Rambling On About My Glory Days: Game Within a Game
Baseball fans see teams competing against each other and batters battling against pitchers. What they have no way of knowing about is the personal battles that often develop between two players, or even sometimes between a player and the opposing manager. When ball players play against another, a unique personal competition may develop between the two. Most often, this personal “game within a game” develops between friends or former teammates, but not necessarily. Sometimes, a challenge is “thrown down” by an opposing player for no apparent reason other than their equally competitive nature; mind games just develop.
Of course, the most common battle develops between a pitcher and hitter. Sometimes, a pitcher or hitter just seems to have the opposition’s number. It is not like one player is better than the other; things just seem to click for one player when facing the other. I recall facing some pitchers who would make great pitches against me, but no matter, I would find a way to “dink” them in for a hit. Vice versa, some pitchers would basically set the ball on a tee for me and I could not seem to buy a hit against them; such is baseball. Situations like these cause little mind control games between the two.
However, not all game within a game battles occur between pitcher and hitter. When I was on base and preparing to steal, I would get into a thinking game with the opposing manager. The manager would consider having his catcher call for a pitch-out and I would be trying to guess when he might call for the pitch-out. The mind games were on and it was a sweet personal feeling when a manager like Tony LaRussa would call for a pitch-out on a pitch when I wasn’t stealing.
Other times, these mind games developed between offense and defense, like the following situation. I played against Floyd “Honey Bear” Rayford many times during my minor and major league career. Because of this frequent competition, Floyd knew that a big part of my game was to get on base via the bunt. Bunting was the part of my game that I had the most pride and confidence in, along with base stealing. Floyd was an excellent third baseman and he would dare me to bunt on him. Of course, he would make it virtually impossible to do so by playing me so shallow, up until two strikes. His strategy worked and it took all the fun out of it for me to even try for a bunt hit. I would glance down at third when going up to bat and notice Floyd sort of smirking as he would move in towards home plate, virtually eliminating any realistic chance of a bunt hit. During pregame batting practice, our paths would occasionally cross, and he would good-naturedly say something like “You will never get a bunt base hit as long as I am at third base.” Of course, he was getting in my head and throwing down a challenge at the same time. I would try to slap the ball by him occasionally to gain some satisfaction, but this was not an easy task. I knew I had to get that bunt base hit against him and meet his challenge.
One game, I was pretty desperate. My swing and timing were off and my hitting confidence was pretty low because of those factors. Realizing I did not have much to lose I waited for two strikes, when Floyd would back up a few steps. This was my opportunity and I bunted, knowing “bragging rights” were definitely on the line. I put down a good bunt but knew the ball had a chance of going foul and then I would be out. I approached first base and realized there was not a throw. I was very nervous when I stopped running through the bag, “It must have gone foul,” I thought. I turned and saw the ball snuggling up against the third base bag. Yes! - a base hit and a perfect bunt no less. Getting a bunt down for a base hit for me was like a slugger hitting a homerun, and to do it against Floyd was especially sweet. I was very proud when I looked up to see Floyd giving me a little “well done” nod of the head. Having those personal games within a game made playing baseball even more exciting, and are one of the reasons why baseball is the greatest game.
Former major leaguer Jack Perconte is the author of The Making of a Hitter (http://jackperconte.com) and has a baseball instruction blog that can be found at www.baseballcoachingtips.net. He has recently published his second book Raising an Athlete – How to Instill Confidence, Build Skills and Inspire a Love of Sport