, Players Respond: "Are You Joking?"
The Fines of Kangaroo Court