Sunday, May 10, 2015

Playing a Kid's Game

As an extremely middle-aged but lifelong baseball fan, I no longer think of professional ballplayers as heroes.  As the late Jim Murray wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "If you think baseball isn't a business, then General Motors is a sport."  But one of the things that keeps me watching - and mostly listening - to baseball, is that there seem to be players who remember that they are getting payed to play a kids' game.  There are still players who, despite being millionaires, seem to realize that they are pretty damn lucky to be where they are.

Hunter Pence has played right field for two world champion San Francisco Giants teams.  He's fun to watch - he does everything at full speed.  And he doesn't seem to take himself too seriously (just google Hunter's Hitters for proof).  During spring training this year, he was hit by a pitch on the forearm, fracturing a bone.  After starting the regular season on the disabled list, he started a rehab stint with the Giants' Triple A club, the Sacramento RiverCats.  And thanks to our friends Steve Nichols and Claudia Smith, my family got to attend last night's game.  We arrived during batting practice, and our girls joined a large group of fans beyond the home dugout waiting to see Pence.  When the rest of the Sacramento club came out to warm up on the field, Pence jogged down to the home plate area and started signing autographs for a group of little leaguers who had been part of an earlier parade.  He made his way slowly down the third base line, signing baseballs, caps, and other memorabilia.  He spent at least 20 minutes signing autographs, including for both of our girls!

Like in most situations like this, I'm sure, some of the autograph-seekers had economic motives.  Some were pushy adults.  Most, though, were kids who just wanted to be close enough to a big leaguer to have him sign something.  My oldest daughter, Lara, said that he made eye contact with everyone for whom he signed something, and that he seemed to seek out the little kids who had been waiting patiently for him.  Lara got a signed Giants cap, and Emma got a signed game ticket.  They were both pretty excited (as was their Dad)!

Pence's performance during the actual game wasn't as noteworthy - he popped out, struck out with runners on base, and reached on a throwing error.  He was then thrown out at home trying to score the tying run on a ground ball to first.  From where we sat (and we had great seats!), he looked safe - but he hopped up smiling and jogged to the dugout.  It's also worth noting that he wore number 9 for Sacramento (rather than his customary number 8).  I'm sure as he could have demanded that the player wearing 8 for Sacramento give up his number - but he didn't.

Baseball, even at the professional level, is a humbling game.  The best hitters in the history of the game made outs 60-70 percent of the time.  Last year's World Series MVP, Madison Bumgarner, only lasted 5 innings in last night's Giants' loss to the Florida Marlins.  And Hunter Pence went 0-for-3 against minor league pitchers.  But it was refreshing to see a multi-millionaire professional athlete acknowledge that he was getting paid to play a game.  No other professional sport, in my opinion, has the pacing and accessibility that allows fans and players to interact like baseball.  Take me out to the ballgame - any day!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting. He seems like a good, humble, genuine guy, but it's nice to hear some affirmation of that from your experience.