BRADENTON, Fla. -- It might be the greatest spring training drill ever:
Hitting the cutoff man? Side sessions in which you teach pitchers not to walk six guys a game? Carrying telephone poles up and down the beach at 3 a.m.?
The walk-off home run celebration.
It was choreographed by those innovative Pittsburgh Pirates this week. And all their manager, Clint Hurdle, would say about it was this: It wasn't his idea.
Here's what this sentence says to me: The Pirates are dicking around like the ADHD kid your little league team used to stick in right field, where he would spin in circles until he fell down, then would spend the duration of the game eating grass. And the manager doesn't care.
"Sometimes," Hurdle said Wednesday, "you have to get out of the way and let the players do their thing."
Yeah, I don't disagree, but I don't think these guys have done anything to demonstrate that they've earned the privilege of recess.
So whose thing was this? We skulked around and located the perpetrator -- a fellow who looked a lot like Brandon Inge. And how did this brainstorm come about, you ask? Well, it wasn't quite up there with Edison inventing the light bulb.
"Basically," Inge laughed, "I was pulling the lazy veteran move."
Oh, so there's that veteran leadership we've been in such dire need of. You've gotta love to see the veteran utility player who came in on a minor-league contract because even the Oakland A's, for whom Inge played last year, didn't think he provided enough value for the veteran minimum.
In his career, Brandon Inge is a .234/.303/.387 hitter. He walks about 8 percent of the time, and strikes out about 23 percent. He doesn't have outstanding strike zone judgment (25.8 percent O-Swing), and he's not very discerning in his pitch selection. He can play second, third, catcher, or any outfield position competently. He averages about 17 home runs per 162 games, and is entering his age 36 season.
Here's the deal: This great moment in spring training history occurred Monday at the end of a morning baserunning drill. Every position player involved had to run out a single, double and triple, a first-to-third sprint, a mad first-to-home dash and, for the grand finale, an inside-the-parker.
Suicides. Windsprints. Call them what you will. Granted, this isn't really a baseball activity -- it's more of a get-your-ass-in-shape activity. That's the kind of shit you do in spring training: you get your old ass in shape.
He also happened to be the last player in line as this drill unfolded. So he turned to catcher Russell Martin and said, "I'm walking this off right here."
“There’s no chance in hell I'm going to hit an inside-the-park home run, so I didn't see the point of practicing that,” Inge said. “I might hit a walkoff, though.”
Remember last year when A.J. Burnett showed up at, like, 6 a.m., totally of his own volition, and ran around Pirate City alone because he was determined that regardless of how he performed, nobody was going to outwork him? Turns out that when you work really hard, you stand a better chance of playing well. Hard work paid off big-time for Burnett, who, at age 35, had his best season in five years. This team is going to need to over-perform if it's going to compete. It will not over-perform if it's full of lazy, stupid assholes. Don't get me wrong -- I like Inge as a player. If I were running a team that were primed to compete -- the Nationals, for example -- I'd want Inge as a bench piece, a defensive replacement.
This isn't the Pirates' situation, and I fear that isn't going to stop them from squeezing Inge into the lineup on as many days as possible. That, ladies and gentlemen, is bad. So is this:
So when his turn to "hit" arrived, he didn't short-change himself. He took a mighty hack -- without a bat. He watched the imaginary baseball disappear. Then he beat his chest and began to trot.
He slapped five with a first-base coach who forgot to exist. He pumped his fist a couple of times as he rounded second. He low-fived a third-base coach who was nowhere to be found. Then he fired his cap into the sky (“I had to flip the hat. I didn't have a helmet.”) and jumped into a sea of Pirates humanity. Or something like that.
It's March 14th. We're still playing split-squad games. The Pirates haven't definitively set their starting rotation, and the makeup of their bullpen remains in question. And just because it bears repeating, the Pirates' streak of consecutive losing seasons is in danger of entering its third decade.
And yet, the hubris is every bit as real as Inge's bat was imaginary.
It was as historic as spring moments ever get at 9:30 on a Monday morning -- a team working on its walk-offs instead of its PFPs.
“Yeah,” said second baseman Neil Walker. “You don’t see many walk-offs with nobody pitching and nobody on.”
I'm seriously considering spending the entire 2013 season rooting against the Pirates. That's how bad I want everyone who assembled this team to lose their jobs.