Tuesday, August 21, 2012
The little things
There's a lot of things that separate true baseball fans from the rest of the pack.
I don't watch a whole lot of sports in the baseball offseason, but I can still appreciate the significance of a big go-ahead touchdown in football or a clutch, game-winning jump shot in the NBA.
Conversely, I'm sure the serious football or basketball fan (or any other sports) can at least note the awesomeness of a heroic walk-off home run in baseball.
Still, I've found that one major difference exists between fans of baseball and those of any other sport.
From personal experience, baseball fanatics tend to hold the "little things" in higher regard.
Things that are insignificant to the casual sports fan, but not to most of the baseball fans I've met over the years.
A pitcher stroking a solid base hit into left field. The perfectly-placed bunt. Batting helmets smeared with pine tar.
As far as those go, I have my favorites.
Unfortunately, it's one that's been slowly dying out as of late, thanks to the "suits of armor" that guys like Barry Bonds and Andres Galarraga have sported over the years. Arm guards, elbow guards, the whole production.
While I don't have anything personal against any ballplayer who wants to do that, I'll take the guys that are the polar opposite.
Guys from the "no batting gloves" school of hitting.
I'm talking about players like Doug Mientkiewicz.
From what I've seen from his cards in my collection, "Eye Chart" (as he was affectionately nicknamed in Minnesota) almost never wore batting gloves during his long career.
He's gone "gloveless" from his days as a Twins rookie to his twilight stint with the Dodgers.
During my little league days, I went in and out of a few different batting glove stages.
Even during those days, I thought the whole "no batting gloves" thing was cool. Naturally, as most of us probably tried doing at some point in our Little League careers, I tried to mimic some of my idols.
Jason Kendall was one of the first guys I can remember seeing gloveless at the plate. So, of course, I'd try hitting without gloves from time to time. My little way of being "cool" in Little League.
Then, I'd hit a fastball off the handle of the bat, and I'd run down to first base with my hands in a world of pain. So back to the batting gloves I went for my next at-bat.
I can't imagine how much it hurts to take a 90-MPH big league fastball off the handle, especially considering the usage of wooden bats in "The Show". (We always used aluminum in Little League.)
Needless to say, I have the utmost respect for guys who choose not to wear batting gloves.
Kudos to you, Jason Kendall.
Unlike my other mini-collections, such as "pitchers at the plate", I've never specifically set out to acquire these types of cards.
There's probably a ton of other great ones out there that I haven't yet seen.
Still, it's no coincidence that a few of my favorite players also prefer the "old style" way of hitting.
Take Mark Grace, for instance.
Save for a few rare instances, almost all of my cards of "Gracie" feature him without batting gloves, the above being one of my personal favorites.
However, there's one guy that stands above all others in the "no batting gloves" club.
I own more baseball cards of Vladimir Guerrero than any other player in my collection.
It's fitting, since he's easily my personal favorite player of my generation. A true "icon" of the more recent influx of ballyard talent.
As far as his hitting shots go, the guy just doesn't have a bad baseball card.
With the lack of batting gloves, how could he?
Like I said, I've got no problem with guys going the extra mile in terms of protection at the plate. Heck, it's a smart idea to at least bring a shin guard, like the one Vlad is sporting on the above card.
Still, I've always found that I tend to gravitate towards things that give me glimpses into what baseball was like in the past, a past that I never got to witness.
The whole "no batting gloves" thing is just an extension of that.
I've seen a few gloveless big leaguers this year. Matt Carpenter of the Cardinals is the first one that comes to mind. Not to mention that Bryce Harper seems to go gloveless from time to time.
It's part of why I still love to watch baseball almost every day, all these years later.
After all, those little things are what make baseball so great.