You Don’t Have to be a Baseball Fan to Like THAT

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Let’s get this out of the way up front: I’m not a baseball fan.

I don’t dislike baseball or have a bias against it; I just don’t follow it. I used to follow the Mets when I was younger, and at one point in the mid-late 1980s I was a huge fan, but the strike of 1994 cured me of being interested in baseball. I wasn’t taking a stand or anything like that, I just never started following it again after the strike ended. It helped that the Mets weren’t any good anymore.

So I don’t know much about baseball, other than the rules. Once you get beyond the rules, I know almost nothing about strategy, strengths and weaknesses of players, starting pitching rotations, etc.

For example, I am completely unqualified to comment on whether it was the right move to try to steal third with one out last night, in Tech’s 3-2 win over FSU.

In the bottom of the third, Tech’s Brendon Hayden got a leadoff single and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Kyle Wernicki. With one out, Hayden was in scoring position, against FSU’s Luke Weaver, a dominant pitcher who was in the early stages of a great performance. Hayden tried to steal third, and was thrown out for the second out of the inning … and Alex Perez doubled right after that.

I don’t know if it’s smart to try to steal third in that situation, stupid, standard strategy, or a gamble. But I do know that as the innings dragged on and neither team scored, that lost run loomed large.

Through seven and a half innings last night, this game was scoreless, and neither team was even threatening to plate a run. At one point, Tech’s Brad Markey and FSU’s Weaver had 16 strikeouts between the two of them, and just one walk. Base runners were scarce.

I know that a great pitchers’ duel, like the one we witnessed last night, should not be called “boring”. That’s a no-no. It’s not “exciting” from the standpoint that there isn’t much action on the bases, but it’s exciting from the standpoint that when one team finally does break through, it will be huge.

In the bottom of the seventh, the Hokies broke through. Finally. Weaver had been dominant as advertised, but Hokies’ leadoff hitter Tyler Horan singled up the third base line on a ball that was really just a poorly-hit dribbler. (These things often start with a whimper, not a bang.)

On the next pitch, Mark Zagunis crushed a triple that scored Horan. 1-0, Hokies.

On the next pitch, Andrew Rash skied a pop fly to short center that Zagunis tagged up and scored on. 2-0, Hokies.

The Hokies had gotten one decent hit off Weaver, but had milked it for two runs, and just like that, Weaver, who had been hurling 93 and 94 mph fastballs all night, was gone.

Like I said, I don’t know baseball … but I know that’s baseball. Things can change rapidly.

VT had a great chance to extend the lead to 3-0 in the bottom of the eighth, but FSU quarterback (that’s not a typo) Jameis Winston threw Tech’s Sean Keselica out at the plate to end the inning.

Then, wouldn’t you know it, FSU scored two in the top of the ninth to tie it at 2-2. The inning was a near-disaster, as FSU had the potential winning run at first with just one out, and on second with two outs, but the Hokies got out of it.

Still, it was tied, and that missed opportunity in the third inning and the throwout at home plate in the eighth inning were agonizing to think about.

Mark Zagunis erased all that, however, with a towering home run over Durham Park’s “blue monster”, their big Fenway Park-like wall of a different color. You don’t have to know baseball to know that a walkoff home is as exciting as hell. What a fantastic payoff for those who had sat there through a pitching duel and a couple agonizing back-and-forth innings.

FSU coach Mike Martin and Tech coach Pete Hughes both called it a great baseball game, and it was. The result for Florida State was more dramatic; with two losses, they’re out of it, and they won’t be playing for the ACC Championship. For the Hokies, there’s more work to be done. They still have to beat Georgia Tech today to advance to the ACC Championship Game on Sunday.

Pete Hughes’ strategy of starting Brad Markey against Florida State and pushing Devin Burke out to today against Georgia Tech now looks very smart, and if Burke beats GT, it will look brilliant. Still, you can make all the right moves, and ultimately, it’s up to the players to come through. Markey came through.

Growing up in Charlottesville, I remember Virginia’s 1976 run to the ACC men’s basketball championship. It was a seven-team league back then, and Virginia was the #6 seed in the tournament. In three improbable days, they beat the #3 (NC State), #2 (Maryland) and #1 (UNC) seeds to win the title.

This reminds me of that long-ago tournament. The Hokies are the #6 seed, and so far, they have beaten the #3 and #2 seeds. If VT can get past #7 GT, the Hokies might face #1 seed UNC Sunday for the title, just like Virginia did 37 years ago.

You don’t have to be a baseball fan to appreciate that this is a nice run so far, and something great might be in the works. The Hokies play Georgia Tech today at 3:00, on Comcast SportsNet and various other channels. Check your local listings.

