“Baseball is so boring.”
Here are some possible responses to that inane statement, commonly uttered by people who wouldn’t know RBI from ERA or Triple A from AA: 1. Roll your eyes, shake your head and have another beer. 2. Say “Bless your heart” and have another beer. 3. Have pity on the people who admit to such ignorance, take them out to a ballgame and try to explain the immeasurable intricacies and timeless wonders of the only one of the big four sports that is not played to a clock. Let them buy the beer.
On April 14, the Pacific Coast League champion Nashville Sounds opened their 2006 home season at Greer Stadium, the 29-year-old ballpark that will in 2008 be replaced by a sparkling new downtown facility designed to look old. Yes, Greer really is old, it’s shabby, and, reportedly, its visitor’s clubhouse is the scourge of the league. But the 2005 team—the guys on the field, the ones on the bench and the ones toiling behind the scenes—rose above all of that to produce some of the franchise’s most exciting ball in its storied history. One month into the five-month season, the 2006 edition was off to a fast start, atop the standings in the American North division.
You don’t have to know the game to enjoy an afternoon or evening at the park; there’s something about baseball that brings out the kid in all of us. In the words of L.A. Dodger Roy Campanella—the first black catcher in Major League history, three-time National League MVP and member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, “You gotta be a man to play baseball for a living, but you gotta have a lot of little boy in you, too.” For baseball fans and novices, some questions for and answers from the 2006 Nashville Sounds Boys of Summer.
FRANK KREMBLAS, ManagerWhy do baseball coaches wear a uniform? I don’t know. I guess it’s tradition—baseball is all about tradition.
The Sounds lead the league in stolen bases. Who’s fastest? Jermaine Clark is leading the team. Corey Hart is really fast, but in a 60-yard-dash, Dave Krynzel wins every time.
Which players should fans not get too attached to? Of pitchers, we’re likely to see Dana Eveland, Zach Jackson and Dennis Sarfate go up. Position players—Tony Gywnn Jr., Nelson Cruz, Corey Hart.
Is it harder to play ball or manage ballplayers? Play ball, definitely. You have to be so strong mentally, you have to resist being results-oriented, especially as a hitter, because of how hard it is to hit a ball.
GARY PETTIS, Hitting CoachIs hitting the ball the hardest thing to do in baseball? Yes, it is. It looks so easy from the stands, the ball looks like it’s coming in so slow. But in reality, in pro ball, you have less than three-tenths of a second to decide—swing or not? Chances that someone who is unskilled or untrained can do it are slim to none.
What is the key to hitting home runs? Timing and leverage. People think that it’s the arms, but it’s not. You get your strength from your legs, and that gives you leverage.
Which players have the legs and timing to hit lots of home runs this year? Nelson Cruz, Corey Hart, Mike Rivera, Brad Nelson and Vinny Rottino.
You were a five-time Gold Glove winner during your Major League career. What does a Gold Glove look like? A glove that’s painted gold.
STAN KYLES, Pitching CoachHow fast is a fastball? A Major League fastball averages about 89-90 mph. But with a fastball, it’s the placement. The hardest pitch to hit is a well-placed fastball.
Why is a struggling pitcher sometimes left in the game? At this level, it’s not always about results, but how they are developing. A young pitcher sometimes has to be given the opportunity to work the problem out. Sometimes, we just might not have anyone in the bullpen available for that situation.
Is thinking too much bad for a pitcher? It’s not the thinking so much as the worrying. Just before they go into the game is a critical time; if they are apprehensive about doing poorly, that can affect their performance. They have to be able to live with the consequences of a bad pitch.
Is it hard for a pitcher to shut out all the noise and focus? It’s easy to focus on the batter; it’s harder to focus on the glove. The successful pitchers are the ones who hardly see the batter, they focus on the glove. It’s just a high-level game of catch; play catch with the catcher, and everything else will take care of itself.
JUSTIN THOMPSON, LHP, StarterDid you start out as a starter? Yes, until I got a bunch of injuries, then they sent me to the bullpen. I had four surgeries in one year. This is my first year as a starter since 1999.
Do you brush off the catcher very often? No. When you battle the catcher, you battle yourself.
In your 16th pro season, how are you pitching? My arm is pretty raggedy. I try to spot my fastball good and confuse them with my breaking ball. It’s all smoke and mirrors.
ALLAN SIMPSON, RHP, RelieverWhy is it called a bullpen? I don’t know. I’ll bet no one in the bullpen knows either.
What kind of reliever are you? I’m a middle reliever. I set up for the closer. I usually come in when the game is close and go about two innings. I’m very aggressive. I throw fastballs.
What’s the fastest you’ve ever thrown? My fastest was 99 mph. I usually hit 91-93, and I’ll touch 95 on occasion.
