Tuesday, December 20, 2011

TOP 10: Things to Do in the Dugout During a Day Off

It's game time - and I'm not in the lineup. What to do, what to do...

What players do during their days off has become a hot topic this off-season thanks to the fried chicken, beer, and video games saga over at Fenway. Now I'm not defending those pitchers for going Animal (Club)House during games, but let's face it: baseball games are long. Really long. And oftentimes, they're boring. Could a jaw-dropping play occur at any second? You bet it could. But, for the bulk of those 3 hours, it's not the most exciting action to watch.

So what do players do in the dugout to help pass the time? We entertain ourselves. We're watching the game, we're taking it in, but what happens between the chalk is usually battling some type of dugout diversion for our full attention.

Now there are plenty of ways to amuse yourself while not in the lineup, and as long as you participate subtly, while facing the field of play and reacting to key on-field moments appropriately, you'll avoid being called a "team cancer" by your manager, or even worse, tomorrow's front page. Here's my Top 10:

10. The Movie Game
Everyone has their own "Movie Game" - there are countless variations of this dependable classic, but it's a proven fact that the version Chet Steadman and I played back in college is the most enetertaining and competitive edition to date.

The rules are simple: ask a neutral third party to name a famous actor or actress. Once the movie star is set, you alternate back and forth naming the movies that person has appeared in. It's a fierce rapid fire, head-to-head battle of movie memory - last man standing wins. Obscure titles and cameo appearances are usually keys to victory here, so get rid of Anchorman early and keep Stranger than Fiction in the back pocket for later rounds.

9. People-Watch
There are few places where people-watching is more enjoyable. Aside from the red carpet at the Grammy's and a Harry Potter premiere, I'd argue baseball stadiums as the best spot to observe and enjoy the many species of human walking God's green earth.

Baseball appeals to people from all walks of life - it unites different cultures and crosses boundaries, bonding fans who wouldn't otherwise have anything in common. There is no setereotypical baseball fan, but there is a common denominator: passion. A fan will do anything for their team, regardless of how it affects their wardrobe, voice, or sleep schedule. The energy of the ballpark is provided by those in attendance, and while they watch the game, it's fun to sit back and watch them - it's usually some pretty good theater.

8. Stopwatch Baseball
Quick, easy, straight forward. Stopwatch Baseball is a favorite, and is great for tournament style competition, complete with pressure-packed precision and nail-bitingly close matchups.

Here's how you play: Each time you start and stop the watch, it's an at-bat. If you're able to stop the watch on 0.97 seconds, it's a single; 0.98 is a double, 0.99 is a triple, and 1.00 is a home run. Everything else is an out, and some even play 1.01 seconds is a double-play, but that depends on personal preference. Standard baseball rules apply, with the runners on base only advancing the number of bases the hitter does (i.e., a double moves the runners two bases).

This game is gut-wrenching. Kenny and I had some heated grudge matches last year - I'll admit he got the best of me in our season series, but only because he initiates games after fiddling with the stopwatch for a few minutes already - or "taking BP" as we call it.

A bonus feature of this game is that you can disguise your stopwatch use as being productive and recording the pitcher's first-to-home time out of the stretch. What a team guy you are - coaches eat that up.

7. Riddles
Every team has a riddle master - a player with an endless supply of brain-teasing puzzles and questions - and personally, I can't get enough of them. There will usually be one game a season that quickly becomes Riddle Fest - everyone throwing their best stuff into the mix, even guys that are playing helping the cause in between at-bats.

Then there are a few stumpers that essentially have the whole dugout scratching their collective head, approaching the challenge with a full team effort. Here's one of my favorites:

You're walking your dog, you come to a corner, you take a right, and see a big red hotel. You immediately reach for your money with anger. Why? (Hint/Answer)

6. In-Game Promotions
Every minor league game is jam packed with between-inning promotions, and most parks do their best to include player participation. Whether you're playing Tug-of-War with a mascot, taking part in a dance off, or wrapping a fan up in toilet paper, the audience loves seeing players take part in some of the fun stuff - hell, the little games and contests probably attract more fans than the baseball action does.

Your participation will usually depend on the mood of your manager (which in most cases is dictated by the score), but most managers understand the "family-fun" aspect of minor league stadiums and allow players not in the lineup to get out there and make an ass out of themselves for the entertainment of paying customers. 

