Monday, October 24, 2016

How Cute Are These Aspects of Baseball?

During my men's softball game last week, I had an interesting conversation with a spectator that led me to think about the lovely nuances of baseball. A lady who was watching (one of our opponents' WAGs, no doubt) asked why someone on our team got his glove brought to him each inning. I explained that it's a courtesy players provide for a teammate who's been left on base or made the last out. It's a very standard custom on the diamond, for sure. "Oh, that's really cute," she said to me and her friend.

Which ... I guess it is kind of cute. I wouldn't normally use that term refer to anything done by tubby middle-age softball players. But, yeah ... bringing a glove to a teammate is kind of cute.

The woman's remark reminded me of something Joe Posnanski has written about a few times: his wife's favorite baseball tradition is when someone in the dugout throws a new warm-up ball to the first baseman at the end of each half-inning in the field.

Both practices are pretty mundane, but they're among the common rituals that contribute to baseball's wonderful quaintness. Or, according to the WAG, baseball's cuteness.

Anyways, on the drive home from my game that night, I thought about the other aspects of baseball that an outsider might consider "cute." As we head into the World Series -- a decidedly uncute term for baseball's biggest event -- here are 10 of the cutest parts of the sport:

10) Rain delay antics
This one is more common in the college game, but MLB has seen it's share of slip-and-slide-themed hijinks during lengthy delays. A person unfamiliar with baseball would undoubtedly find it adorable -- or borderline insane -- as grown men in pajamas flopped around on a soaked tarp during a break from their job.

9) Bob Uecker
With the retirement of Vin Scully, Uecker is the cutest remnant of broadcasting's old guard. He's never taken himself too seriously, and he's a poor man's Yogi Berra in terms of wacky quotes. Who wouldn't want to give Ueck a hug?

8) Unique pregame traditions
The cutest pregame tradition of all-time was when Derek Jeter used to rub Don Zimmer's shiny bald head for good luck. The least cute pregame tradition of all-time was when Wade Boggs used to scarf down an entire chicken in the clubhouse.

7) Sharing gear with pitchers
In the National League, pitchers know there's always a chance they'll have to hit. Still, some of them show up to the park less prepared than Donald Trump for a debate. Through the years, that's led to pitchers using oversized helmets, bats that they don't plan on swinging, and even the wrong team's gear.

6) Jose Altuve
It's not just because he's short. After all, few people have ever called Dustin Pedroia cute. But Altuve swings at pitches above his head, forms a preposterous contrast with strapping double-play partner Carlos Correa, and has a unit of measurement named after him. A very cute unit of measurement, I might add. Sure, Altuve can be a fiery player, but casual fans would probably tab him as one of the cutest in the game.

5) Paying homage to your buddies
It's very cute when players use friends' habits to tease or pay tribute to said friends on the diamond. Trevor Bauer* once creatively imitated a bunch of his teammates, an at-bat that called to mind Derek Jeter's 1999 Nomah impression. Touchingly, Dee Gordon recently batted right-handed for a pitch in honor of his deceased friend Jose Fernandez, before blasting a deep, sob-inducing homer. That moment wasn't so much cute as it was awe-inspiring.

*Not cute: Bauer bleeding like James Franco in 127 Hours during Game 3 of the ALCS. 

4) Hank 
Hank, the adorable rescue dog claimed by the Brewers in 2014, has his own Deadspin page and lit up the gossip pages like no dog since Paris Hilton's purse-sized Pomeranian.

3) Old men in uniforms

Especially after Scully's retirement, the cuddly fellas at Old Timers' Day are among the cutest aspects of the game.

2) "Around the horn"
Isn't it cute the way they share? This tradition is also co-opted in beer league softball leagues. Throwing it around the horn makes grown men feel like they did back when they were boys who wanted to be grown men who played baseball.

1) Little kids at the game with their dads
No, we're not talking about Drake LaRoche, because 14-year-old boys are anything but cute. We're talking about wee ones who beg their dads for Dippin' Dots, fall asleep in the fourth inning, and always get caught by the TV cameras with ketchup all over their cheeks. The dad is usually nearby in those camera shots, thrilled to have his little boy at the game. Father-son bonding is among the cutest things about baseball.


As with all nonsensical lists like this, you probably have your own favorites that I omitted. What cute aspects of baseball were worthy? Bartolo Colon's helmet malfunctions, Mike Trout's weather fascination, and the Beltre-Andrus mock feud are all cute in their own way. Which ones deserved a spot on this cute little list? Let me know.

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