Merriam-Webster defines the word fundamental as ‘serving as an original or generating source or serving as a basis supporting existence or determining essential structure or function’. Fundamental Baseball has been lacking on the Northside of Chicago for years, but maybe its just not the Cubs….but baseball in general. The ‘little things’ that do not show up in box scores or the morning game recaps or on ESPN’s highlight reels are what wins ballgames. Taking pitches, making the pitcher work, getting the starter out of the ballgame, going from first to third on a single, hitting behind the runner to advance him, the sacrifice fly to get the run in from third with less than one out.
The Cubs have had a decent spring to this point, but the fundamentals they are working on and improving on….might end up surprising a lot of the experts this season. Watching Team USA Thursday night in the WBC was painful to see from a pure baseball standpoint. The days of the long ball are over throughout baseball. Twenty years ago, was the phrase ‘walk-off home run’ even around? Home runs were a surprise, something special that happened once or twice during a ballgame….if you were lucky. Teams did not depend on the 3-run home run to win the game….they did not expect it.
Like a lot of teams these days, Team USA was built around the long ball, where the other teams were built around team play and fundamentals. At one point, one of Team Mexico’s pitchers recorded 3 outs, on 8 pitches….8 pitches….unbelievable!!! And then in the 9th inning, Team USA had the tying run on second, the winning run on first and only one out….after two walks. Team Mexico switched pitchers and Vernon Wells (Toronto Blue Jays) stepped in with the game on the line. David Cortes threw one pitch and got 2 outs on a 6-4-3 double play….game over….Team USA eliminated. Why didn’t Wells take a pitch or two or three? David Cortes was brought into the game after Luis Ayala left due to an injury. (Luis Ayala’s season is now over; he is scheduled for Tommy John Surgery) Did David Cortes have time to get loose? Could Wells have shown some patience? Maybe David Cortes would have thrown a wild pitch? No one will ever know. Wells made the highlight reel….
How many times do we see today’s player do this? Whether it is Neifi Perez or Vernon Wells the result is still the same. Here are two examples of the little things that did not make the highlight reels.
Jacque Jones on Thursday against the Angels, top of the 1st, 2 outs. He could have just swung at the first pitch, after all its just Spring Training right? But he did not. Jones took pitches, made Weaver work, stroked a single and started a four run rally….with 2 outs, This was not mentioned in many of the game recaps or the box score or the highlight reel….but it led the way for a Cubs victory, and isn’t that what it is all about….the ‘W’. Yes, that was a Spring Training game….but you play like you practice.
This one hurts….The Cardinals were down to their last out in last year’s NLCS. Everyone remembers Albert Pujols’ game winning home run….the one that still has not landed….but that game winning home run would have never happened without David Eckstein. Eckstein singled off of Brad Lidge, with two outs and a 1-2 count. Eckstein’s team before player attitude was contagious. Edmonds drew a walk and Pujols won the game. Eckstein is a good example of a fundamentally sound baseball player; one that enjoys the game and you can see it in the way he plays.
Baseball is rich in tradition….a numbers game, a thinking man’s sport full of strategy, but at the same time it is full of human errors that make the game real and exciting. Is baseball perfect? No. Is anything perfect? The Japanese and Korean teams all take infield and outfield practice, along with batting practice….why? To keep the fundamentals in baseball and in an attempt to always improve….to be a better baseball player, to help the team win.
Since 2002, the most fundamentally sound team has one the World Series. The phrase ‘small ball’ has become the battle cry of many baseball fans. But isn’t ‘small ball’ the way baseball was meant to be played?
Chicks no longer dig the long ball….they love Championships!!!