Here is a link to my Friday column. The full text runs below:
Let’s talk about the ball — the ball in baseball.
A while back, Tim Hudson was relaxing in the Giants’ clubhouse before one of his starts. It was a day game. About 11 a.m., pitching coach Dave Righetti walked out of the coaches’ room and went over to Hudson and handed him a ball.
Think about that a moment while I give you another scene.
When Art Howe managed the A’s, he told me this story. On one team he knew about the starting pitcher became ill the night before his start. The manager — I forget his name — drove to the ballpark early the next morning and put the ball in the baseball shoe of a long reliever. When the reliever arrived at the park, he saw the ball in his shoe and knew he was the starting pitcher that day.
So, the ball, that beautiful tight white sphere with the red stitches, is the basic implement of baseball. It also is symbolic in the culture of baseball.
You already know about the symbolism. You’ve seen it enacted a million times on a baseball diamond. When Bruce Bochy walks slowly to the mound, toward Tim Lincecum with runners on base in, say, the sixth inning, when he walks out there to remove Lincecum, what does he do?
Bochy holds out his hand.
And Lincecum or Matt Cain or Tim Hudson or any of the starters politely places the ball in Bochy’s hand. It also could be Sonny Gray giving Bob Melvin the ball. It could be any team.
Well, that’s fascinating. When a pitcher is given the ball, has the ball, he is empowered. He is in charge of the game. The ball and the game are his.
Bochy empowers Javier Lopez in the eighth inning when Lopez comes in from the bullpen to face a lefty. Lopez has the ball and the game in his hand. A batter or two later, Bochy might walk to the mound to remove Lopez because a right-handed hitter is due up. Lopez surrenders the ball, surrenders the game, is no longer in charge, no longer empowered. Simple as that. So much said silently through the ball, the custom of ball succession always honored and respected among pitchers and managers.
Baseball is the only team sport I know of where the object is NOT to share the ball. In soccer the players share. They kick the ball to each other. In basketball the players pass the ball to each other. Sometimes, people think the quarterback in football is like the pitcher in baseball. No. the quarterback does not own the ball. He must get it from the center. After he gets it, the quarterback’s job — for the most part — is to share and distribute to receivers and running backs. The ball is not his. In baseball, the pitcher owns the ball until he doesn’t. And he does not share — the less sharing the better. A flawless game would be 27 consecutive strikeouts. The ball passes only between the pitcher and catcher. The catcher is a necessity because the pitcher cannot pitch to himself. In a flawless game, the seven fielders would stand there gazing at the clouds and the batters never would make contact.
Something else is unique about baseball. The whole idea of baseball is to return home. The entire game is based on the Wizard of Oz premise — there’s no place like home.
Compare baseball to football. In football, a war game, a team wants to seize territory, to take what belongs to someone else. Nothing like that in baseball. A team wants its batters to start at home, to run around the bases and return home, to home plate, to the magical castle that awards the team a run. The idea of home is comforting. It is where you belong and feel whole.
In baseball, there is the clubhouse. In football, there is a locker room. The football locker room is anything but home. I’m picturing the 49ers’ locker room at Candlestick; I have not seen the new locker room at Levi’s Stadium. At Candlestick, the players sit at little stools. Usually, the players are too big for the stools. There is no TV. The whole idea is to make the room uncomfortable. The players are preparing for a war game and must be on edge. They want to be on a field, not in a locker room.
In baseball, there is no locker room. The players spend hours before the game in the clubhouse. It is the players’ home away from home. They feel relaxed. The Giants have an elite chef cooking them meals. There is Bazooka bubble gum in small tubs. There are couches. There are big-screen TVs. There is music. There are magazines to read. There are comfortable chairs at the cubicles.
Home. Baseball players begin at home and long to run home. It’s the basic idea.
So, these are my thoughts on the ball and home in baseball. Call this a love poem for a Friday morning.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.