But many of them exist for a reason, and one is something long-time baseball fans like myself rely on: Every time you go to a baseball game, you see something you've never seen before.
Even in a game with as many different combinations of plays, lineups, personnel, etc. as baseball has, this seems impossible. Surely there are fairly straightforward contests that veterans of hundreds of games can describe as routine.
But last week, for me at least, this saying rang absolutely true. I went to three games - one at the new Yankee Stadium and two college contests at St. John's - and saw something new each time. I've probably been to 800 baseball games, broadcasted almost 500, and I had no precedents to refer to.
Monday - New Yankee Stadium, Yankees vs. Marlins
The Yankees rolled 12-1 in cold, windy weather, but the play that drew my attention came in the 6th. With a runner on second, the Yankees' Brett Gardner lined a ball straight back up the middle, but it hit the second-base umpire, who was standing on the infield grass. Since the ball never left the infield, Miguel Andújar, who had been on second, had to stop at third base rather than score.
I was initially surprised when Andújar returned to second base, because in many cases, a ball that hits the umpire is considered the same as a bad bounce - it's just luck, and you play on.Brett Gardner just smoked the 2nd base umpire pic.twitter.com/uNlj1ya662— Jesse Foster (@Jesse__Foster) April 17, 2018
But in this case, the umpires ruled the ball dead as soon as it struck the umpire, which means any runner goes back to his original base unless it's a force situation. The hitter, Gardner, is awarded a single (as when a batted ball strikes a runner in fair territory), and nothing else happens. Heck, MLB's play-by-play account lists "Gardner singled on a ground ball to second baseman Starlin Castro." Try telling the umpire that was a ground ball!
The reason for the different status of the umpire in this case is that the ball had not passed any fielders (the pitcher does not count for these purposes) before it hit him. Had the ball gone past an infielder, such as the first baseman, and then hit an umpire, the ball would still be in play.
I had never seen that one before!
Friday - Jack Kaiser Stadium, St. John's vs. Georgetown
I went out to Queens on Friday to watch the opening game of the St. John's-Georgetown series, knowing I was scheduled to call Sunday's game and could use some additional information and any first-hand stories I might be able to pick up. Despite getting a late start and a few public transportation issues, I arrived during the top of the first.
My focus rarely left those boards whenever St. John's was batting during the rest of the game. I couldn't turn away! I have never see anything close to this in baseball before. Large boards have often been used to indicate defensive alignments, but pitch-calling has almost always gone coach-catcher-pitcher. Many teams now use wristbands (again, borrowed from football), and the SEC (football!!) even allows the coaches to talk directly to their catchers via wireless receivers.
Georgetown, on a slightly different budget than an SEC program, has been doing this all season:
The process seemed to be that, almost immediately after the previous pitch, Georgetown pitching coach Eric Niesen would walk one way down the dugout behind the group of six players holding the cards. With a clipboard over his mouth, he would verbally tell them what pitch to call. They would then rotate the boards accordingly and hold them up once their pitcher looked into the dugout from atop the mound. No shake-offs - just follow the signs. And to Georgetown's credit, I did not see a cross-up all day.Georgetown out here calling pitches with football play-cards pic.twitter.com/x5VDEXoCfW— Starting 9 (@Starting9) February 17, 2018
I later asked for a little more detail and found out that the idea came to the Georgetown staff, led by Pete Wilk, through a coaching friend, and that all position players, not just the pitcher and catcher, read the boards to know what pitch is being called. Without needing to go through multiple series of signals, pitchers can work more quickly and keep defenders on their toes. Maybe Major League Baseball, trying to speed up its games, should take a look!
Sunday - Jack Kaiser Stadium, St. John's vs. Georgetown
It was back to Queens on Sunday for work, calling the final game of the Big East series for a St. John's ESPN3 production. It's the best college baseball in the area, and I love the chance to stay close to the college game. St. John's has had very good teams in the five years I've been calling them, including this year's squad, currently third in NCAA Division I in ERA and riding a 12-game winning streak.
No. 12, on Sunday, was one of the most difficult, as the Red Storm and Hoyas reached the 10th tied 1-1. After a one-out walk, St. John's leadoff hitter John Valente doubled off the left-field wall to extend his on-base streak to 51 consecutive games, dating back to last season. Impressive, to be sure, but it lags behind the presumed NCAA record of 93 consecutive games, set by Kansas State's Nick Martini from 2009-11. Valente, a redshirt senior, won't have enough games to even try to catch it.
But that's not the *new* thing I saw. With the winning run now 90 feet away, St. John's called for a safety squeeze. The bunt barely got in front of the plate, and Georgetown catcher Ryan P. Davis (an accomplished ballet dancer in high school, probably something I've never come across before in reading up on a player!) grabbed the ball immediately. Davis held the ball in his glove with his throwing hand and advanced up the third-base line toward the runner, Josh Greene. With few other options, Greene tried to spin away from the tag, forcing Davis to extend his glove hand to make the tag. Greene whirled toward foul territory, appeared to make contact with the glove, but recovered to dive for home plate.
Here's another look at Josh Greene's effort to avoid the tag and clinch the sweep! #SJUBase pic.twitter.com/8gLgvi5JQT— St. John's Baseball (@StJohnsBaseball) April 22, 2018
The umpire, to everyone's astonishment, called Greene safe! St. John's celebrated a weekend sweep, while Georgetown argued on multiple grounds. Davis thought he had made the tag, but it was clear that he left the ball in his throwing hand while tagging Greene with only his glove. So the umpire got that part correct. The consensus was, however, among fans wearing both colors, that Greene was decidedly out of the baseline and should have been called out.
Regardless of the outcome, that's an ending I've never seen before! One of the many reasons baseball remains among my passions.