Johnny, an 11-year old little leaguer swings with ferocity, hoping to hit the ball as hard and as far as possible. Maybe he does so to make his parents proud, prove to his friends that his small frame does not imply a lack of power, or to prove something to his older brother. Despite the reason, the youngster fails to hit the ball very far, instead popping it up to the shortstop. In disgust the hitter walks up the first base line readying himself to return discouragingly to the dugout. Instead, the shortstop drops the pop-up and then hurries a throw to first base that goes 3 feet over the first baseman's head hitting the fence next to the dugout. Wallowing in his lack of power Johnny does not hear his coach, his teammates, and all of the parents in the crowd screaming for him to run to first base, and by the time he comprehends the situation the first baseman has already retrieved the ball and tagged first base completing the out.
Despite feeling depressed and embarrassed for Johnny, this moment depicts a rudimentary yet crucial baseball lesson. Johnny, as well as all young baseball players, learn that no matter what happens, always run it out. Whether the hitter pops it up foul to the third baseman or hits a home run, he or she should always run hard to first base. Although 9/10 times a weak popup in the infield will be caught for an out deeming the act of hustling to first base a waste, there exists a chance that the fielder will drop the ball. Many times in sports, players will weigh risks and rewards, quickly calculating in their minds whether to attempt a deep pass or to dump the ball off to the running back, or try and take on 3 defenders instead of waiting for your teammates to run down court. All sports involve split second decisions in which a player decides to make the safe play with less likelihood of reward or to attempt the spectacular play with higher risks but greater rewards. In baseball these decisions occur often, but the decision to hustle or not should never be one of them.
A player who does not hustle or run the ball out, not only embarrasses themselves, but disrespects the game as well. The decision not to hustle is one in which the player puts themselves ahead of their team and the game. In little league, coaches use such occurrences as learning opportunities for the youngsters, a time to teach them that not hustling is wrong. When a professional baseball player does not hustle or run out a seemingly routine play, fans boo, managers yell, and reporters ask questions. Fans understand, to some extent, that players will not always get a hit or make the spectacular catch, but they expect that a man who plays a game for a living and gets paid 40 times as much money to do so as a public school teacher does to tame and educate rowdy 11-year olds will put all his effort into an act as simple as running. Managers want their team to win, and winning first and foremost comes from playing hard and playing intelligently. Not hustling constitutes laziness and stupidity, thus most managers will not accept lackadaisical and asinine play. Reporters will berate players with questions pertaining to the lack of effort, possibly over-examining the play causing the player to respond with anger, another bad move.
Recently such situations have "popped up" in Major League Baseball. As a Phillies fan I still remember June 5th, 2008 when Jimmy Rollins hit a pop up to shallow left field with runners on 2nd and 3rd base and 2 outs. Reds shortstop Paul Janish dropped the ball allowing Carlos Ruiz to score. Rollins jogged apathetically to first base where he remained when the play finished. Had Rollins been running hard, he would have easily made it safely to second base. One inning later Rollins did not join his teammates on the field because Charlie Manuel benched him. When asked about the play after the game Rollins said, "There is no explanation," Rollins said.
"I just didn't do it. It happens every once in a while. Sometimes the manager gets you. It shouldn't happen. I'm not disappointed in myself. I know better. Just go out there and make sure I don't do it again. Nothing to get disappointed about. Something you learn from. Don't do it again."Despite Rollins' unenthusiastic play the Phillies finished the season in 1st place in the NL East and won the world series. Rollins' lack of effort did not affect the game or the season adversely, but it represented a style of play that, if contagious, could cause a team to lose respect, fans, and games.
Even more recently, Phillies rookie right fielder Dominic Brown scalded a ground ball to Oakland A's second baseman Jemile Weeks who bobbled the ball, recovered and easily threw out the speedy Brown. Brown did not hustle up the first base line, making what could have been a close play into a routine out. When asked after the game Brown said,
Brown's manager, teammates, and even father found it upsetting to see such a bright young talent not playing the game correctly. Dominic responded the next day by hitting a home run and a double against Josh Beckett. Although home runs and doubles do not make up for Brown's mental error the previous game, it shoes the resilience needed to be an everyday Major Leaguer."It was definitely a wake-up call, I wasn't even thinking about it until I talked to Charlie. I was like, 'You know what, that's not my style of play. I'm not mentioning no names, but a couple guys got on me, which is good," Brown said. "I was wrong. My dad got on me. He said, 'You need to run the ball out and I'm not going to say anything else.' He got on me pretty tough about it."
Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen never hides his emotions, cringing during losses and celebrating wildly during wins. He never shies away from talking to the media and has always called out his players and sometimes even his superiors when he is unhappy. Guillen's center fielder Alex Rios popped up in foul territory to Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton on tuesday lazily jogging up the first base line. After Rios' next at bad Guillen benched him for his lack of hustle. Unlike Brown and Rollins Rios barely commented on the play saying,
"It happened last night, and what can you do? [Guillen] had to do what he had to do, and it’s all good. Let’s move forward."Guillen's response perfectly depicts the attitude of spectators when professional athletes become lazy.
"I don’t think I send the message to him — I just send the message to the team. I think the worst thing that can happen to any manager is when the players don’t play the game right. I’m a big baseball fan. We have people in the stands watching us play. As long as I’m here, I’m not going to let it happen. I don’t have nothing against Rios. . . . I never criticize my players for being 0-for-4 or striking out, but I will criticize my players when they’re not playing the way they should be playing."No matter your size, age, or skill level, every athlete should hustle. In a competition, apathy is akin to giving up. Major Leaguers are paid exorbatent amounts of money to play a game. Fans revere professional athletes, wishing they could switch places with them for even one day. Professional baseball players are blessed to play instead of work for their salaries, being compensated for it very well. In doing so they become icons who, at times, may not perform up to their potential, but must always remember to play hard. No play is ever over until the umpire says out or safe, and no player should ever assume anything because to do so is to become a prima donna instead of a professional. Whether it is 11-year old Johnny or a two time All-star outfielder like Alex Rios, all players at every level should play with purpose and vigor. Respect the game, hustle, and play intelligently, these three axioms ring true at all times and should never be forgotten.