Video: VT-FSU Highlights

ACC Championship Web Site

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25 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. I totally agree that something magical was lost in the strike year and I grew up with 2 shoe boxes stuffed with baseball cards and unchewable bubble gum. There is a game within the game and one of the best sources on that aspect of baseball is George F. Will. One of his books titled “Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball” is old but still prescient today. A friend of mine had this book and I leafed through the section where he interviewed Tony LaRussa. It helped me to understand the workings of a manager from the dugout and how they prepare.

    It may not help recapture the innocence lost during the strike of ’94 but it may help to build something else that might be of interest and appreciation.

  2. Another former baseball fan who hasn’t watched a full 9 innings on TV since 94 (I still enjoy attending the occasional game). I was a Royals fan and can remember listening to games on the radio and being one of those “scoring at home” (please ignore the obvious joke). But leave it to the Hokies to change my sports viewing habits. I’m watching the GT game right now and will likely watch all 9 innings…for the first time in nearly 20 years.


      1. I also lost what little regard I had for the game during the ’94 strike, and I have not watched a MLB game since. I grew up playing baseball from the time I was 6 through Babe Ruth League at 15, and I loved the game for many years, but over time I found that I enjoyed football (college and pro, but especially Hokie football) and college basketball when the Hokies are playing well, and the major golf tournaments and the Olympics and that was about it. I have gone to see the Hokie baseball team play on the road a few times, just to be supportive, including the Regionals when they played At USC a couple of years ago, and I try to keep up with how they are doing, but I never try to find their games on TV, or follow their box scores closely or anything that drastic. In general, the game of baseball just seems to be a big bore. Having said that, I have become hooked on this Hokie baseball team in the ACC tournament. I caught the last few innings (none of the fireworks) in the big W over the Hoos, but I watched the entire games in the big W’s over FSU and GT, and I have set my DVR to catch the championship action Sunday, even though I am not overly optimistic about their chances with UNC or NCSU, based on the regular season series with those two. However, the way these guys are pitching and swinging bats you never know what might happen!! Go Hokies!!

  3. Will, I use to be a huge baseball fan and like you, the 1994 strike did me in and I’ve probably watched a total of 20 innings on TV since then.

    I am a huge college baseball fan though because the skill level is there but it is far from routine like the majors – you don’t know what is going to happen.

    This VT baseball team might be the most special one in its history – we will find out in the next few weeks. Looking forward to it! GO HOKIES!

  4. Only in baseball is an exciting play one in which almost none of the players actually do anything. Will never be a baseball fan, but very impressed by this team’s performance so far. Go Hokies!

    1. Sort of like the end of a basketball game where one player hits a game winning buzzer beater(Jordan, NBA finals Utah Jazz), or in hockey or soccer when one player scores a goal in overtime to end it. Or in football where the kicker splits the uprights as time expires to win a thriller, and keep a certain teams national championship hopes alive… ( hint, 1999, wvu, Shane Graham)…not sure I’m following??????

      1. This is how I took this — offensively the most starting players you can ever have involved in a play is still less than half the starting lineup…the rest aren’t even in the field of play…a kicker may actually score the field goal but the entire starting field goal unit is on the field and is involved…

        Defensively maybe 5 or 6 of the nine can be actively involved in a play except for rare occasions (I know the initial defensive setup and others backing up etc. is part of the game but they are not really actively involved in that play)

        Like Will I’m not a baseball hater…just don’t follow it (except my son’s LL) In four games he’s batting .500 with 6 RBI’s 🙂

        I will also be watching Sunday,

  5. Hayden was safe at third on the steal. The tag was to his upper thigh after his foot was on the base. The umpire was blocked on seeing it because he was behind Hayden. Too bad video review could not be used for that. Umpire not at fault. Throw beat runner and that usually is enough for out call.

  6. It was a bit of a gimmick play. If you remember, the batter faked a bunt. The guy at second has to read the third baseman – if the third basement charges three of four steps toward the plate in case of the bunt, you try to steal. You usually don’t put that play on with a left handed batter because of the wide open throw for the catcher, but my guess is they saw something on film (or in a previous game against them) and took a shot at it. The hitter immediately looked at the runner in a way that made me think it was a called play. The third baseman was out of position – if you look at the replay he was two steps in front of the bag when he caught the ball and actually missed the tag. If you watched the slow motion replay, the runner was safe. The announcers didn’t pick up on that or say anything about it.

    The cardinal rule is not to make the 1st or 3rd out at third base. The Hokies took a shot at getting someone to third with less than two outs (setting up the sac fly, squeeze play, and forcing FSU to bring the infield in). It was a pitchers dual and in my opinion a calculated risk. i thought it was a cool play.

    1. That’s a great set of strategic rules. Although #5 & #8 are redundant basically. Maybe that’s why it’s the cardinal rule that 10yearplan refers to above.