MARK JOHNSON, CatcherIf pitchers aren’t supposed to think too much, does the catcher have to think more? Yes. I wish I could do all the thinking for them.
What is your pet peeve when it comes to pitchers? Shaking me off. If they have a better idea, that’s fine. But if they shake me off just to do it, that pisses me off, especially the young pitchers who think they know everything.
What is the hardest pitch to catch? A good knuckleball.
When you argue with the umpire, what is guaranteed to get you kicked out of the game? Anything with a “you” in it will get you tossed.
CHRIS BARNWELL, InfielderWhat are the hardest balls to catch? On the infield, balls hit extremely hard to first or third—there’s no time to react. Flyballs are hard—you can look stupid really easily.
What is the hardest position to play? Catcher, definitely. Physically it’s really tough, and mentally, his brain never gets to take a break.
How does the perception in the stands differ from the reality on the field? Everything looks so slow from the stands, and everything happens so fast on the field. Good ballplayers slow the game down by being ready, having your glove where it’s supposed to be, and being where you’re supposed to be.
TONY GWYNN JR., OutfielderWhat do you think of this stadium? A lot of other stadiums look old but they’re new. This one looks old, and it is.
Is catching a flyball harder than it looks? (Laughs)The best way to gauge how hard it is, watch how many are caught in the stands, even with people wearing gloves. You have to position yourself. By the time a fly ball gets to the top of its flight, you know where it will come down.
What if you lose a ball in its flight? If you lose it, don’t panic, you’ll lose focus. Just stay calm, and you’ll find it.
JEFF PAXSON, TrainerWhat does a trainer do? I’m the caretaker of the player’s body. My main focus is shoulders and elbows, and preventative maintenance on an older guy with multiple surgeries.
Who are the fittest players on the team? Chris Barnwell, Vinny Rottino, Tony Gwynn Jr., Nelson Cruz, Dave Krynzel.
What’s the worst on-field injury you’ve seen? Last year, when the piece of the broken bat pierced (pitcher) Rick Helling’s forearm and stuck there.
J.R. RINALDI, Clubhouse and Equipment ManagerWhat do you do? I take care of everything in the clubhouse—I unlock it every morning and lock it up every night. I’m in charge of uniforms, equipment, and I cook the post-game meal.
Do you personally wash all the uniforms? Yes. I have two 50-pound washers, one regular washer and two 50-pound dryers.
Do players get to request a number? They can choose from what numbers are available in their size. I tell them, in the big leagues, you get it all. In the minors, you get what you get, so keep your mouth shut and be happy to be here.
KEN THOMAS, Stadium Operations DirectorHow many light bulbs are there in the scoreboard? There are 180,000 15-watt bulbs, but the biggest things are the drivers. They drive the lights that make the special effects on the scoreboard. When the drivers go out, we’re in trouble.
What are the messiest nights of the week? Thirsty Thursday is bad, because people get drunk and spill beer. Faith Fridays and Fireworks Saturdays because they are our biggest crowds. The snow cones with the syrup and the nacho cheese are the hardest things to clean up.
What is your policy on kicking people out? You have to do something pretty bad. I caught a guy peeing over the fence behind the concourse one night. We gave him a strong warning and told him not to do it again. But two strikes, you’re out.
RICKI SCHLABACH, Director of TicketingWhat is the best cheap seat? Anything in general admission, or use a ticket discount. You have to work pretty hard to pay full price for a ticket here.
What is the best deal? The Family Fun Pack. Four best available tickets, four hot dogs, four drinks and 25 percent off a souvenir, for $48.
What’s the easiest way to buy tickets? Go online and print it out at home; you never have to talk to anyone.
JOHN LAWRENCE, UsherAre the little kids a pain in the neck? No! The little kids are great!
What about their parents? That can be a problem. They are having fun and think they can use the ushers as babysitters. They need to be responsible for their children, and be alert for foul balls.
DAVID CHEATHAM, Beer VendorWhat’s the best way to get your attention? So many people know me, they just yell, “Hey David!” But if not, “Hey, Beer Man” will do.
Where is the best drinking section? I’d have to say over on the first base side, behind the visitors’ dug out.
MARK LAWRENCE, Food & Beverage DirectorWhat is the most popular concession item? Barbecue nachos—tortilla chips, cheese sauce, barbecue, sour cream and jalapeños. They go great with beer.
When is the fastest time to go to the concession stand? Right after the game starts.
How much beer do you go through on Thirsty Thursday? We did 43 kegs the first one this season. My record is 70.
OZZIE, Sounds Mascot What is Ozzie? A cougar.
What do children do that annoys Ozzie? Pull his tail, poke him and kick his leg.
What is Ozzie’s record on the Icee Base Race?
3 wins, 5,000 losses.