In these pre-opening days of baseball, everyone is in training. Bats are swinging, coaches are drilling the run and hit, umpires are girding themselves for verbal abuse and those in the dugout are fine-tuning their patter. The first three of these are standard baseball fare. The patter, though, that is some pure Americana.
On a recent vacation, we spent some time watching several college spring training games. Nothing is more relaxing than to find a sheltered spot in the sun and listen to a dozen 19-year-olds encouraging their teammates.
“Hum babe. Hum babe. HUM BABE.” This, I believe, loosely translates to — well, I can’t even guess what sentiment they are trying to convey. It is highly unlikely, given the setting and the torrent of testosterone pouring onto the field, that these young men are urging the batter to actually, you know, hum. What they probably mean is, “Come on, my good man (aka babe), strike the ball forcefully.” It is preferred, to quote Bull Durham, to hit it where they ain’t.
My friend, Nora, is a true baseball aficionado. She says dugout and outfield chatter falls into three categories: angry (“Hum babe, dammit”), polite (“Hum babe, please”), and neutral (“Ahhh, hum babe”). One coach was especially dissatisfied with the quantity and quality of talk from the dugout. He wanted, and I swear I am not making this up, to hear some “chirping” from his players. Unfortunately, this particular coach was from Queens so it came out that he wanted some “chupping,” which sounds like something you would do after excessive alcohol intake. No one wants chupping in a stuffy dugout. One player, though, was urged to “keep chucking it.” Since I don’t have a clue what this could mean, it was impossible to know if this encouragement was effective.
Baseball is not only known for its inventive forays into linguistics. The sport is uncomfortably tied to some behaviors that, in any other venue, might get a person arrested.
First is all that spitting. Baseball players spit. The coaches spit. The umpires spit. The bat boys spit. If the outfielders could coordinate their spitting efforts, the groundskeepers could turn off the sprinkling system.
Second is the ubiquitous, not to put too fine a point on it, butt slap. Outside of baseball, patting someone on the rear end is suitable in a very narrow set of scenarios. In baseball, though, it’s everywhere. If a player gets to first base, he gets his butt slapped. If he hits a home run and returns triumphant to the dugout, he gets multiple butt slaps and is very nearly mugged. If two players converge on the ball in the outfield and one manages to effect a positive outcome (this means get somebody out), he gets a butt slap.
But butt slaps are not solely celebratory. A good try gets you a pity butt slap. A rank error earns you a commiseration butt slap. A butt slap is an acceptable response to everything except spitting.
Last is what I will delicately refer to as baseball players’ propensity for adjusting things. Personal things. Things that normally, in polite society, are mostly left alone. TV cameras once caught a player sliding back into first base. Something untoward obviously occurred during the slide because once the player was again vertical, he dropped his pants and began an intense rearrangement of every anatomic structure within reach.
When the season begins for real in a couple of weeks, everything — everything — should be in place.
Marla Boone resides in Covington and writes for the Sidney Daily News, Troy Daily News and Piqua Daily Call.