April 25, 2012

How hitting Votto was a team-building event

In last night’s titanic struggle between the Cincinnati Reds and the San Francisco Giants, a hapless Dan Otero in relief for the Giants missed his release point and hit Joey Votto smack in the thigh. No big deal; he wasn’t trying to do it. He was probably just so desperate to miss the Votto wheelhouse that he went a little overboard.

But the interactions that followed that event were, to me, much more interesting than the game itself. You see, this kind of interaction is part of “guy speak.”

Guys, doing guy thingsWhen I say “guy speak,” I’m not just talking about words, but all those interactions between guys that are a natural part of the sociology of being in the pack. I’m not talking about interactions among responsible adult men, with stock portfolio and prostate concerns. I’m talking about those things that make innate sense to guys but are utterly mystifying to women–wrestling past the age of 10, “pre-gaming” before a night at the clubs, and being willing to go into a bar’s single-person restroom to pee in the sink if total strangers are already using the stall and the urinal.

I am amazed by this stuff (except for the peeing in the sink one, which just grosses me out), probably because I can’t be a part of it. As soon as a woman is involved in any of these scenarios, they change: sort of a Heisenberg’s guy speak uncertainly principle. (Except that Heisenberg, being a guy, wouldn’t have invoked the uncertainty principle himself, unless there’s some sort of exception for physicists.)

So, while it’s probably mundane and instinctively understood by dudes, to me the hitting of Joey Votto was a social event worthy of further consideration. This is what I saw.

After an unsuccessful attempt to get out of the way, Votto stood stock still for a moment, expression blank, even though that had to smart like hell. He started to turn around to take the base, but first picked up the ball and threw it back to the pitcher while maintaining slightly-longer-than-social, unsmiling eye contact. The whole thing lasted about five seconds.

“What does that mean?” I actually said out loud to no one in particular. The failure to react is probably just tough-guy stuff: there’s no actual injury there, so don’t let ’em see you sweat. Not so mysterious, I guess.

But the picking up the ball and throwing it back confounded me for a while. It wasn’t an aggressive throw; he wasn’t trying to hit the pitcher back. It was more like a wry, “Hey, you dropped this.” Surely he wasn’t just being helpful, at least, that’s not what the eye contact said. The eye contact said, “Since you’re new in town, I’m going to cut you a break today. So why don’t you make like a tree and get out of here.”

Then it was over. Votto takes first to load the bases. A shaken Otero walks Brandon Phillips to walk in a run, and the Big Inning proceeds.

But then it gets interesting again. In the top of the ninth inning, Sam LeCure exacted a retribution pitch, throwing behind Buster Posey. Not Sandoval, not the pitcher, but the corresponding character on the Giants’ team. If a guy punches you in the gut, you don’t punch him in the hand, you get him in the gut back. This action is a team acting as a whole.

I know that MLB tries to quash this sort of thing, and promptly warned both benches. Wouldn’t want the little kids and old ladies in the crowd to think it’s OK to stand up for your friends. But I think that to remove this stuff from the game is to rob baseball of the genuine, if somewhat primitive, team/pack dynamic.

Obviously, baseball doesn’t want to cultivate the Ron Artests of the world, but there is a happy medium between brute and physicist, and it is called “guy.” And watching that balance unfold is what makes the game so fascinating.

4 comments to “How hitting Votto was a team-building event”

  1. alan says:

    my long standing love for baseball and in particular, the cincinnati reds is known far and wide…and lately i’ve also been touting the joys of TV’s ‘The Big Bang Theory’ which features 5 main characters comprised of 4 young scientists employed by a university and a very healthy young lady from nebraska who lives across the hall from 2 of those guys. all in all, it is the most enjoyable and funny show i’ve ever seen, and the young woman is just, well, so very very wow. of course, she doesn’t understand anything of what these 4 guys do either on or off the job, except that 3 of them are exceptionally ‘opposite sex challenged’. anyway, i point all this out because amanda has brought to light, in reference to our beloved reds, this very thing about guys and totally misunderstood…or totally not understood…things we get into, and how it all makes sense if you just kind of get up from wherever your getting your present viewpoint and step over to another vantage point…oh well, i’m not getting anywhere here, but i do know that the BBT TV show is great even though i have no idea what those characters are talking about concerning physics, engineering, astronomy, etc., and it doesn’t matter at all. i get the ‘zingers’ and ‘one-liners’ and everything else about the whole thing. and amanda’s description of Votto, getting hit, the pose, then picking up the ball and tossing it back to Otero…nope, guess i don’t have any idea how badly it might have hurt, and i know it’s very rare for a batter to be hit and then pick up the ball at all, let alone toss it back to the pitcher, but this i do know. Joey Votto has quickly become a classic player/icon here and around baseball everywhere. and really, there’s no understanding that, no matter how much it’s explained and all that. and amanda has brought it all together here. hmmm…i have no idea where I actually started to go with this, but it was a great article from amanda, and i liked it.

  2. Amanda says:

    Hey, Alan. Thanks for the comment. I never considered the parallelism to The Big Bang Theory, but there’s even a science tie-in. Very astute.

  3. Doug says:

    I, too, enjoyed this. Didn’t get any of that from the radio broadcast and would have loved to see it happen live. “Hey, you dropped this.” I can just see the expression on Joey’s face. Priceless.

  4. Amanda says:

    Hi, Doug. Thanks for commenting. Yeah, for a guy who doesn’t even smile when he gets a hit, Votto can be very expressive.