Beyond the game itself, there is a whole lot more to witness while enjoying your stay at the ballpark. Among these are the rites of baseball rituals.
No matter what ballpark you visit, these baseball rituals will be choreographed in a manner so precise that you will find yourself following the beat of their serene rhythm.
Baseball rituals begin early and end late. Rule number one (gloriously there is only one rule) is to get to the ballpark early – as soon as the gates are open. Not only is this often a good time to snag an autograph or two, but it’s also the best time to rest and watch the players go about their ritualistic way of “doing business”…….or to put it another way…….their job.
From the stretches loosening the hamstrings to the soft long tosses by pitchers strengthening their arm……..to the quiet conversations between a manager and player………and on to the endless banter between men playing a boys game you will see and hear it all.
Observe the managers and coaches during batting practice. Who’s going through the motions of laying down bunts…..who has a new hitch in his first move towards the pitch….who’s trying to pull everything……they see it all. It’s their job too.
Observe the batting practice pitcher who will toss anywhere from 250-300 70 mph pitches down the heart of the plate….Or maybe on the outside corner if his teammate is working on going the other way that day.
A glance towards the outfield and you are apt to see a starting pitcher “long tossing” on the day before his next turn in the rotation. Another starter may be in the bullpen on his third day between starts doing guess what……his “bullpen”.
Soon, the field will be cleared. It’s time now for the Grounds Crew to begin their day’s work. The batting cage and screens get torn down and rolled into their “garage” in the outfield.
The rakes and hoses come out. Home plate and the mound will attract the most attention. The baselines and foul lines will be chalked and you’ll see them bring out a template for the batter’s box that will also get chalked. Home plate will be spray painted white.
Meanwhile, the bases are brought out and coated with a generous helping of chalk Later, their spikes will be plugged in the ground and the diamond will begin to take shape.
Activity really picks up now so be alert…..you don’t want to miss any of the nuances so special to baseball. The starting pitcher, his catcher for the day, and the pitching coach will be ambling out to the bullpen to begin their days work with the warm-up exercise in the bullpen.
Various players will reappear on the field to do their stretching exercises. A hamstring not properly loosened is a visit to the DL waiting to happen. We’re now no more than twenty minutes from the first pitch.
Watch the watering of the infield closely. Remember, there’s a reason why the home team is favored in most games. Teams with two speedsters at the top of the lineup want as little water as possible on the base paths and especially around the “take off” area around first base.
Slower lineups like the Yankees this year…..you get the reverse and a good solid hosing. Got some good bunters or a sinker pitcher on the mound?…………hose down the area in from of home plate too so the ball dies……..it’s not cheating folks. It’s perfectly legal and all teams do it when they are at home.
Around this time, you’ll hear the public address announcer come to life with the starting lineups for each team. This .usually draws the attention of fans as it’s the first chance to cheer for their favorite player. The umpires will also make their appearance on the field and move towards home plate.
The baseball rituals continue as the starting pitcher walks in from the bullpen, you’ll see the two managers appear for the exchange of lineup cards. Once this happens, these players are officially “in the game” no matter what the PA announcer said. If it’s the first meeting between the teams for the season, they’ll also go over ground rules.
As the managers disappear into the dugout, the home team will take the field…..usually led by a captain or senior member of the team. Fans are asked to stand and it’s time for another time-honored baseball tradition……..Our National Anthem.
Got your popcorn…..got your beer…..got your peanuts…….better have ’em cause the first pitch is about to happen and who knows………….you could be witness to a no-hitter……a four home run game………….and you don’t want to miss one pitch.
And keep your vocal cords intact………not too much cheering…..because in the middle of the seventh inning it’s time for baseball’s most endearing ritual………the seventh inning stretch and the sing-along…..”Take Me Out To The Ballgame”
This piece was written in 2015. I’ve spiffed it up a bit, but I’ve never lost touch with it…