The past few years the Kansas City Royals have been a fascinating clinic on changing how the game is played. What is it that has turned a consistent losing team into a fun to watch winner and contender? After catching bits and pieces of the Royals vs. Yankees series this weekend, I know at least part of the answer.
I spent enough time in the outfield during my ball-playing days to know that sometimes those lazy loopers just over the heads of the infielders can be a challenging judgment call for outfielders. An outfielder can choose to charge toward it in an attempt for a shoestring or diving catch, but that’s a risky proposition. If he failes to catch the ball, it can slip past his glove, get behind him, and the base runners can run forever.
Given that risk, many if not most outfielders, even in the Majors, will take the safe play and let the ball drop for a single, settling for minimal damage and hopefully reducing the risk of the opposition having a big inning.
In fact, that traditional approach is exactly the way I saw the New York Yankees play the outfield this weekend. As a student of the game I have seen this at all levels of baseball as a sort of unstated standard operating procedure. Baseball has a long, grinding season, after all, and why risk injury and energy on one play in one game in a 162 game season?
But then October happens. The playoffs and the World Series host some of the most exciting defensive plays of the season in large part because the talented athletes who make it that far turn it up a notch. Each and every game, each and every play, could spell the difference between a World Series ring and a plane ticket home.
And then I watched the Kansas City Royals play defense this weekend -- and not just this weekend. They are taking those chances on those lazy loopers, full out diving when necessary. Even with runners on base they risk an error on a fully stretched-out dive, and most often that extra effort results in a catch inches from the ground, a hat tip from the pitcher, and a batter throwing his hands up in frustration.
The Royals have been playing like it’s October. Why shouldn’t they? In the Majors every day does count, and that one game, that one play, could be the reason they make or miss the playoffs.
Clearly there is a life lesson here. In all you do, play like its October. You owe it to your teammates, and you owe it to yourself.