Saturday, July 7, 2007

Pitching and charting


Being a starting pitcher, I only actually perform my true job once every 5 days. But during these other games, I’m not sitting around languidly working on my juggling. I’m still put to work--I have to earn my paycheck somehow. With a chart in my hand, I’m forced to leave the dugout, my baseball homeland, and flee to the menacing land of hecklers and munchkins: the stands.

Usually I’m confused for a scout. This really should come as no surprise. If you saw me in the stands, you’d probably think I was a scout also. After all, if he looks like a scout, talks like a scout and acts like a scout, he must be a scout. We may be a little younger than most scouts, but we’re wielding the same radar guns, packing the same heat.

This isn’t a big deal, and it shouldn’t really bother me. I have a tremendous amount of respect for scouts and the work that they do. But once in a while, perhaps when my wicked friend Narcissus comes around, I tire of people asking me if I’m a scout. This is only rarely, though, as other times I actually prefer to be incognito.

Despite our disguises while in the stands, people inevitably recognize us. Probably about once a game, an autograph-seeker will approach us and ask us to sign a card or a ball. We’re happy to oblige, and it comes as a surprise to the casual baseball fan sitting next to us who had no clue that he was sitting next to a player. Now he’s wondering what in the heck a player would be doing sitting next to him. Shouldn’t he be on the field where he belongs? Confused, the fan maybe even starts looking around, trying to find other players secretly embedded in his surroundings as if it’s a Where’s Waldo type of promotion.

We meet some interesting people while in the stands. In our home park in Norwich, the head of all minor league baseball often comes. A retiree named Harold—affectionately nicknamed the Goose by teammate Nick Pereira—comes to almost every game, and he claims that not a single move is made in baseball without first consulting him. When the Goose is around, there’s never a dull moment. Too bad our charting usually suffers.

Some may be wondering why we have to do charts. A reader recently asked me exactly this via e-mail. As he said, “Why not let the starting pitchers just go home after they do their throwing? Unless things have changed from back in the day, non-pitcher managers still think that most starting pitchers are doofuses anyway so they aren't going to put them in as pinch runners or as pinch hitters and they certainly aren't going to ask pitchers for in-game strategy advice.”

I don’t really like to think of myself as a doofus, but this may in fact be the way that my manager views me (I’ll have to ask him). Part of the answer to this question is that we’d probably be goofing around too much during the games (see exhibit A: our relief pitcher cousins, who act as infantile gorillas at times during games) and forget that a game is even going on if we didn’t have anything to do. By doing a chart, we’re forced to pay more attention to the game, and can in this way get a read on hitters and their tendencies. Also, the team needs stats, and in the minor leagues, stat keepers aren’t hired; the starting pitchers become the stat keepers. We don’t like doing it, but it’s a necessary part of our job.

We are therefore asked to do a variety of charts, which differ from team to team. Our team, for example, requires us to do a chart which counts the number of pitches our hitters see, a radar gun chart, a pitcher’s game chart, and a hitter’s chart. Four charts for the four days in between starts, rotating among pitchers on each day. Two of the days are spent in the stands; two of the days are spent in the dugout. This rotation is pretty standard.

Next time you come to a minor league ballgame and see scouts in the stands, look closely. If there are younger guys amongst them, they’re probably players. And if your team is playing the Connecticut Defenders, I might be sitting nearby. If so, feel free to say hi.