The Thrill of the Grass

By IAN WILSON

In the end, pace of play was not an issue, bat flips did not matter and not even juiced balls could ruin the fun of the 2017 World Series.

If Major League Baseball ever wanted the ultimate advertisement for its product it could be found in this year’s edition of the postseason … and, for that matter, the 2016 World Series.

For those of us lucky enough to be watching, it was truly a thrill.

Fans also may have noticed that the game has changed … and changed for the better.

Old school has given way to the new school and the unwritten rules are being rewritten.

Someone hide the remote from Goose Gossage because the players were clearly … *gasp* … having fun.

CHEST THUMPS AND FIST BUMPS

There were chest thumps and fist bumps, bat licks and screams to the dugout and, yes, even bat flips. And seldom was a whiff of retribution in the air for such conduct.

“It is different. I mean, you knew if you did that before you were going to take one in the ear, right? That’s just the way the game was. You had guys out there who felt you were showing them up by doing that, whether you were or not,” said Calgarian Bruce Walton, who was the bullpen coach for the Toronto Blue Jays from 2002 to 2009 and the team’s pitching coach from 2010 to 2012.

“But I think that in the playoffs, in today’s game, I think it’s acceptable …. They’re having fun and they’ve got smiles and they’re playing the game hard, and I really think that this World Series you got the feeling that they weren’t showing anybody up. They were just celebrating within their team. I think they’re doing it the right way.”

mlb-2017-postseason-logo-playoffs

It’s been quite the turnaround from the bat-flip fearing masses, many of whom jumped all over Jose Bautista for his iconic toss in Game 5 of the 2015 American League Divison Series against the Texas Rangers.

“I thought Bautista’s was fine. Yeah, it was a big flip, but that game was unbelievable. The emotions just watching it,” recalled the 54-year-old Walton, who still coaches young baseball players in Cowtown.

“He flipped a bat. So what? Now, if you flip the bat and you start pointing at the pitcher and you start moonwalking, maybe that’s a little bit too much,” Walton added.

“I think that obviously when you do it this way someone’s going to go over the line, but I think that’s more entertaining than not going over the line at all.”

Miki Kawahara, owner of Diamondawgs Baseball Training Center and a technical director with Babe Ruth Calgary, shares Walton’s views on the Bautista bat flip.

“I didn’t really understand it, but Jose got a lot of backlash for his display of emotion.  The way I saw it, that one moment was the culmination of seven years of frustration with the Blue Jays.  He was entitled to show some emotion in a situation that big,” said Kawahara.

The head baseball coach with the National Sport Academy said he watches a lot of MLB throughout the regular season and into the playoffs and he welcomes the expressiveness of the players.

“I think that the young players in the game today play with a lot more emotion than they did a decade ago and that is great for the game,” he said.

“Players should be allowed to bring emotion to their style of play and let the fans see their personality – as long as they show the utmost respect for the game.”

WHEN PUIGS FLY

Kawahara cites Dodger outfielder Yasiel Puig as a player who has learned to properly focus his emotions.

“I love to look at Yasiel Puig as an example of where the line should be for young players. Early in his career he was criticized for being lazy, and much of his emotion was directed at his opponents. In my mind, that is disrespectful,” said the University of British Columbia grad.

“This past playoffs was a great example of the evolution of Puig as he channeled his enthusiasm for the game towards his teammates and his play on the field. I really didn’t see him cross that line and get after his opponents, tongue wagging and all.”

Kawahara recently did a classroom session about the unwritten rules of baseball and discussed what it means to cross the line.

“We discussed where this emotional line should be so you can play the game within your personality, but also show respect to the game and your opponents,” he said.

“Their thoughts were really interesting and it showed me that my students – granted, it was a small sample size – are very aware of how the game is changing and how they have more freedom to show emotion on the field.”

Kawahara called the 2017 playoffs “an extraordinary advertisement for baseball” and said the young players in MLB are making the games more fun on a nightly basis.

FUN FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY

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Bret Boone baseball card

Former Seattle Mariner second baseman Bret Boone didn’t need a school lecture to learn all about the unwritten rules of baseball. He picked up much of that from his father, all-star catcher Bob Boone, and grandfather Ray Boone, a veteran of 13 MLB seasons from 1948 through 1960.

But even he admits to changing his views on the current state of the game.

“I was always a very old school guy. You play one way. You play hard. You don’t celebrate. You show up. You bust your butt. And then you do what you do in your private time. So, I wasn’t a fan of all this slapping, laughing, pointing to the sky, pumping your fist. It used to drive me crazy. Just act like you’ve done it before,” said the former Pacific Coast League all star, who hit .314 with 13 home runs and 73 RBI with the Calgary Cannons in 1992.

“But as I started watching more and more, I started to smile … the players today, they’re young and they’re dynamic and so athletic. They’ve got a smile on their face all the time. They’re playing a game. They look like they’re having a tonne of fun and it’s really not hurting anybody.”

The four-time Gold Glove winner said he really took notice of the player excitement on display during the 2016 World Series, a seven-game thriller that saw the Cubs claim their first title since 1908.

“I see these kids nowadays and it seems like they’re truly having fun out there. It comes through in the broadcasts on TV,” the 48-year-old told Alberta Dugout Stories during a recent interview.

“It seems genuine out there and it was neat for me as a viewer to see the passion and level of joy these guys were having, so I’ve changed my view on that. Every generation is different.”

No flippin’ doubt.

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