      I actually saved this list.

  7. Will, like you, I used to like and follow baseball quite a bit, but for me it’s the financial state of the game that took me out. I’m (or was) a Pirates fan. Not much to root for there for the last 20 or so years, and when your favorite team just isn’t going to be competitive, you lose interest.

    But I never lost interest in Hokie Baseball, and I do actually understand/remember much of the strategy. GREAT game last night. I would have liked to see Markey get the win but I bet he’s just fine with “We won, and I was a big part of that.”

    I’ve got my DVR set to record at 3:00 today.

  8. I think that the attempted steal was not smart. I doubt the coach called for it, but you never know. That said it was one of the best games I’ve seen in quite a while. Also , sorry about that charlottesville thing, I had no idea. Looks like you turned the corner and saw the light before it was to late. haha Go Hokies beat GT.

    1. I’m thinking it was a hit and run, given how the batter acted on the play as well, but I don’t think I would have even done that in that situation. Still, all worked out for the best.

    2. May not have been smart, certainly was against the odds. But in a tight game it’s pushing the envelop in a good way. That has to be the coaches call, I don’t think any but the best of base-runners can call that himself even with a good jump; otherwise he’s got some ‘splaining to do when he dog-tails it back to the bench.

  9. The walk-off home run is a special sports moment, and of course even more special when the game is so huge. There isn’t much else that compares to the sudden win moment in baseball, since there is no clock to dictate the moment. It just comes out of the blue and brings you straight off the couch (or crushes you if you happen to be on the losing end). With a clock, even if you don’t know if it will happen coming, you know when the last second game winner will happen – the last second. Good stuff, thanks for the article.

    1. I’ve wondered who coined the phrase “walk-off”. Probably one of those talking heads on ESPN. When I was growing up, a big Phillies fan in the ’50s and ’60s, I never heard the term used. I am a traditionalist, so a number of new terms enabled by the wealth of computerized statistics I find kind of cutesy, and I don’t like cutesy. Give me the meat and potatos. But I can live with “walk off.” (You’re probably going to die drowning from it if you don’t learn to live with it). It is pretty much the ultimate cliche to express the joy of victory or the agony of defeat.

      Will, you may not be a baseball fan. At least you’re honest about it and don’t give us a whole bunch of reasons not to like baseball, like a lot of non-fans do. Zaganus’ walk-off was definitely huge as any fan or non-fan can see, but as a baseball affectionado I’ll tell you what I think may be the even bigger story line.

      Hughes’s decision to switch and pitch Markey was very savy. And then the kid goes out and pitches the game of his life. This is made even more manifest by the fact that he pitched equally as well or better the last time he faced FSU. Over two games he threw 15 innings of shut-out ball against one of the iconic college baseball in America. Double-digit strike-outs at any level is eye-opening, but to control the game in a pitchers duel with another strong pitcher is truly another cliche: a “game changer.” This is why non-fans think baseball is boring, because nothing happens, when in actually these tight-as-the-bark-on-a-tree close ones are really the best white knucklers that we all hate, yet we all love. To put it simply, to those who care, especially us Hokies, this game was a classic that should go on ESPN classic games (if they had them for college baseball). Even both coaches said as much after the game.

      It has been a while since we Hokies have had one of those gratifying Hokie moments, and last night we finally came up with another one. Thank you to the team for giving us one to remember.

      1. According to Wikipedia it was first used in print in 1988 in the San Francisco chronicle in an article about Dennis Eckerly who referred to them as “walk off pieces to connote the shame of the pitcher having to walk off the field while the winning team celebrated the win. But it didn’t gain widespread use until the late 90’s and early 2000’s when broadcasters and tv people began using it as a term to celebrate the joy of victory in walking off the field at the end of the game with the winning homerun

  10. I am also not a baseball fan, but started following it somewhat when the amazing 1969 Mets won the World Series. Also followed it in 1986 when they won the World Series. Haven’t had much to cheer about since then, but would still follow them if they were winning. I am proud of the Hokies Baseball Team, and will definitely be following them, hoping for an ACC Championship. That might change my mind about baseball. I’m diehard Hokies Football, but always glad to see them do well in the other sports.

    1. I assure you, I still won’t be a “baseball fan”, but I can be a “Hokie baseball fan.” I’ve paid more attention to them this year than any other.

      1. Will, I followed a similar path, i.e. played and watched baseball in my youth, becamse a NYM fan in 1960 (even saw a couple games in the old Polo Grounds), celebrated in 1969 and 1986, and then lost all interest following the 1994 strike. During the last 15 years or so, I’m unable to watch more than 5 minutes…have no attention span or patience for the sport (but likely surprising to some, I love soccer).

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