Imagine going about your day at work and having a complete stranger with a beer in their hand and a hot dog in the other yell bad words at you and make detailed references to your personal life.
That would be weird, wouldn't it? But for Major League Baseball players, that comes with the territory. They get to play a kids' game and make the big bucks, but part of the deal is that fans can technically shout anything they want to them while they are doing their jobs.
All baseball players hear the hecklers and some of their stories are simply hilarious. Some, though, are not very funny at all. We'll get to those ones later. First, the good and lighthearted ones:
"Funniest one I ever heard," starter Max Scherzer said. "I was out shagging flyballs in [batting practice] and someone asked 'Scherzer, can I get a ball?' I wouldn't give them a ball. They were like 'don't worry, we'll get one anyway when you pitch and they hit a home run.'"
"I get stuff about my last name," reliever Shawn Kelley said. "Like, 'you're a girl.' Well, it's my last name, so I didn't really have a choice."
"In Double-A there were a couple fans behind the on-deck circle that had some good jokes that I liked," center fielder Trea Turner said. "I think I was 0-for-5 one game and I was coming up for my sixth at-bat and they were heckling all of us all day. It was the 15th inning and they asked me if it was past my bed time and if my mom let me keep playing. It's funny. I laughed at it and in my sixth at-bat I ended up getting a hit."
Players often hear the same jokes over and over. Sometimes it's about their appearance or a famously low point in their career.
"I get the same old bat boy jokes because I look young. I've heard those a thousand times," Turner said. "It's like, come on, that's all you've got?"
"Most of the time it's brutal. It's 'you suck' or 'you're going to get sent down to Triple-A,' first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "They say 'you can't play third base anymore, you're playing first base.'"
"They are usually the same thing: 'you suck, go back to the minor leagues,'" outfielder Ben Revere said. "Especially with me right now not doing well, I hear 'you're about to get demoted or let go.' Then in some years when I'm playing well, I'll hear 'you suck' and I've thought 'actually, I'm doing just fine. You don't know baseball.'"
Zimmerman, Kelley and Revere all said they will let fans know if they hear something particularly clever, usually with a thumbs up or a smile. Revere said he will even give a thumbs down for those that aren't original or funny.
Jokes from fans often fall flat. It's the personal references that really weird players out.
"People talk about my family all the time," right fielder Bryce Harper said. "Nothing really too funny. Some of them are not funny at all."
"I've had family members names mentioned," Kelley said. "Like, my parents. People will use my parents' names and say 'they're not proud of you,' or 'you're a disgrace.'"
"You have the people who cross the line and go on the internet and find your wife's name or your mom's name," Zimmerman said. "If they buy a ticket and they want to yell my wife's name at me, whatever. It's not the greatest thing to hear."
Harper, as one would expect, gets it more than most. He's the biggest star on the Nationals and a lightning rod for opposing fans.
"You hear it from fans all the time. I guess that's part of the game. There's some things out there that shouldn't be said. I haven't gotten any funny ones this year. I don't really get funny ones at all," he said.
"Mine are usually 'I hope your career ends' or 'I hope you blow out your knee.' Stupid things like that. It's just absurd. Fans are always going to be fans and root for their team. I totally understand that. But, some of the fans, it's just not human. Some of those things you shouldn't be saying. Especially when my back is turned to you. I more than welcome people to talk about me to my face. But if you talk behind my back, that's on you."
If one assumed those things are said in Philadelphia, where sports fans are notorious for crossing the line, one would assume wrong. Harper, in fact, doesn't hear it much from Philly fans at all.
"More Atlanta than Philly. I don't get much in Philly, actually," he said. "I enjoy playing in Philly. I don't get much from Phillies fans going crazy. Of course, the Mets, the Dodgers, San Francisco."
As a big leaguer, and especially as an outfielder whose position is located close to the fans, Harper is used to hearing more than you can imagine yelled at him from the stands. It's hard to shock him these days. One way to do that, though, is to involve children.
"The worst thing about it is when there's families and little kids around," Harper said. "You don't want someone dropping an F-bomb or something like that at you when there are little kids around. And then, little kids of some families are dropping F-bombs as well and they're only 11 or 12 years old."
Others agree with Harper: leave the little ones out of it.
"You'll have people that bring their little kids up and they're yelling at you," Kelley said. "What are you teaching your eight-year-old, that it's cool to just yell at people? I get that there's a thing to heckling if you do it in the right way. But not just screaming 'you suck' and using bad language in front of kids. That's when I'll actually get a security guard and get somebody removed, if you're cussing and just being belligerent and there's kids around."
A common sentiment of the players is that, for the most part, they either enjoy or have learned to accept the fact they will hear it from fans. There is nothing they can do to change that reality, so they might as well control what they can and that is proving the hecklers wrong.
"The fans are obviously talking trash and that's what makes it fun. You go on the road and you get some fans that love to wear you out. That's what makes it fun," Scherzer said.
"You've gotta be able to block that out and go out there and do your job. It almost makes it more rewarding when that goes on, when fans are all over you and you go out there and deal and shut them up."
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