Fan Mail Friday, August 7th
I had three sets of visitors this weekend between my mom and two very close family friends, so I wasn’t able to get to Fan Mail questions very easily. I have some quick, odds and ends, baseball-related questions I’ll answer, even if it’s a few days late. I’ve been getting quite a few new fans emailing in, but just a reminder to everyone, if you have a question, no matter how wacky or weird, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will do my best to answer it for you.
Do pitchers really hit batters on purpose? If so, have you ever hit a batter on purpose?
Ginny P., Goodyear, AZ
This is one of those “unwritten rules” in baseball, so I’m finding it hard to write an answer for you. I will now do an interpretive dance in front of my computer to explain.
Lots of dramatic thrashing and arm waving with short pauses for reflection.
I look shocked and run backwards in place.
I begin jumping frantically in the air kicking my legs.
I crouch down and pull my face into my knees with my hands.
The crowd grows silent.
I erupt into action and fling myself high into the air with my hands over my head.
I drop my head back behind my body and stare into the sky.
I hope you understand now.
What is that white pillow-looking bag on the mound? Is that a dumb question? I assume it’s something for your hands or grip as guys usually grab it and powder comes up, but I can’t imagine baby powder in there. What is it used for?
Kate K., Joplin, MO
It’s called a rosin bag. Rosin is made by vaporizing resin from trees and plants until it becomes a solid crystal-like rock. Typically the bat boys fill a long tube sock with rosin and then they crush it to form a powder. The sock is then tied off and cut making the little pillow-shaped marshmallow on the mound. When you toss it up and catch it or hit it with your hand, the powder comes out bit by bit. Rosin is used for grip and keeping your hand dry. Some guys’ hands sweat profusely when they pitch and so they use a ton of rosin to keep it dry and get a good grip. On the other hand, they wear a glove. Bada bing. Get it? On the other hand? Cause they are pitchers. I digress.
On the other hand, some guys don’t like the sticky feeling you get with the rosin. It’s a personal preference.
It’s not a dumb question, Kate, in fact I’m glad you asked because I bet it’s one a lot of people have. Guys like to have an especially good grip on their breaking pitches to try to maximize the spin. Fastballs and change-ups often are better served to have less spin (which makes them sink), so it’s not as beneficial on a fastball. That doesn’t mean if you see a pitcher go to the rosin bag he’s about to throw a breaking ball; that would be too obvious a tell, but it gives you a little better understanding. Some guys who are obsessed with rosin will end up with a patch of white powder on their hat or jersey so they can get extra rosin for each pitch without having to walk back and pick up the bag.
Personally, I used to never touch the rosin bag because I didn’t like the stickiness. I felt like the ball wouldn’t come off my fingers as well and I never had a problem with sweaty hands. As I’ve become more of an experienced pitcher, I use just a bit of rosin on my pointer and middle fingers. So if you see me pitch, I’ll bend over and tap the bag with those two fingers instead of tossing the bag in the air or smacking it against my whole hand. Because I throw underhand, I like the added spin it gives me on my fastball because it’s topspin and adds to the sink.
I have heard cards are often played in baseball clubhouses. Do you slough aces when you play a game like Spades or Bridge?
Tom H., Queens, NY
Pluck is the big game in most clubhouses. Aside from the fact it is the most dumbed-down trick taking game in history, I have no idea why everyone chooses to play it. It’s pretty stupid. Anyways, I do slough Aces depending on the situation, of course. Typically if I have three or less of one suit with the Ace, I will slough it if I’m in second position (meaning the player to my right leads that suit). Otherwise, I play it straight. Most of the time.
Do all pitchers wear a cup? Do you wear a cup? What’s that like?
Jordan B., Kansas City, MO
I would say most pitchers wear a cup. As I’m typing here, I’m trying to figure out what I’m basing that on, and it’s an awkward mental exercise, so I’ll just go with no “supporting” facts for my argument and say most do wear a cup.
I wear a cup. I played a lot more catcher and shortstop than I did pitcher in the early part of my baseball career, so I got used to wearing a cup. For me, it now feels really weird to wear a uniform without a cup. As much time as we spend on the field in uniform before the game practicing and shagging, I have started to get used to it, but if I were to walk on the mound in a game without a cup, I don’t know what I’d do.
Everyone has their own method for wearing a cup and everyone thinks theirs is the best. But I KNOW mine is the best, and so, whether you wanted to hear or not, I’ll share with you how to properly wear a cup.
If you go to the store and buy an “athletic supporter” it comes with 2 parts: the cup and a jock strap with a sleeve into which the cup is supposed to slide. I would recommend throwing out the jock strap with the sleeve. If you’re a parent and you’re planning on buying your little-leaguer a cup for perhaps the first time, listen carefully, you will save your child years of discomfort, ridicule, and chafing. You can thank me later.
You can’t wear a cup directly on your … hmmmm … how do I finish this sentence without being lewd? Let’s use an At Bat as an allegory, here. The pitcher throws three pitches. The first is a ball, the second is a foul tip, and the third is a ball. The umpire happens to be terrible that day, so he calls the balls strikes. That means, on this day, two balls and a foul tip turn into a “strikeout looking”. So from this point forward, I’ll refer to the “balls” and “foul tip” as a “strikeout looking”. I hope I haven’t lost you and now that the anatomy is set, we can continue.
