This writer, as a young boy, loved a game we called “Running Bases.” I couldn’t get enough of it. I would enlist my dad and kid brother, my older sister, or anyone else I could charm or annoy into playing until they lost interest in it. It worked like this:
Minimum requirements: At least three people, one ball, and a short outdoor space suitable for running up and back.
(If this is a little slow-moving for you, stick with it. It gets better after I explain the game.)
Two of the players would be assigned or volunteer to be the basemen. Each would position themselves at their assigned base. Let’s call it first base and second base. The bases could be an actual base, a drawn box, or a drawn line of any length.
All remaining players would be the runners. If more than one runner was playing at a time, a base line rather than a base or drawn box is preferable.
The runner or runners start the game by standing in the middle between the two basemen. The first-baseman will then throw the ball over the head(s) of the runner(s) to the second-baseman and the game is on. The object of the game for the runners is to either advance to second base or to safely return to first base without getting tagged by a baseman with the ball. For the basemen, the object is to tag the runner(s) while they are between bases.
As a boy, the game fascinated me and was a chance for me to practice – without anyone keeping records – making a quick judgment on when and where to run, and risking failure in order to have the rewards of success. Translation: When the second-baseman has the ball, move back towards first base and bait the second-baseman, who is then chasing you, into throwing the ball. Then, precisely at the right moment, change direction and bolt back towards second base.
In baseball, my game is called a rundown. And as I grew up, and played more competitively, it was one thing I was good at.
The “Moment” of action, the moment you know is the exact split-second to commit and change direction or bolt towards success, is what you need to appreciate in order to understand Bryce Harper.
Bryce Harper, despite the multi-million dollar professional investment in him, plays and loves a child’s game called baseball. FP Santangelo, Bob Carpenter’s color-man during daily MASN broadcasts of Nats’ games, likes to joke that Harper keeps running around the bases until he is tagged out. His joke, of course, is not to be taken literally but as a statement of appreciation for the aggressive and fearless way Harper makes an instantaneous decision to bolt towards the next base when given a split-second opportunity by a fielder’s hesitation, poor approach to the ball, or complacency.
Fans at the games, as well as fans across the country, have been energized watching Bryce, knowing that at any point in the game a “Moment” may appear that ignites Bryce, to their delight. A steal of home against the Phillies when the pitcher did what is usually a routine pickoff attempt on the trailing runner on first. A single stretched into a double when the outfielder did not charge towards his base hit. And he did it again. And then again. Old school baseball reincarnated.
On one outing at the Mall this year Bryce was gracious enough to take a few swings with a group of slow-pitch softball players. I bet he would enjoy a good game of “Running Bases.”
–By Zev Feder, a long-time Southwest resident a life-long passion for baseball as a player, coach and, above all, fan