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THE PRESS DEMOCRAT | April 5, 2016, 6:05PM
Just the other day, I wrote a column about baseball “explainers,” players who explain the game to fans and media. I focused on the Giants because they lost their explainer, Jeremy Affeldt, to retirement. I posited Brandon Crawford as the next explainer. Some readers suggested Javier Lopez.
What about the A’s? Who is their explainer? Dennis Eckersley was an explainer deluxe. Stephen Vogt is good. Anybody else?
Come along with me as I enter the clubhouse, turn left and walk down the row of lockers to Jed Lowrie. You know Lowrie because he was first-team All-America at Stanford and Pac-10 Player of the Year. He played shortstop for the A’s in 2013 and 2014, played mostly third for Houston last season, and is back with the A’s playing second. He will get around.
“In the past three seasons you’ve played a lot of shortstop, third base and now it will be second base,” I said. “Does it make any difference to you?”
“In what way?”
He thought about that. “Every position is different,” he said. “The footwork is different. The arm angle is different. The plays you make are different.”
“Is one harder than the other?”
“Shortstop. Without question.” Stating a fact of life like the world is round.
“Because you have to cover more ground. Your footwork has to be very precise, and you have to make longer throws, and you don’t have time to bobble a ball. When you’re playing third base, if you knock the ball down, as long as the guy’s not a burner, you still have time to throw the guy out at first. Shortstop, even if the guy’s a below-average runner, if you bobble it for a second you’re not going to have a play.”
“Between second and third, which is more demanding?”
A pause to consider. “I think those two are just different. Third base is quick reactions. The hot corner. That’s the cliché. You have one step to take. You have to make a good read right off the bat. Your reactions have to be instinctual. You can’t think about it. So, the play just kind of happens and you have to react to it.
“Second base you have more responsibility turning double plays, but you have more time. The ball gets to you and you can take your time throwing it to first.”
“The pivot on the double play,” I said, “it strikes me that that’s a fairly involved thing to do.”
“Yeah, I mean it’s all about the footwork once again. Infield is all about the footwork. If you have a good set of hands and you don’t put your feet in the right position, your hands can’t work properly. Same thing with the double play. You have to get to the base. You have to read the throw. And your feet have to work in order to put yourself in a position to turn a double play.”
“Have you worked on that pivot hundreds of hours, thousands of hours?”
“I played second base all the way through college and got drafted as a second baseman. Then the day I got drafted, the assistant general manager of the Red Sox called me and said ‘We’re going to see if you can play short.’
“It’s been a while since I’ve put in a lot of innings at second, so I spent a lot of time in spring training working on it, taking extra reps. The instincts are there.”
“I’m going to ask a psychological question,” I said.
Lowrie stared at me. Not with dread. More like bring it on. “OK,” he said.
“Does your self-image vary depending on whether you’re playing shortstop, third base or second?”
No delay. Question and response. “You try not to change who you are as a player. You try to be the same guy. But I think the physical demands of each position change who you are throughout the course of a year, if that makes sense.”
“I imagine shortstop is the most demanding,” I said.
“Exactly.” He spoke like I’d given the right answer in an Advanced Infield Tutorial. “And that’s why you don’t see as many shortstops being able to put up the offensive stats that a corner outfielder or a corner infielder puts up. The position is more physically demanding. You get worn down throughout the course of the season. Your legs get tired. Where you create a lot of the bat speed that you get is with your legs.”
“So, in a sense, it’s a sacrifice position. If you have the honor to play it, you’ll give up something on the other side.”
Lowrie sighed. “You don’t want to think that.” He was correcting me. I appreciated being corrected. “You’re going out there and giving it your best whatever you’ve got that day. But I think, as the game continues to evolve, it’s going a little bit back to pitching and defense. You have to have solid defense.”
“I have a final question,” I said. “You’ve been at three different places in three seasons, although this is where you were two years ago. Essentially three different stops in three seasons. Do you feel like a vagabond?”
He laughed. “That’s the lifestyle,” he said. “Whether or not you’re with the same organization, most guys don’t live where they play. Last year, I moved one time. I live in Houston in the offseason, so I went to spring training and then I came back and lived in Houston.
“For the most part, everybody in this clubhouse is making three moves during the course of a year. You’re moving from your home to spring training, spring training to where you play, and where you play back home. That’s just a product of the game, you kind of live that nomad lifestyle. You have to be able to pick up and go at the drop of a hat.”
I was done. “Your answers were extremely thoughtful,” I said. “Thank you so much.”
“My pleasure,” he said.
As I walked away, I said to myself, “An explainer.”
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.