With the lockout taking away the majority of the offseason and a lot of precious prep time, everyone is scrambling to get up to speed in the short window before Opening Day. And not just the players, coaches, and executives — the baseballs themselves are feeling this time crunch as well.
Typically, Major League baseballs start getting stretched out and warmed up for the season by early February. It allows them plenty of time to acclimate to what pitchers and hitters are doing, and perform accordingly. No such luxury exists this year.
Commissioner Manfred and his gremlins have certainly spent ample time over the years tampering with the baseball itself in order to get specific results, or perhaps just as part of a sick experiment. It’s created a lot of stress for the balls, as they’ve had to figure out on the fly what they are and how they should behave without a lot of historical data to back them up. But this year they face an entirely new struggle. They’re not just fighting to lock in minor details — they’re failing to perform baseball functions on the most basic level.
I went to Peoria to speak with the balls and find out what exactly is happening. “Look, this isn’t like riding a bike or whatever you meatbags call it,” one baseball told me. “It’s not as easy as just remembering what we did last year and doing that again. We baseballs don’t really retain memories, on account of not having any brains. I’m made of thread, rubber, and who knows what else.” I asked Baseball how they get in game shape, then? “It just takes time,” he said. “A lot of it is instinctual. But we really need those early workouts with the players where they aren’t a hundred percent locked in, and we can feel it out. This year….it’s like everything is moving at light speed.”
So what, exactly, is going wrong? “It’s a complete mess right now,” said Baseball. “A buddy of mine came off the bat yesterday in a backspin scenario, and he just froze. I mean totally forgot how to do backspin at all! Just kinda floated and dropped to the ground.” What did the players say about that? “None of them noticed. Baseballs may not have brains, but players are…not smart.” Awareness and intelligence aside, Baseball and his colleagues understand that this can’t continue. And this isn’t an isolated incident. Baseball wouldn’t specify but said he’s had some glitches (that’s what he calls them) himself, and has seen countless others all over the back fields and in the cages. They have to get right, and fast. If the performance issues trickle into the regular season, everyone watching will be exposed to some truly weird stuff. Examples? “You could see a JP Crawford 30-homer season. Mike Trout hitting nothing but ground balls to second base for eight straight games. I mean really disgusting stuff. I’m scared. We just…we gotta get right.”
Another baseball spoke to me on condition of anonymity (we’ll call it Baseball) due to the embarrassment of its own big failure. “I was a two-seamer out of the pitcher’s hand. Everything was going fine. Get to home plate, make contact with the bat, he chops down a bit. I hit the ground and just…” It’s an uncomfortably long pause, so I ask Baseball if it’s ok to continue. “I….I forgot how to roll. Like, at all. Just straight up couldn’t do it. Sat there in a little dent in the dirt, two feet in front of home plate, looking like the world’s biggest idiot. I don’t know if I can keep doing this.”
We’ll find out soon enough if the baseballs can turn the corner in time for Opening Day, but there’s no doubt that they’re all feeling the pressure. They’re worried about the response from fans, a group that Baseball says has been less-than-kind to them anyway. “You know how sometimes a guy hits a home run, and people will jokingly say ‘that ball had a family’? I lost my father in the fountains at Kauffman in 2016. It’s not a joke. It’s not a joke.”
Here’s hoping the baseballs can return to form soon, and that we can all be a little bit more understanding.