THE WINNING PITCH-August 3, 1999

It's not often that I get to see two major league baseball games in two days that prove points I have been preaching about my whole baseball life. On Tuesday July 27th I saw a game won because of a batter/runner going hard and through the bag. The same game was lost because a batter/runner slid head first into the bag and slowed himself down just enough to be the last out in the game when the tying run was on third. The next day I see a team's big home run hitter get thrown out of a 0-0 game when the opposition is playing without three of its starters who normally hit two, three and four in the line-up.

I can really tell when Im bored. The first sign of the disease is when I start paying too much attention to major league baseball. The advanced stages are evidenced by making the drive to a game. Thank God, our fall program starts in September.

Back to the examples.

Those of us who actually practice so our players know how to run to first base would have loved what happened during Tuesdays game. Ellis Burkes (with his sore knees) topped a ball off the plate with a runner on third, two out, in a 1-1 game. He hustled out of the box and ran through the bag at first. He was safe and the Giants went ahead 2-1.

In the top of the ninth Edgar Rentiera hit a ground ball into the hole at short. There were two outs and a runner on third. The score was 2-1 Giants. In a bang-bang play at first Edgar was out because he slid head first. The first base ump was so sure that the ground ball would be beat out he ran to the bag with his hands set in the safe call. The replay showed clearly the batter/runner was out.

Maybe, as coaches, we need to employ some high speed video tape to prove to kids the stupidity of head first slides at first on anything other than a tag play because of an errant throw. Maybe we should bench players who dont learn. I think that the slide at first is false hustle. At least they have listened to too many beer inebriated experts who say that the cloud of dust creates the mis impression the runner is safe.

Can you imagine a sprinter diving head first across the line in the Olympics? People who make their living running, never finish off their races by diving head first. They thrust their chests out, throw their arms back and nod the tape. It is by their example that I teach running through the bag. However, contrary to what has been preached in the past about running to the right field foul pole, I teach my players to go hard through the bag then break down quickly and turn in to face second. In the high school game where infield play is less than stellar I want my guys able to make a quick adjustment to get to second. I dont want them taking the 300-foot route to second base.

As far as the second great example, I must address Mark McGuire getting thrown out of a baseball game. I remember walking through the parking lot with my wife and remarking, "look at all the kids." As it turned out 40,000 people showed up to a Wednesday day game. I went to see Livan Hernandez, the new Giant, pitch. The other 38,999 came to see "Big Mac." On a day where the Giants were trying to sneak through a game with a crippled line up and the home plate umpire was having an "0-fer" day, Mark gets tossed on a crappy strike three call.

I sat close to the plate, I'm convinced that the umpire was using a different plate than everyone else. When you were on defense you giggled at the ridiculous zone, on offense only maturity kept you sane. What was Mark thinking? His bad call wasn't the first of the day, in fact, it was the forty-ninth in a string of a hundred and fifty. The kids were there to see him hit the long ball, not him shuffling off the field with his head down in the middle of the game.

I'm sure Mark felt bad about it as he walked off the filed, but it was too late. That is like Bill Clinton apologizing to the public after lying for a year. Role models should know better, and are expected to act like they know better. Mark's son was with him in the dugout. I watched his son walk off the filed after the game. I wonder what his Dad had to say to him about his behavior when he entered the locker room?

Player's should always play and practice like SOMEBODY'S WATCHING. High school players should believe that a college scout is in the stands. College players should operate as if pro scouts follow them to every practice. Professional players should play knowing the children of America are watching every spit, scratch, outburst and temper tantrum.

Of course that is just my opinion. I'm silly enough to wish that our president had played his role knowing "his God" as well as my Mom was watching.

The Winning Pitch collumn is written by Thomas A. Alston. These articles may not be duplicated without express permission of the author. We encourage you to join the discussion by adding your commentary and opinions to our "Winning Pitch" discussion forum.

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