March 30, 2011
Tater Trot Tracker
Defining a "Tater Trot"
Note: This piece was written for the excellent Rogue's Baseball Index, a dictionary of terms "that they didn’t teach you in Little League, and that you won’t hear about in the director’s commentary to Angels in the Outfield." You can find the piece over at RBI and at Pitchers & Poets, RBI's parent site. If you like thoughtful writing about baseball, I highly recommend checking both sites out.
The pitcher glowers over the edge of his mitt, staring in at the catcher. A barely perceptible nod of the head and he sets himself before beginning his wind-up. The batter waits impatiently. The pitch. The swing. The bat cracks as the batter makes solid contact with the fastball. The ball screams off the bat; the pitcher snaps his neck back to follow the flight of the ball. The batter pauses for a second as he watches the ball sail over the fence before running down to first. The home run has been hit and the crowd is cheering wildly.
But the play isn’t over. The batter still has 360 feet to traverse before he actually scores a run. The game is on pause until he touches all three bases and home plate; meanwhile, 40,000 eyes are now focused on him rounding the bases.
No other sport does this, pausing the game while the scoring player runs through a certain, prolonged motion. It’s akin to asking Adrian Peterson to run from one goal post to the other after reaching the end zone before his touchdown can be ruled official. Or telling Kobe Bryant that his basket won’t count unless he does four baseline-to-baseline sprints. Or making Alex Ovechkin skate from goalline to goalline and back before they can ring the light.
That’s what baseball does, though, removing all distraction from the field of play and focusing the stadium’s attention on the batter – a single, lone man – as he runs out his obligation, still excited with his success. This home run trot – this tater trot – is not only a moment of in-game euphoria but also a glimpse into the spirit of the batter. After all, how the player handles this excitement and attention tells us a lot about what kind of person he is.
Does he start running the bases at the crack of the bat, hoping for that double, only to pull up and casually jog the rest of the way home once the ball clears the fence? Does he stand at home plate and admire his blast before reluctantly lumbering around the bases? Maybe he never seems to pick up his head once, running as hard on those first few steps out of the box as he does on those last few steps through the plate? Is there joy on his face throughout the circuit? A smirk, maybe? Or is he stone-faced and officious as he celebrates his success?
The answers will be different for every player. The manner in which a player runs out a home run is, after all, a personal thing, influenced by a lifetime spent on the diamond. This intersection of lifetime experiences, personality, talent, and enthusiasm is what makes each and every tater trot unique and worth watching.