I was sitting outside the Cubs dugout in Thursday's 6-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
To close the bottom of the seventh inning, Efren Navarro strikes out with Jason Heyward on first base. Immediately, there is a mad dash of musical gloves. Ben Zobrist is making arrangements to get Heyward his glove so Heyward doesn't have to come all the way back to the dugout, but Zobrist is playing infield this upcoming inning and it is customary for outfielders to bring outfielders their glove. So he picks up Heyward’s glove, hands it to Kyle Schwarber and tasks him to bring Heyward his hardware. It is the courteous thing to do.
These examples are part of the spirit of baseball’s unwritten and often unspoken rules that get overshadowed by the latest controversy of beanball or how Javier Baez is supposed to handle hitting a frustrating pop-up. Most of the spirt of these rules are centered around sportsmanship and respect, courtesy and ideals. Passed down generation to generation in a sport that cares about its legacy of traditions.
Any baseball team is composed of players that at the start of any season, will spend more time with each other than they will their own families. It goes beyond a temporary arrangement with the most intimate details of your life exposed to this new family. You learn people, you begin to fully understand from where they come, country, cities, towns, or neighborhoods. It often causes you to re-think the assumptions we tend to make about people because of the boxes we check. It forces you to go beyond the frustrating pop-up but the off-camera, the post-game, the whispers in the corner of the locker room.
And deeper I went when I played two years in Baez’s home country of Puerto Rico. It turned into a life-changing experience where an entire community embraced me, the kid from New Jersey, as family. I also learned about a different way to play the game, one which centered around passion, around expression from the salsa dance team to the band in the stands to the mascot that dove across the dugout. It was not necessarily what my unwritten rules endorsed up until that point, and what I had assumed to be true about the game, but I learned quickly that this was just another way to do things, another way to bring culture into a game that involves so many different groups of people.
So in Clint Hurdle’s comments about Baez and Willson Contreras on their face, fell into the generalization box we all can fall prey to at times. He knows, as he has shown as a successful manager, that there is a difference between superficial understanding and the knowledge only your team has about their own player. Who is the player in the weight room after the game, who looks after his teammates when they are struggling, who lights the fire on the team when needed, who makes everyone laugh at the right time. This knowledge is often shared internally inside the sacred home of a baseball team, that what you see on the field is a direct form of expression, but it also does not tell the entire picture. One which a manager will have intimate knowledge. Therefore, it is their teammates and those in the team’s daily family, that will have the most valid input about the expectations of their players, love it from afar or not.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon has coached a life of working with young players. Patiently advancing their maturation to recognize that although this game is for the young, it is a requirement for it to be for the mature too. They are learning and many of these unwritten conversations can be constructive even when hurtful and full of presumption. You must know yourself, leave it all on the field, before the field is no longer an option as you age out. Like any player, lines will be pushed, an offense to a grizzled veteran will occur, or a player from two generations prior will wrinkle his nose about the slide rule as I have from time to time, but we also must have trust in the game to preserve what is important to its future. It’s culture. And I contend that this culture must be informed from all of us who love the game, all of us who play the game, but first we must understand who they are, just like Puerto Rico took the time to do for me.