My 9-year-old son, Patrick, has what I would consider to be a healthy obsession with baseball. He’s been playing organized ball since he was five and has during the last year or so decided that he’d like to pursue baseball as a career. Though I never aspired to be a professional athlete, I was nonetheless involved in little league baseball in my youngster days and was, in my own uninformed opinion, not completely devoid of baseball ability. But if Patrick has inherited a knack for the game, it’s likely the result of the positive influence of his two grandfathers, both of whom were reasonably talented.
Patrick has reached a point in his baseballing that his general knowledge of the game has started to exceed my own modest understanding. I have thus far relied on the typical tropes heard from coaches and players as a means of giving instruction. Plant your feet before you throw! Keep your eyes on the ball! Use both hands when you catch! As players progress, these skills become second nature and don’t require much reinforcement. But what I never really understood as a young player was how the game continues to become more complex, both from the perspective of the players and of the coaches. Thus, in an attempt to keep myself current (or, at the very least, not hopelessly uninformed), I plan to offer some observations in this forum related to my ongoing efforts to keep up with Patrick’s interests. With any luck, I’ll learn something in this process that will keep me from being superfluous as Patrick continues on his path to baseball glory.
During a visit last week to central Ohio, Patrick and I, along with my father-in-law (one of the aforementioned grandfatherly baseball talents in the family) and my sister-in-law (who, as I understand it, was quite the softball player at one time) attended a mid-day International League game between the Columbus Clippers and the Indianapolis Indians. The Clippers, who are currently second in the International League West, lost 2-1, with the Indians making their only offensive showing on a two-run home run by Alen Hanson in the 3rd inning. It wasn’t exactly a fantastic offensive game for either team. In the top of the 8th, the Clippers brought out left-handed pitcher Kyle Crockett, who, despite currently being listed as “Active” for the Cleveland Indians (the Clippers’ MLB counterpart), made a very brief appearance for the Clippers. I must confess that I don’t know exactly how or why players move back and forth between Major League teams and the Minor League teams that serve as testing/training grounds for them. Whatever the reason, Crockett’s role in the game that day was short.
During our post-game debriefing, Patrick brought up Crockett, having absorbed all the minutiae of the game and feeling the need to review it with his fellow attendees. He referred to Crockett as a “LOOGY,” and I of course was lost. People in the baseball know will recognize that LOOGY stands for a “Lefthanded One-Out GuY“–i.e. a “lefty specialist who is brought in to get out a tough left-handed hitter” (Sports Illustrated Kids, April 2015, page 43). As a liker and occasional lover of words, I find this acronym intriguing, mostly because of its unfortunate homophony with the expactoratorial term loogie. Beyond mere linguistic intrigue, however, was my fascination with Patrick’s easy familiarity with the term, not surprising given that he pours over each new issue of Sports Illustrated Kids catching up on all the current sports-related goings on. He went on to explain that in modern baseball (as opposed to whatever I played as a child, I guess) a pitching staff is composed of various specialized players, including starters, closers, long relievers, lefties, and, of course, LOOGIES (or is it LOOGYs?). Most of these categories were familiar to me, though it still leaves me a bit puzzled as to how they all get used in the course of a game. My next step in learning more about the LOOGY will be to have Patrick explain the strategies behind pitching changes. Shouldn’t be too hard; he’s a good teacher and, on most days, I’m a fast learner.
Baseball, like any highly specialized activity, is replete with vocabulary that isn’t common in everyday speech, such as dead pull hitter, submariner, and VORP, which stands for “Value Over Replacement Player.” A dizzying array of jargon that would leave any would-be fan wondering how to make sense of the on- and off-field action. I won’t go much further into all the cool linguistic oddities that baseball has to offer (and there are many). But I am now interested in understanding the need-to-know stuff, particularly if it ups my sports-related street cred.