The other day, before a game while the team was taking batting practice, a couple of the players started to play ‘flipping’, a spur of the moment game where different players keep a ball alive by flipping it to another player who usually doesn’t catch the ball but flips it with the back of their gloves to another player without dropping it. Flipping is contagious. More and more players drift into and out of the game for a few minutes until the attention span ends and the players go about their real duties during BP.
Flipping does have a method behind its madness. This season, watching ‘Play of the Day’ you often see players using the ‘flipping’ tactic to make that spectacular play. This week, Rickie Weeks of the Brewers flipped a ball to the shortstop to force out a runner coming into second. A center fielder of the Toronto Blue Jays dropped a ball which then hit the wall of Miller Park and bounced back to him, but he could not control it before it hit the ground (btw…as soon as the ball hit the wall, the ball was considered ‘in play’ regardless of what the fielder did with it after that point). The hitter ended up with a double. Bad flipping.
This gets to the heart of the game during the dog days of summer. Players have a lot of time on their hands. There are just so many things you can work on, during the time on the field during the batting and fielding practice sessions. Which gets is to a pastime which has vanished long ago. Pepper.
When I first went to a ballpark, there were always players gathering behind the plate or near the dugouts playing a strange game between four and five players, one with a bat in his hand and the others grouped in a line about five yards away. One of the players without a bat would throw the ball to the batter who, usually with a fungo bat, would hit it back to another player in the group who would in turn with one motion, throw the ball back to the batter and on and on it went, faster and faster until someone either dropped the ball or missed the throw with the bat. It was a game of quick reaction. During the summer, it went faster and faster as the season progressed. Occasionally, a ball would make it’s way into the stands, either by an errant throw, tipped ball, or a foul. Thus the dreaded signs began to appear behind the plate or between the back screen and the dugout: NO PEPPER.
Most ballparks have banned Pepper today because they claim there is the danger of balls landing in the stands and injuring spectators or because its concentrated play damages the grass on the field. Yekes! Damage the grass? Balls in the stands? Haven’t they heard of foul balls and bats flying into the stands?
Pepper goes back to the very origins of the game. To me, it gave a close up view of big leaguers in a casual setting before the pressure of a game began. They were just like the neighbors next door….real people…laughing, joking around but with numerals on the back of their major league jerseys. “Hey Joe? How about an autograph?” “Later, kid. I’m in trouble here.” as his playing pals began laughing as Adcock dropped the ball. We all began to laugh. All we wanted was the chance to be part of the group, part of the gang. And that’s what Pepper allowed us (yes even kids in the stands) to do.
“Alright you kids. Back to the bleachers. These seats are for big timers.”, the grumpy usher rumbled as he swooshed us up and out of the Box Seats. Reality had set in. Bleachers were reality.
Today, when you look as some of those ballgames on TV as the interleague games end for this season, see if you can find any No Pepper signs. If you do, let me know and we will go to that stadium and catch a game and get there when the gates open.
Chances are, youth will be revisited and there will be a bunch of guys playing pepper somewhere on that field.