If you were to put the cup in the jock sleeve and put that directly on your strikeout looking, it would chafe terribly on your groin. So, everyone in baseball wears something underneath the cup as a layer of protection over their strikeout looking. When I was young, I remember it being cool to wear boxers in general, and as a result, kids wore boxers under their cup. Boxers are designed for maximum freedom and are therefore meant to be loose-fitting, so when you plop a cup over them, all freedom and comfort is not only lost, but you have an excess of material that gets folder over and scrunched up against your strikeout looking. Boxers are also not designed to stretch much so they don’t allow for much movement once they are smashed into place. Result: boxers TKO’d.
I’ll give a quick brief on briefs. They don’t provide a layer of material far down
your leg enough to prevent chafing on the upper thigh and groin. So, tighty whities are out.
That leaves us with what have come to be called “sliders”. For those of you moms out there writing this all down, first off, you’re welcome, your sons will thank me some day, and who knows, maybe if you hadn’t read this your son wouldn’t wear a cup and someday wouldn’t be able to provide you grandchildren. Man, do you owe me! Back to “sliders”. If you go to a sporting goods store, you probably won’t see the term “sliders” on any products. They are typically called “compression shorts” and are mass-produced by companies like Nike and UnderArmour. They are spandex-like material and are long enough to go down at least half way down your thigh, but not all the way to your knee. Buy two pairs of these sliders. Then, while you are buying a cup, buy a regular jock strap, not one with a sleeve, I can’t stress this enough.
The method for wearing these articles of clothing goes like this: put the first pair of sliders on. They should fit tight and be stretchy across your legs. Pull the bottoms of the sliders (which should be sitting down on your thighs) UP towards your strikeout looking so the inseam is shorter than it was. This should allow for a snugger fit on your strikeout looking.
I need to digress again for a minute. The key to wearing a cup is you want it as form-fitted to your strikeout looking as possible. Let’s picture this for a minute: you have to wear a hat, but you decide to balance a large dinner plate on the top of your head first before putting on the hat. When the hat goes on, it has to sit on the dinner plate and is way up and off your head. When you move or spin around (let’s assume you have excellent balance and don’t knock over the plate) the hat is bound to bounce around on the plate. Now, let’s say instead of having a plate on your head, you have a swim cap. When you put your hat on, it now fits snugly over your head and will stay in place and is more comfortable. It also does not stick as far up off the top of your head. This is the idea behind the best method for wearing a cup on your strikeout looking.
When you pull the first pair of sliders up, you don’t want to give yourself a wedgie, but you want your strikeout looking to be under the swim cap, not under the dinner plate. Capeche? OK, no put the jock strap on over the first pair of sliders. The jock strap should fit the same as if you didn’t even have the sliders on. Now, put the second pair of sliders on over the top of all of this. Don’t hike the second pair of sliders up. Leave them be for the time being. Now you are ready to insert the cup. I’ve harped on this, but one last check…don’t use a jock strap with a sleeve. Take the cup and put it between the first layer of sliders and the jock strap. You will notice the jock strap forms nicely over the cup and the cup forms nicely over the strikeout looking. There should be no uncomfortable pinching or chafing because you have the bottom protective layer. There should be no sliding bouncing of the cup because it is in the jock strap, and the cup should not be sticking out far and should be held perfectly in place because you have the second pair of sliders over the top of everything.
Gone are the days of painful, awkward running and chafed and pinched thighs. Let’s rejoice.
A special thanks to my assistant high school baseball coach, Ray Werner, for telling me about this method as I have used it every day for the past ten years since he showed me.
Oh, and how could I forget?, use a generous amount of baby powder for maximum comfort.
Do you keep in touch with former Northwestern teammate and current Phillie, J.A. Happ?
Jerry D., Wheaton, IL
I do keep up with J.A. It’s been an exciting season. It is hard to imagine 2009 would be anywhere near as exciting as 2008 was for J.A., but he’s throwing so well it’s been really fun to watch. I remember being so fired up watching last year’s playoffs and World Series because I wanted J.A. to get a ring in his first trip to the post season. This year was a entirely different set of circumstances for him because of his name being mentioned in much of the deadline trade talk, but he’s been a true professional and gone out and thrown the ball well all year.
I typically send him a text after his starts and rate how well he did based on the number of hits he gets at the plate. Only just recently did he get his BA over the .100 mark, so that should give you an idea how supportive a friend I am. He’s a ridiculous athlete and used to be a very good hitter in college, so I like to give him a hard time about his swing. He’s got something like 3 career hits in the big leagues. I think in scrimmages in college I was 4 for 20 off him with 3 bunt singles, so I feel I can still give him a hard time.
Here I am (left to right) with teammates Evan Blesoff (who’s playing Independent ball now) and J.A. Happ (currently with the Phillies) during the National Anthem in a game at Northwestern.