On Saturday evening, Virginia Tech baseball fans and players packed the President’s Suite at Lane Stadium for the 10th annual Baseball Night in Blacksburg. ESPN analyst Tim Kurkjian headlined the event as the special guest speaker.
As soon as Kurkjian took the stage, the crowd quickly became aware of Kurkjian’s wit, storytelling ability, and the seemingly encyclopedia-like knowledge he possesses of the history of baseball.
Kurkjian opened the speech with a common sentiment shared amongst the crowd: “I think we can all agree that baseball is the best game.”
The Bethesda, Maryland native then went on to explain the quirkiness of baseball through a number of odd-ball statistics. Joe Niekro’s only career home run came against his brother, Phil Niekro. Dennis Eckersley picked off Kenny Williams in a game, went three years between pick offs, and picked off Williams again. There have only been two 18 inning games in postseason history, and Tim Hudson has started both of them. Mark Texeira had the most home runs ever without a walk-off, and the final home run of his career was a walk-off grand slam.
After displaying to the crowd his extensive baseball knowledge, Kurkjian described to the fans why baseball is the best game.
Kurkjian’s first point was that some of the players look exactly like us.
“Jose Altuve is half an inch taller than I am. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I am really small,” joked Kurkjian, who stands at 5 feet 5 inches tall. “Yet, Alex Cora on that team will tell you that Altuve pound for pound is the strongest man in the Major Leagues.
“Pedro Martinez is the greatest pitcher for peak value that I have ever seen. He has the biggest hands you’ll ever see. He told me that his first year of pro ball, he weighed 138 pounds and threw 93 miles per hour. He would take those gigantic hands and the longest fingers I’ve ever seen and wrap it around that baseball and make it do whatever he wanted. Then, there’s Dustin Pedroia, who’s an inch and half taller than me, and my hands are way bigger than Dustin Pedroia’s hands, and he’s a great player. How can we explain that? My hands are way bigger than Tony Gwynn’s hands, and Tony Gwynn is the best hitter for average since Ted Williams.”
Kurkjian also used a number of bizarre stories to demonstrate how baseball is the best game because it’s the hardest game to play.
“No one really believes that they could guard Steph Curry in the open court or tackle some great running back in the open field, but they actually believe they can get a hit off Max Scherzer,” Kurkjian said. “Are you kidding me? 100 at bats, the average person will have zero hits, zero balls in play, and zero contact.”
“Frank Robinson is the most confident hitter I ever met in my life. He thought he could hit anyone. He had one of the great rookie seasons ever. The second year of the big leagues he’s going through an 0-20 [slump] and he told me many years later, ‘I swear, I thought I was never going to get another hit the rest of my life.’ That’s how hard this game is. No NBA jump shooter misses five in a row and says, ‘I can’t shoot anymore, I don’t want to play anymore.’ When I covered the Orioles, Brady Anderson was hitting under .200 in early June. He went out one night with one of his teammates, Rene Gonzales, it’s been raining and they’re driving way too fast. Brady Anderson looks at Rene Gonzales and says, ‘Gonz, if I wasn’t hitting .179, I’d ask you to slow down.’”
Kurkjian continued the trend by using his array of anecdotes to exhibit just how good the players are in baseball.
“Mike Trout’s in spring training a couple years ago and tells some guys in his group, ‘You see that trash can there beyond the left center field fence?’ It’s about 400 feet away from home plate,” Kurkjian said. “He says, ‘I’m going to hit a home run into that trash can during BP.’ So the 10th pitch they throw to him, he hits a home run into the trash can. Then he does it again, and several days later he does it again. That’s how good Mike Trout is.
“Here’s how good Greg Maddux was in his prime. He’s in big trouble in a playoff game. Bobby Cox comes to take him out of the game. He says to him, ‘Bobby you can’t take me out. You take me out after this hitter. I’ve got this guy. He’s going to foul out to the third baseman on the first pitch.’ On the first pitch, the batter pops out to the third baseman who was barely in fair territory. All the Braves were giving Maddux a hard time after the game, ‘You said he was going to foul out on the first pitch.’ That’s how great Greg Maddux was in his prime.”
It was certainly a night where all Virginia Tech fans and baseball fans in attendance became a little smarter and became a little more appreciative of baseball thanks to the insight of Kurkjian.