A GRIP ON SPORTS
A little known fact: I grew up next to a major league baseball pitcher. A former Mariners pitcher. And, from time to time, I would spend a few days with him in Seattle. Once, while driving to the Kingdome, he made a statement that resonated through the years last night, following the last out of the M's loss, an out that prompts a little baseball etiquette lesson. Read on.
• That former Mariner was left-handed pitcher Matt Young, who I played with in Little League and caught in high school. And the statement he made while driving up I-5 to the ballgame was simple: Mariner fans were fine, they were nice, but the Red Sox and Yankee fans would eat them alive. And it doesn't seem as if the ensuing 25 years since Matthew made that statement anything has changed. Last night's final out illustrates the point and forces me to emphasize a baseball lesson you would hope every fan sitting near the field would know. We'll start with a quick summary of the ninth inning. The Tigers' Jose Valverde, trying to preserve a 6-4 lead, walks the first two hitters. Dustin Ackley, called on to move them up, fouls off two bunts and strikes out. A force out, a stolen base and a walk to Ichiro loads the bases for Jesus Montero. And that's when the fan came in – and our lesson on baseball etiquette.
• I'm pretty sure most of the readers of this blog know what their responsibilities are, but we're writing for your uneducated neighbor, or the nephew who just wants to learn. Pass it along. We'll start with what not to do. If you are sitting on or near the field, never, ever interfere with a ball on the field side of the stands. That belongs to the players, no matter who hit the ball or who is trying to field it. Easy to do, right? Just leave it alone. But when the ball crosses into the stands, you have a responsibility. If the foul ball is hit by the visiting team, you have to part like the Red Sea and allow the home team fielder the opportunity to make the catch. In other words, don't be Steve Bartman or that other, unnamed guy who also fought Moises Alou for the ball but got off scott-free (what are the odds his name was Scott?). Let the home team fielder make the catch. He then should give you a ball at some point as a way of saying thanks.
• But there is the other half of the ball-in-the-stands coin and it came into play last night. When the home team's player (in this case Jesus Montero) hits a foul ball into the stands, it is the fans' responsibility to make it as tough as possible on the visiting team's fielder (in this case Don Kelly). Once the ball passes the line between the field and the stands, it's fair game. If someone had ripped Kelly's glove off as he tried to make the catch, no harm, no foul. If a fan had reached above Kelly and knocked the ball away, no harm, no foul. Heck, if they had spilled a $5.25 soda on Kelly (left) as he tried to make the catch, no harm, no foul, other than to their pocketbook. That's not what happened last night. When Kelly chased after Montero's pop up with the game on the line, the Mariners' fans did their best matador imitations and pirouetted out of the way. Nice job. If only one had refused to yield, maybe the ball would have dropped, Montero would have lined the next pitch into the right-center field gap, the M's would have won and ridden the momentum all the way to their first World Series. Hey, it could have happened.
• So the next time you are in a major league ballpark, remember these simple rules: Help the home team, hinder the visitors and stay off the field. And, oh yeah, don't forget the bobblehead you put under the seat.
• By the way, if you don't think bothering a catch can be done, I beg to differ. I've seen it in person, from less than three feet away. When I was in college at UC Irvine, it was faster to drive to San Diego to watch the Dodgers play the Padres than it was to fight the traffic to Dodger Stadium (it also didn't hurt there were some guys who thought they could fly down I-5). We would make the drive, sit down the right-field line and heckle Dave Winfield all game long (and believe me, we were merciless, with references to chairs, Luke Witte, and how ugly the Padre uniforms were). Anyway, late in a game, after we had moved down to the seats closer to the field, one of the Dodgers hit a high fly ball down the line and Winfield raced over to catch it. A former Anteater, who shall remain nameless but was a Dodger fan, was nearly as big as Winfield and was not me, stood his ground, contested Winfield for the ball and it clattered to the concrete below. Winfield was ticked, to say the least, and complained to the umpire. I'll never forget what the ump did. He laughed. The ball was in the stands, it was fair game. I'm sure if the M's fan had done something similar last night, we would all be ordering World Series tickets today. … On to the links.
• Washington State: Christian Caple gets off the beaten track a bit today and writes about a WSU women's tennis player in advance of the Cougars trip to the NCAA tourney. … Christian also has his morning blog. … The Cougar baseball team rode one big inning to victory over the University of Portland in Pasco. … Ryan Leaf reached a plea deal in Montana and told a judge yesterday he needs rehab. … The quarterback situations in the Pac-12 are a bit up in the air. … More on James Watson and Kansas State.
• Chiefs: Edmonton rallies for a 4-3 overtime victory in Portland, tying the WHL Finals at two games apiece.
• Preps: It was a busy Tuesday. There were baseball playoffs, with Mike Vlahovich writing about Gonzaga Prep's trip to state, and soccer playoffs, with Jim Allen writing about Mead's late goal, and golf, with Jim Meehan writing about Mt. Spokane's big day.
• Mariners: The game last night wasn't decided in the ninth inning, true, not after Kevin Millwood struggled once again. But, after winning Monday in the ninth, the M's looked to make it two in a row. It didn't happen. … Blake Beavan, who left with a bruised throwing arm the night before, vows to make his next start. … Bunting sure gets the hackles up of baseball experts. … The Yankee side of the Montero trade seems to be snakebit. … The rarest major event in major league baseball happened yesterday when Josh Hamilton hit four home runs in a game. Yep, even rarer than a perfect game.
• Sounders: Seattle plays in Dallas tonight still with a backup goalie, with the top-ranking in the MLS and without one of its top defenders. … For all you Gus Johnson fans out there – you know who you are – he has another off-season job.
• Guess what. We'll be on the radio today. If you want to hear me defend bunting (in certain situations), you can listen here. As for reading my drivel, we'll be back tomorrow. Until then …