Y.S. Fing | E-MAIL | Roaming the Outfield Archive
Each week, author and poet Y.S. Fing looks at the state of baseball, the movements of the game, the ebb and flow and soul of America’s pastime in Roaming the Outfield. This week: “A Bandbox Is For Musicians”
I’m no advocate for all ballparks to look the same and play the same way. I like that San Francisco is a place where players can hit triples and that small ball can be employed successfully. I love the nooks and crannies in Fenway and Wrigley. These quirks give the places character and that’s a great thing about baseball.
But the bandboxes in Cincinnati, in Yankee Stadium, in Philadelphia have a distorting influence on the game. Although I like the idea that being down three runs in Cincinnati is not difficult to overcome, there are significant elements of strategy and ability that are lost when conditions encourage three-run homeruns.
Most importantly: bunting. When Kurt Suzuki was on second base in the sixth inning of Sunday’s game with nobody out and Steven Strasburg up to bat, Davey Johnson should have called for a bunt. But Strasburg is a decent hitter (for a pitcher), and the Great American Ball Park is a bandbox so Davey let Strasburg swing away. To no effect. Suzuki didn’t advance, and he didn’t score.
Manufacturing runs is the hallmark of a great team. And great teams don’t quibble about what it looks like to manufacture a run from the bottom of the order with the 8-hitter on second with no outs. I think the odds are generally comprehensible – If a three run homer were assured at least one of every three at bats, then this strategy of letting the pitcher swing might have some justification.
But the percentage of base runners that score from third with one out is much higher. And one run makes a difference in every game. Yes, you sacrifice outs, but the team works its way back into a game every time it scores. Davey loves the three-run homer anyway. Put him in a bandbox like Great American and he’ll never see the necessity of getting Suzuki to score on his own. But I see it and I also see how warped playing in a mini-park for 81 games per season can be too.
If Reds first baseman Joey Votto goes up at least half the time knowing he can hit the ball out, even with a popup, he’s going to swing for the fence. And then when he gets to a moderate or large ballpark, he’s going to suffer because he can’t adjust to the need to hit line drives. As a Nats fan, I don’t mind Votto struggling, but if an entire team is built to play in a place where scoring runs with easy swings of the bat is, well, easy, then the entire team is going to struggle when they play in a large yard. At least in theory.
Similarly, you don’t want too large a place either. San Diego, Miami, these places distort the game in a equally discouraging way. Nationals Park is honest, fair to well-hit balls, un-encouraging to those lazy cans of corn on muggy summer afternoons. There has to be a balanced approach to scoring runs in a fair park. And the Nationals as composed this year are as balanced, on paper, as any team I’ve ever seen. Look at new centerfielder Denard Span with seven walks in six games. See catchers Wilson Ramos and Suzuki, producing in the 8-hole. This is a team built to win. But to win fairly.
Last year the Nats played the Reds early in the season and they went on to win 98 and 97 games, respectively. They also both lost painfully in the post-season. I figure they will meet up again in the playoffs this year and I hope the Nats have the home-field advantage, because I’m guessing they will win – again, fairly – without the warping influence of Cincinnati’s bandbox.
I’ll accept the Reds beating the Nats at their game two out of three this weekend. But these tiny fields cheapen the game, allow careless runs, encourage and reward mindless hacking, needlessly punish pitchers, and reduce instances of the bunting and stealing and hit-and-run strategizing that help manufacture runs.
It’s like steroids. Chicks may dig it, but it ruins the game.
Y.S. Fing is an author and poet working out of Washington, DC. He roots for the Nationals when he isn’t composing beauty.