“Tell me what position a man plays, and I can describe his hobbies, his personal life and the current state of his sock drawer.” – Casey Stengel
OK, Casey Stengel never actually said this. But the Hall of Fame manager should have, because it’s true. I’ve played on, coached and covered a lot of baseball teams, and the position you play says at least a little something about you. Exceptions do exist; articulate third basemen have been spotted—although rarely, like seeing the aurora borealis from Florida. But for the most part, certain positions attract certain types of people.
You are simultaneously the most serious and the goofiest guy on the team. You’re serious on game day because you play the most demanding position on the field. Except for a quarterback, the pitcher is the most important player in team sports. Think about it. If you are an amazing pitcher surrounded by eight Neanderthals, you still have a shot at winning. But put a weak-armed Neanderthal on the mound, and you’re probably going to lose, even if the pitcher is surrounded by eight all-stars. You’re also a complete goofball, because pitchers have so much downtime. Pitchers lead all teams in setting their teammates’ shoelaces on fire.
You make the best friends, spouses and—eventually—coaches. Why? Communication. The key to any good relationship is communication. You talk to coaches every inning. That means you learned to talk to adults at a young age. You know how to settle a pitcher down. You work the ump for strikes. You set the infield. You remember the other team’s tendencies and know how to take advantage of them. Lots of strategy and politicking. A good catcher talks to just about everybody on the field, and this prepares you for life. Many years down the road, when you are forced into long conversations about wedding centerpieces with your fiancée, you will be ready.
No offense, and this isn’t always the case, but you are usually a coach’s son or one of the lesser-skilled players on the team—someone whose interest in baseball and picking dandelions runs about 50/50. That’s not to say there aren’t great first basemen. There are. And maybe you’re one of them. You might be an athletic fielder who can outstretch Van Damme and save a fellow infielder when he goes all Ricky Vaughn on a routine grounder. But in many cases, you are just good enough defensively to avoid screwing things up. Your saving grace: first basemen are often among the best sluggers on the team and can smack the crud out of the ball at the plate.
Small. Angry. Overlooked. As the shortstop’s runner-up, you have a chip on your shoulder. So you grit your teeth, swear you’ll prove everybody wrong, take your position and wait for your chance. And wait and wait and wait and wait. But nobody ever hits the ball to second. The chip on your shoulder grows larger over time until either:
- You accept your lot in life as a second baseman and take your aggression out by leading the team in triples.
- You sit down in the middle of the third inning of a game and gently weep.
- You leave baseball and become a Navy SEAL.
Shortstops are reliable. You’re consistent. You field grounder after grounder, day after day. The virtue of repetition is drilled into your skull. In a way, this makes you boring. You discover early in life the secret to success is logging the hours every day and slowly improving. But the often-tedious road to incremental improvement has an exciting destination. When you can make the tough play look easy, you can make the impossible possible. This is how Derek Jeter, who may be the most boring human being on Earth, has been one of the game’s most dazzling performers for two decades. Shortstops are cello players in cleats.
You are generally not the brightest guy on the team. Third base is a reacting position. Fielding hard grounders and line drives is like being punched with the ball. All of the characteristics that make someone a good boxer—light feet, quick hands, lack of concern for your well-being—also make you a good third baseman. But like most lunks, the third baseman has a big heart, which is why you’re also the most reliable guy on the team—on the field and off. No statistics back this up, but if a stranger ever helped you change a tire or returned your wallet after you lost it, odds are he was a third baseman.
Not much happens in right field. Most people assume you are just a cannon arm activated by a shriveled monkey brain. But still waters run deep, and you are a far more complex individual than you get credit for. All the time you spend standing around in the outfield gives you the freedom to contemplate life’s many mysteries—like Why are we here? What does it all mean? and How come some dogs walk in circles before they lie down? It’s hard to tell unless people get to know you, but the right fielder is the team philosopher. He’s the kid who doesn’t say much, but when he does, it’s inspirational, hilarious or deep. Aristotle would have played a mean right field.
Typically the flashiest guy on the team. Your cleats are brighter. Your socks are higher. Your sunglasses are more reflective. Your car is nicer than the coach’s. Center field is a glamorous position. A team gets its swagger from you. You’re responsible for covering the largest area on the field. Much like a shutdown corner in football, this requires the services of a player who thinks he can do far more than he actually can. But it’s your unflinching willingness to go over the wall, make the dive or rifle the ball home that sets you apart from the rest of the team. Centerfielders have a very high opinion of themselves. No one should blame you. You have to think highly of yourself. You wouldn’t be a centerfielder if you didn’t.
Left field is the Arby’s of baseball positions. No one plans to be there. You just kind of end up there for some reason and you’re not sure why. This fact is not lost on you. As the guy who plays the least physically demanding position on the field, you are quite aware that your place on the team hangs by the thinnest of threads. One dropped ball or an o-for-12 slump and you are on the bench. So you naturally develop interests outside of baseball. In a nutshell: You are someone who has read the entire “List of Vampire Traits in Folklore and Fiction” Wikipedia page and can talk about it at length.