Back in 1986, Baseball Digest Magazine published an article explaining how to play the game of baseball “the right way” or in a manner that preserved and respected the great history of what has become known as “America’s Pastime.” Titled “The Book of Unwritten Baseball Rules,” the article covered rules that would not be found in an MLB or NCAA rule book but rather those that are generally known or, in some cases, not even spoken of. I want to describe these rules and their application to the games that occurred over the past weekend against the University of Arizona. I feel that there are three primary ways to see these “unwritten rules”: as traditions, strategies and baseball etiquette.
For baseball, “Opening Day” is one of the sport’s greatest traditions. This weekend, Rice baseball opened its spring 2016 season. The first pitch inspires an extra ounce of adrenaline in every person in attendance. On Friday, it was pleasant to hear fans and players from both teams cheering on senior Blake Fox’s strike one. As head coach Wayne Graham says every year: “Life starts on Opening Day.”
While the hustle and bustle of Opening Day diffused as the team transitioned to the Saturday and Sunday matchups, other traditions were welcomed back and greeted by the ballpark. Right before the games begin, the “First Pitch” is tossed out by a special community member or a long-time Owls fan. After the first pitch, the national anthem plays followed by the cries of “Play ball” and the game begins. During play, fans never shy away from heckling or criticizing the umpires. I am also guilty of this, and this, too, could be seen as an “unwritten rule” or tradition. During the middle of the seventh inning, fans are encouraged to take part in the “Seventh Inning Stretch” and sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame!” These traditions and many more contribute to the atmosphere that surrounds a trip to the ballpark and make each game memorable.
Fans also recognize and respect the strategies behind playing baseball. One strategic move is intentionally walking an individual to set up a more favorable matchup for the pitcher. On Sunday, Arizona’s pitcher, a righty, intentionally threw four balls to Connor Teykl, a lefty, to put him on first base with one out. This set up a potential double play and brought up a right handed batter in freshman Kendal Jefferies who was then substituted for Fox, a lefty. This matchup game came about because a righty pitcher facing a lefty hitter is a more favorable matchup for the hitter.
Other “unwritten rules” that Rice followed in the seventh and eighth inning of the game included not trying to steal while behind by one or two runs. In this strategy, Sacrificing a man to third base with one out to put him in prime position to score, and not preparing the “stopper,” or top reliever, to come out of the bullpen until securing a lead and trying to close out the game. Again, baseball is a very strategic game and these are a few things that were executed well.
Lastly, baseball etiquette dictates the ways in which one should conduct himself on a baseball field. There are many debates about whether or not these rules are for the benefit or harm of the game, but that is up for each individual to decide for themselves. In my opinion, there are some things that you should not do. I think it is inappropriate to show up the opposing pitcher after a home run by standing and admiring the hit. Second baseman Grayson Lewis maintained this rule when his solo home run tied up the ballgame at 3-3 on Sunday afternoon. After his swing he immediately ran down the line and then realized that the ball had left the park. If Lewis had stayed to admire his hit, one of his teammates may have seen retaliation in the form of a fastball directed right towards him in that inning or in a subsequent inning. Rice would have most likely retaliated and if things escalated, a brawl or fight may have ensued. The game of baseball is meant to be played hard and with passion but there is always a line that needs to be drawn to prevent tension.
For example, sliding with your cleat spikes upward into a base trying to break up a double play is considered hard-nosed by some and extremely dirty because injuries often happen following these slides. Other ways to incite the opposition are to continue cheering boisterously and arrogantly with a sizeable lead, which was the case when Arizona boisterously cheered a leadoff walk on Friday night with the game out of hand. Additionally, stepping on the pitcher’s mound or arguing with an umpire about the strike zone when the game is out of reach are frowned upon and are also included in the code of “unwritten rules.”
The “unwritten rules” of the game, however, apply to everyone and always seem to find a way to balance themselves out. The rules inspire ans and players get to participate in traditions as a unit, which promotes a fun atmosphere and a respect for the game. On the other hand, discrepancies baseball etiquette can fuel animosity in three-game series. This hostility can divide dugouts and fan bases and can make things more negative.
Ultimately, the team that executes better through pitching, hitting and defense is going to win the ballgame and that cannot be deemed good or bad. This is because competition between two sides always has a winner and a loser and the game itself will figure that part out.