Thursday, April 26, 2012

SMALLS TALK: Foul Ball Etiquette

Fans go nuts over foul balls. It's how it's always been and it's how it will always be. Even if you're hanging on the game's every pitch, you can't help but get mesmerized by a foul ball's mystique. With each ball that goes up into the seats, we wonder which fan will defy the 1 in 30,000 odds and win the Foul Ball Sweepstakes. The errant hit has a power over fans, and while we may not know where it's going or who will catch it, we do know that the play will result in at least one of the following: 1) A priceless souvenir... 2) An inconsolable child... 3) A fistfight... 4) A SportsCenter Top Play... 5) A SportsCenter NOT Top Play... 6) A trip to the hospital... or last, and most definitely least: 7) Adults acting like schoolgirls.

Balls hit out of play are a real life piece of the game that suddenly become available to the fans. In the matter of seconds, a baseball went from a Big League pitcher's hand to a Big Leaguer's bat, and now it's finally come to rest, in your hands. You can't help but feel a connection - you were part of a play with major league ballplayers. It actually is pretty cool. 

But some fans simply cannot handle the foul ball experience. The instant a ball enters the crowd, they lose their minds. They want that ball - they need that ball. It's not even a ball anymore - it's a Honus Wagner rookie card, a Wonka golden ticket, and the final Horcrux all rolled into one. The survival of mankind relies on their tracking down this prize - it's the reason they were put on God's green earth. And so, like a crackhead desperate for a fix, they hunt it down, refusing to be denied and terrorizing rows of helpless fans in the process.

But fortunately, in the minds of other - dare I optimistically say "most"? - fans, foul balls are simply a fun side effect of a baseball game. These fans are at the ballpark to enjoy nine innings of America's Pastime - if a foul ball comes their way, sure they'll go for it, but you won't find them rolling around on the ground or pulling another fan's hair for the souvenir. To these more sane fans, the foul ball itself dictates who will take it home. They respect the role that luck and chance play in the foul ball experience, as well as the skill and courage that go along with actually catching it. And if it bounces off the chosen fan's hands, it simply changes direction and presents another opportunity to a different fan. As for those balls that find their way under a seat? If it's under you, reach down and grab it. No diving. No pig-piling.

Friday, April 13, 2012

SMALLS TALK: The One Ear Flap Helmet

Nothing says Big Leagues like a one ear flap helmet. It's unmistakable. Turn on the TV and see one of these babies, you know you're watching the world's very best. Its unusual lop-sided style is revered by all who play the game, not so much for its looks but its exclusivity. It's the helmet that my generation saw on the heads of our favorite players growing up, and it's the helmet that every young ballplayer dreams of some day wearing.

If I were to make it to the Big Leagues tomorrow, priority number one would be getting myself a one ear flap helmet - I firmly believe that's the first step to being taken seriously as a Major League hitter. When a guy steps to the plate wearing a normal double ear flap helmet, what half the crowd sees is an at-bat long window to run to the bathroom or grab a hot dog. Nothing is expected from Mr. Double Ear Flap - he doesn't wear a Big League helmet, why should fans give him Big League attention?

It's Little League stuff. I compare the Big Leaguer who wears a double ear flap to the college player who still wears his hat underneath his helmet. It doesn't mean they're not a good player, but until they look the part, they'll never be fully treated as one. It sounds ridiculously superficial - mainly because it is - but it's true. The one ear-flap helmet is a privilege, something that represents more than just head protection. It's the helmet reserved for the best. Not in the Majors? Sorry, nothing we can do - Big Leaguers only. It's an honor. Ahh, what it must feel like to track a fastball while the wind tickles my liberated left ear.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

SMALLS TALK: O's lose to college team - big deal?

It's not out of the ordinary for a Big League team to face college competition at some point during Spring Training. It's a tradition that several clubs have honored for years as both a showcase for fans and a special treat for the college kids. It is out of the ordinary, however, for a Big League team to lose to college competition. Enter the Baltimore Orioles.

The O's lost 2-1 in a charity game against Miami Florida Florida State State College of Florida on Tuesday and, just as you'd expect, a media frenzy ensued, resulting in two very different spins on the game. First came the more obvious take: your classic doomsday predictions of an 0-162 season. The O's couldn't beat Little Leaguers, nevermind a college team! Or my favorite: Playing the Orioles will kill SCF's RPI! There were also plenty who chose to downplay the significance of the event. After all, it was a charity game, and the bulk of the Baltimore starting lineup was out of the game by the 5th inning. Who cares? They probably just wanted to get their work in and get out of there.

It's a classic "story vs. non-story" debate, and having heard both spins, I was prepared to form my opinion on the matter. But then another factor was thrown into the mix that changed everything: since SCF is already into their season and wanted to save some pitching, there were a few innings that featured Orioles pitchers and catchers playing for the college team. And just like that, what had become such a hot and lively debate got flipped on its head. In my mind, the Oriole vs. Oriole matchups negate the entire story - case dismissed. 

But just for fun, let's say the teams played straight up. Now is it a story?

At this point in the Spring? Absolutely. I've played the game, I know the difference in competition, and while baseball is the only sport that offers a college team a realistic chance to beat a professional team, I believe the Major League club should win this game 99 times out of 100. The only exception would be a lights out pitching performance by the college squad's ace (sometimes you just can't beat good pitching). But that'd only be if the game actually meant something and the college team was pitching their stud, playing to win. In today's world of Spring Training exhibition games, the MLB club should win every time.