Before they start keeping score, before they start separating the girls and boys, before they take away the ten-run rule so everyone has to learn that humiliation is a part of sports, they teach us one thing:
Run your awkward, juvenile little legs into the ground on every play. Who cares if the assistant coach keeps muttering that you look like you’re “falling down a damn staircase” when you do it? The point is, a kid with no talent can miss the ball, but no one can fault him if he did it hard.
And this, of course, is bullshit. Adolescence is full of stocky, pasty, oddly-shaped, poorly-coordinated, kids who run hard every play. But they’re not carried off the field every day in celebration of their intensity.
I once looked up at the ping of an aluminum bat and gave chase to a fly ball. With a mighty heave, I sent my body hurdling towards its landing spot… only to watch it plop on the grass four yards away, the faint cheers of the Saturday morning Little League bleachers distantly approving of my failure.
It seemed I had been pursuing a fly ball from a game played at an adjacent field.
Meanwhile, the batter from the game I was actually playing in sent an easy pop-up to right, where any sanely positioned outfielder could have made the play. I made baseball history that day by being the first ever position player charged with earned runs from two different games being played simultaneously. And when I got back to the bench, did my teammates pat me on the back? No, they just continued making fun of my Rec-Specs.
You’d be amazed at how little respect enormous plastic goggles command during a children’s sporting event.
Philadelphia is a bit of an uproar right now; no, not because of climbing crime rates or the slashed state funding or something that actually matters. Jimmy Rollins failed to run out a ground ball the other day, setting not only the blogs on fire, but giving local sports radio and other media enough material for an entire news cycle.
“…’ja hear? Jimmy didn’t hustle!”
“Didn’t hustle? He hit the baseball, didn’t he?!”
“Jimmy didn’t hustle?”
“How do ya mean?!”
“Like he was racing a tin can up hill, I tell ya!”
“Well howzabout that!”
Hustling is simple; hustling we understand. Hustling is the core class everybody takes before branching off to pursue other specialty interests in the sport like diving catches or media explosions.
We haven’t all played professional baseball, but we’ve all slacked off at our jobs, so this… this issue we can speak on with confidence. But what came first, the chicken or the self righteous blue collar outrage?
Philadelphia knows and embraces its image as the “angry step child prone to violent fits” of American sports cities. Like any region’s reputation, ours has been built from a collection of fading, cliche anecdotes, resurfacing in the media when occasional contemporary stories are considered comparable. At this point, what remains is an intimidating attachment to our local teams, but probably not as much of the serial killing we get the blame for.
As soon as the camera cut to the “play at first base” angle and the first baseman caught the ball without Jimmy in sight, everybody knew what was going to happen. If the game had been at home, he would have been booed; but as it went, we would have to wait for the next morning to make all of our shocked, sputtering noises.
But why? There are plenty of reasons Jimmy didn’t run out that play. And there are plenty of reasons why we shouldn’t even care. It wasn’t a close play. It wasn’t a close game. It hasn’t really been a close season. If I were told that Jimmy–who legged out an inside-the-park home run earlier this year and had provided the only/winning run in the previous day’s game–was not running hard on that particular play due to frustration or exhaustion, I would accept that. The Phillies are nine games under .500 in late August, man. I’m tired, too.
Bringing in the “kids are watching” and “young teammates are watching” arguments is unavoidable, though, so this shit storm was inevitably rumbling. He wasn’t right, but he wasn’t as wrong as he’s been made out to be.
Having a history of this kind of thing–J-Roll fails to hustle at least once a year and gets heroically called out on it by the media 100+ times a year–I guess Jimmy’s been fortunate enough to be not hustling during the most successful run the franchise has ever seen. Now, though, he’s just another reason we’ve failed. Jimmy’s not a young upstart trying to make a statement, he’s a seasoned vet with a contract extension trying to outlive a team slump.
The worst part is the obligatory blue collar morals–this is Philadelphia after all. We’re watching the Phillies game, checking our smart phones and trying to find a free, online version of Downton Abbey, Season Two. Then one guy doesn’t run out a grounder and we all turn into a bunch of 1970s construction workers? Oh, right; you’re so hurt, 97.5 The Fanatic. How could Jimmy do this to us? Here we all are, working three or four blue collar jobs as mechanics or crate-carriers or dockworkers or collar-makers for blue shirts, looking forward to nothing but getting home and watching Jimmy Rollins run the bases, and he can’t even hustle for us? I’m gonna be up all night thinking about this, which is awful, because I’ve got to get up in 15 minutes to get to my part time job as a night time zookeeper!
This was just another excuse for people who enjoy/are paid for how much they are shouting to go into the closet, dust off that “tough guy” persona their fathers left there, and put it on for the course of a news cycle, because Jimmy Rollins finally did something wrong on a level they fully grasp. They’re not concerned fans; they don’t care what Jimmy does and their definition of ‘hustle’ is that it’s a buzz word they can use to make the switchboard light up. They care if they can become outraged over what Jimmy does. And that’s not passion, that’s just noise.
Though I guess here in Philly we’re known for both. Oh, and hustling. And Rocky. And cheesesteaks.