“Baseball is a thinking game. You have to think, ask questions.” – Lou Piniella in one of the great classic Mariner commercials
I’ve been a Mariner fan for a lot of years now and for most of those years (particularly the recent ones), the team hasn’t been very good. There’s a certain masochistic pride in acquiring these scars of baseball fandom.
Oh, the things I’ve seen.
Spectacular blown leads, stunning errors, and devastating strikeouts. Agony that sinks into your bones.
That’s the thing about sports. No matter how well you play, sometimes you’re going to lose. And sometimes you will really, really suck just because you’re bad.
Being bad is something I’ve come to terms with as a Mariner fan. I’ve seen a lot of players come through who really wanted to win, really wanted to be good and put their hearts and souls into the game just to not be able to hit the ball quite far enough or hard enough, or throw pitches that don’t quite break enough and don’t quite go where they’re supposed to.
That I can deal with.
There is an incredible amount of raw talent needed just to get to the Major League level and it’s the rare player who can use that raw talent to perform well. As a rule, players need to learn how to play.
Yuniesky Betancourt is one of those players that squander their talent. He was fantastic when he first came up and I thought he was going to be my favorite for many years. Instead, he took his talent and put it in his back pocket. He look lazy and unmotivated. I’ll never understand what was going on with him, but it sure frustrated the hell out of me.
Now, there’s Miguel Olivo. He has talent, or he would never have made it this far. I watch him play and can see that he’s trying and wants to do well. He just makes stupid, dumb ass, pickle brained decisions.
Constantly hacking at the first pitch and hitting into inning ending double plays, sliding head first into the base, and the egregious inability to block pitches in the dirt. Mental mistakes of the worst kind because they keep happening ad naseum.
There are different kinds of smart and for all I know, Olivo could have a Rhodes Scholar mind. But on the baseball field, baseball smart is the smart that matters.
Miguel Olivo just doesn’t get it.
Norm Norm Charlton* got it. He had grit and heart and every pitch he threw, he threw with every ounce of his soul. He got it, but he didn’t have it. And man, if I had to choose I’d choose the player who gets it over the player who doesn’t without a second thought.
Baseball smart. If I were a team looking for a player, that would be my non-negotiable.
*Not a typo.