5. Name that Song
No secret here - the name says it all. Over the course of a baseball game, the stadium speakers will crank out close to 100 songs. Be the first to say the name and artist of the tune being played and you, my friend, have got yourself a point. (Although no one ever keeps score - rather, after each correct guess you'll say "One-Nothin.") Example: "How Bizarre by OMC. 1-0."

4. Clue
Clue is a partner game and resembles the board game of the same name in no way other than the guessing aspect. No libraries, no lead pipes, no Colonel Mustard. Unless, of course, you choose Colonel Mustard.

The way you play Clue is by picking a celebrity - living, dead, or fictitious - and alternating giving one-word clues to your partners as to who that person may be. First team to successully guess the person wins a point. Then, you change roles, pick a new celebrity, and the other two players become clue-givers.

This game may be the most fun of them all, but because of the spectacle it tends to become, it's challenging to disguise your guessing game as regular ballpark chatter. (It is more regularly played within the confines of the clubhouse or bus.) The competition gets heated, and people get desperate - I've seen teammates attempt texting each other answers - (they were caught and served a 3-week Clue suspension) - and have even sniffed out corruption among some former champs. Actually, it was pretty obvious: Hint: "Male." Guess: "Uhh, that's all you can give me huh? Um alright, uh... Olindo Mare?" CORRECT!

3. Pranks
Since the beginning of time, pranks have been a part of baseball - they're as much a part of the game as green grass and the crack of a bat. Put 25 guys together in dugouts, clubhouses, buses, and hotel rooms for eight months and hilarity is bound to ensue.

In the dugout, your resources are somewhat limited, but pranks are still manageable. Placing a bubble on an unsuspecting teammate's hat is a classic (bonus if televised), as is placing a strand of tape with something clever written on it across a player's back. Hiding equipment is simple, but timeless; covering the handle of a black bat with Eye Black is hilariously messy, but tempers will surely flare. Throwing a ball with a teammate's number written on it to a girl in the stands will always produce a great story, and setting up a funny walkout song for the resident hardass's first at-bat never gets old. The Hot Seat is the ultimate in-game prank, but will usually only be executed away from coaches in the bullpen.

Prank possibilities are everywhere. Use your imagination, but respect the unwritten boundaries - you could be next.

2. The Name Game
I challenge you to find a baseball player at any level who has never played the Name Game. Mission Impossible.

The rules are simple: one player names a Big Leaguer (past or present). The next player must name a player whose first name begins with the first letter of the previous player's last name. Got it?

After that, the game runs itself, with the only wrinkle being that when someone uses a player whose first and last names start with the same letter (i.e. Sammy Sosa), it becomes the previous player's turn again and the order of play gets reversed. Produce a name with the appropriate letter in a reasonable amount of time? You're in the game. Fail to come up with a name, or repeat one that's already been used? You're out.

Games can be played with as many people as you'd like - but be advised that on every team, there is at least one human encyclopedia that could play for days. So stock up on your Ugueth Urbina's and Quinton McCracken's - you're in for a battle.

(Padres just running a monopoly on "Y" names - Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal in the same trade??? Come on, share the wealth!)

1. Eat
In baseball, you do a lot of standing around. Even when you're in the game, 90% of the time you're kicking dirt, looking around the stands, and thinking about anything that pops into your head. And usually, it's food. 

See every other sport is so fast-paced, you don't have time to think about how hungry you are. Well in baseball, you do. And rather than sit back and let our stomach eat away at itself, we do something about it. Whether we're stuffing our faces with sunflower seeds, gum, jerkey, or pumpkin seeds (a new favorite), we're making sure we're not hurting the ball club by playing on an empty stomach.

Now in the dugout, you're able to take it to a new level and indulge in some treats that you wouldn't be able to get away with between the lines. Candy bars, peanuts, protein shakes, you name it - anything manageable without silverware is fair game.

I've even heard stories of pitchers ordering pizzas to the bullpen behind the outfield wall. Just as the reliever is a different breed of ballplayer, it is only fitting that he spends his time with his own kind in the Bizarro World Dugout know as The Bullpen. Only God knows what they do all game.
So the next time you're not in the lineup, don't let it get you down. Make the most of it and have some fun indulging in three hours of Dugout Life. But no matter what you do - be able to tell your manager which team is winning the game when he asks. You've been warned.

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  1. This may be my favorite post yet!

  2. from one ballplayer to another, you nailed it.

  3. never leave the dugout hungry.