It was a beautiful day in Houston, with the roof closed at Minute Maid Park. The Houston Astros were hosting the Milwaukee Brewers. Four pitches into the game, Milwaukee’s starting pitcher, Zach Greinke, who was going for his 10 victory of the season before he All-Star break, with a runner on third, raced to the first base bag to take a toss from Hart. The ball, Greinke and the runner arrived at the base at the same time. “SAFE!” came the call from the first base umpire, Sam Holbrook.
Thus began one of the strangest plays in baseball history. Greinke, upset at himself for not getting to the base in time, threw the ball down in disgust. The first base umpire ejected him from the game. Greinke had said nothing. It was the umpire’s interpretation that Greinke had thrown the ball down to disgrace the umpire’s call.
Truth be told, there must be a story of tremendous proportion behind all of this. Why else would such a thing happen? Umpires are not supposed to affect the outcome of a game.
Back in the day, Sam Holbrook was raised a good student who earned his bachelor’s degree and his Master’s degree from Eastern Kentucky University. He came up to the Major Leagues as an umpire in 1996 after spending time in the Appalachian League, Midwest League, Carolina League, Texas League and the International League. He played the game while in college. With a nod to Woody Allen, “Those who can’t play …. umpire.”
Through the years, Sam has had a bit of a rep. Of import is that Sam Holbrook lead all umpires in ejections in 2006 with 11 tosses. He now has, with the eviction of Mr. Greinke, 44 ejections in his career in The Show.
But what few people know is, Sam can’t help himself. Even the higher ups in the baseball establishment find all of this hard to believe. You see, it seems Sam is a pickle fanatic. His preference: kosher dill. The more sour the better. ‘He loves them sour dills that make your face perk all up and purse the lips tight while fightin away the bitter taste. Them’s good eatin, Sam.’
It’s just a guess, but he probably went over to The Swinging Door after the game Friday and instead of chewing on the peppers that are in the bowls on the tables, he chose instead to munch on a fresh kosher dill…but this was a Texas Pickle. Pucker power. The Swinging Door down in Sugarland, across the railroad tracks, is a CzechMex barbeque joint of tremendous reputation. Note I said, CzechMex as in Czechoslovakia. It seems immigrants from that land came to Texas and loved TexMex so much they put their own twist on things. The Texas Pickle is a result of all that. They are just pickles revisited. You take a large container of dill pickles, drain, add copious amounts of sugar, lots of tabasco, add garlic slices and ‘re-pickle’ them. Voila! Texas Pickles.
Sam can probably tell you all about the pickle. Did you know that cucumbers were probably first pickled 4,500 years ago in Mesopotamia? Sam would know that. Asia consumers more pickles per capita than any other region. Sam must know pickles. Pepperoncini is a pickled pepper, also called Tuscan pepper. Sam knows.
Sam, Sam, Sam.
What you eat is who you are. Sam must have eaten a sour pickle on Friday (hopefully he didn’t eat it for breakfast on Saturday). How else could you possibly imagine what he did at Saturday’s game in the first inning after four pitches. Umpires are not supposed to affect the outcome of a game. By throwing out Greinke after four pitches of Saturday’s game, he violated the basic rule of an umpire.
No more pickles for you, Sam. No mo.
The next time you see Sam at a ballpark near you, please, do not give him the pickle. Trust me.