Valley Voices

Unsolved mysteries around ‘Play Ball!’

sflores@fresnobee.com

Three hours evaporate too quickly in baseball, says me. If time inexplicably drags for you, consider mysteries of the game.

Umpire dirt devil: In a daily ritual, umpires or designees use mud harvested from a secret New Jersey bog to slap down the polished look of new baseballs, presumably helping pitchers’ grip. This isn’t illegal scuffing designed to baffle hitters, which pitchers and catchers execute surreptitiously.

How do muddy middlemen eat up time, spritzing dozens of balls? Do they rub to the iPod churn of Metallica (or maybe Muddy Waters)? Scope out the Home Run Derby on ESPN Classic? For kicks, do they sneak in a still-polished orb to see if anyone notices?

Ground rules or grub guide? What’s up with the pregame huddle at home between umpires and managers, presumably to discuss individual ballpark oddities? What’s really discussed – stir-fry and brew joints? How many times during a four-game series can you jawbone over what happens if a ball gets hung up in Wrigley Field ivy or underneath a tarp?

It sure couldn’t have prepared Yankees outfielder Dave Winfield for being arrested in Toronto in 1983 when he accidentally killed a wayfaring seagull with a warmup throw.

Tarp dancers: How often do groundskeepers practice the Tchaikovsky ballet of rolling out the tarp? Hire a Sikorsky chopper to create a headwind in preseason to prep for a summer thunderstorm?

Janitors in a drum: The Oakland Coliseum innards stink like “Indiana Jones” catacombs. Snakes? You bet maintenance guys don’t venture far without those base-clearing clubhouse potty excavators. What ghoulish tales handymen could tell, if only the Centers for Disease Control dared ask?

Jocks of all trades: Sometimes a line drive will snap a glove’s webbing. A slide will tear a pants leg. A jock strap will go missing. A Nutshellz (aka family jewels’ shield) will crack. A collision will knock out a tooth or contact lens. Microphone batteries will fail for a Slurpy-voiced anthem singer. Who are the sometimes game-savers, lurking in the stadium bowels?

Their packs of tricks including scissors, tongue depressors, ear irrigators, cold packs, duct tape, saline solution, location of emergency shutoff valves for sprinklers and an Uber hotline for the gold-toothed reliever whose car battery expired.

Mr. Nice Guy: What are the rules (does slipping cash help?) on who is bequeathed a foul retrieved by the ball boy? Would love to see the liability policy preventing pitching the keepsakes to cheaper seats.

Evictor-in-chief: A friend got mouthy with Jose Canseco back when he was half of the steroid-challenged Bash Brothers. He wanted the critic tossed. The Oakland security shirts ultimately ejected the wrong jouster. How does security decide when you’ve crossed the line? And what are the “judicial” options?

Sultan of Sales: There are other winners and losers in games. Hauling cases of soda when it’s 31 degrees at Milwaukee, when you need pliers to crack open peanuts? Selling beer in a section dominated by elementary kids? Some kind of pit boss makes assignments for what vendor hawks the top sellers and who waves cotton candy in the rain.

What’s the racket? And, painful reality, who decides the geographic borders so that I’m always outside bellowing distance of the churro dealer?

Odor eaters: Lastly, for the hourly staff members who churn volcanoes of garlic fries – what’s the trick? High- pressure hoses filled with Febreze so they can shed their Eureka! aroma and sleep regularly with the family?

I’ll snap out of such puzzling at Chukchansi Park on April 6 for the Fresno Grizzlies’ home opener. Reality/sanity will be reborn when the first, fast mud-speckled sphere challenges a hand-sanded, finely grained chisel of ash whipped by Buyanesque wrists maybe soon to be tailored for All-Star sleeves.

John G. Taylor, a former Fresno Bee reporter and editor, is owner/operator of The JT Communications Company LLC. Write to him at jtcommunicates@comcast.net.

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