Dirk Hayhurst is a 26-year-old
righthanded reliever in the Padres system who has spent parts of three
seasons at high Class A Lake Elsinore.
he made it all the way to Triple-A Portland last season, Hayhurst began
this year back with the Storm, officially making him a California
2003 eighth-round pick out of Kent State is writing a diary for
Baseball America this season, delving into the side of the minor
leagues fans seldom see.
After a strong outing as a starting pitcher, you feel pretty good about yourself. Your parents call to tell you how proud they are. You friends back home working 9-to-5s are all jealous. Your girlfriend is pumped for you because “you’re achieving your dream honey!”
You feel great, athletic and full of potential. The world is your oyster.
Until you have to do the ball bucket.
Yes, nothing says “good job” like wandering around the outfield for an hour picking up stray baseballs like convicts pick up trash on the side of the road.
If you’re a starting pitcher, part of your routine is picking up balls and putting them in the ball bucket during the next days batting practice. The ball bucket, for those of you that are completely unbaseballed, is the name of the receptacle balls struck during batting practice are collected in before being recycled into BP.
The ball bucket is located just beyond second base, at the cut of the outfield grass, and is usually guarded by a screen of some sort. As a starter, you can look forward to it after every start–good or bad. Manning the ball bucket is an excruciatingly mind-numbing activity that involves bending over several hundred times, running headlong into freshly batted line drives, lugging around a 40-pound clutch of balls, and wishing for an early death. It’s zero fun, but its part of the job.
At least from the ball bucket, you have a great perspective on watching other players shag BP. Here are some batting practice personality types:
If you are the guy manning the ball bucket, it’s inevitable that someone will try to make you their replacement bullpen catcher. Basically, whenever this special someone gets a ball hit to them, instead of casually throwing it in for you to collect, they will petition you to get down on your knees so they can work on their new pitch. Just so you know, its never a changeup or soft fastball. Someone out there shagging BP is always working on split-finger or knuckleball, and they ALWAYS have to see how hard they can throw it at you. It’s true.
These guys also ask the fellas next to them to catch this mystery stuff too, but they get usually refused. If you see players playing catch in the outfield during batting practice, most likely one is an unfortunate sap who agreed to getting palmed by someone’s splitter that won’t split. A few swollen fingers will wise up you fast though, and before long that guy that’s always looking for an extra catcher is alone in the outfield waiting to get a ball he can fire at you on the bucket. It’s not too bad, I usually just move out of the way and catch whatever it was on the rebound of the net anyway.
Next, you have your power shagger. Power shaggers are what you’d call a guy who takes fielding balls during BP a little too seriously. This guy is usually a pitcher. Go figure.
He also probably didn’t get enough love when he was little or something (I fall into this category). He’s the guy that chases down every ball, like a super outfielder. Don’t get in his way. Don’t try to catch a fly ball on his watch. And no, it doesn’t matter if it was hit right at you because he’s got to catch it. Got to. The world will end if he doesn’t. I have seen these guys call off real outfielders to catch balls.
The next guy to watch for is the sniper. This is the guy that will fire the ball in at you when you aren’t looking. He’s not trying to hit you on purpose, but it doesn’t bother him when he does either. This guy doesn’t call your name when he throws the ball in, he just fires it in silence. The only sound you will hear is a firm thud on the grass and the next thing you’ll know is pain shooting up your shin bone. These guys are pricks.
If they don’t smoke you in the leg then its a firm grounder off the arch of your foot. Always something. I have done the bucket a quite a few times and it never ceases to amaze me how out of nowhere a ball will come flying into the screen at speeds high enough to knock teeth out. When I turn around in shock to see where it came from, no one remembers who threw it . . .
The sniper is usually accurate, and at least after the ball bounces of my neck, I can just toss it in the bucket. I can’t say the same for the next guy, the sand-bagger.
This is that guy who just lobs the ball in about 15 feet from where he is standing to about 60 feet from where you are at manning the bucket. The sand-bagger accounts for all those stray balls grazing out in limbo not quite in bucket territory but not quite worth re-shagging either.
You see reader, there is an area of bucket courtesy we bucket jockeys are willing to work in. A zone in which we retrieve any and all balls. Not all throws are going to roll right up next to the big bucket o’ balls you’re in charge of. Sometimes you’ll have to walk a few strides to get a ball here and there. But the sand-bagger, he’s crafty. He’ll just lob stuff about four strides outside of your area to get you to expand your zone. Then, he’ll nibble a little more. Then, before you know it, you’re walking all the way out to him to take the ball from his glove.
My last guy, and my personal favorite, is the buzzer-beater. This guy thinks he can sink the ball in the bucket from 200 feet away. He’ll tell they guy on the bucket to move out of the way so he can get free line of site. Then, he’ll fling the ball at the bucket, sometimes even counting down seconds as he does it. The success ratio on this is like 1 in 1,000. Sure, some guys make it more than that, but for every one of those guys who can sink it there are like 20 who miss. Hell, they even miss the screen behind the bucket. Which leads me to my next observation how do people trained to hit a tiny target, like a glove or an outside corner, miss a 15 x 15 foot screen?
How does that happen?
That’s all I got for this diary, but more to come soon!
I would love to hear about your baseball shagging stories. Drop me a line at [email protected] and tell me.