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Second to none

Props to baseball's underappreciated scrappers

Posted: Monday April 16, 2007 1:26PM; Updated: Monday April 16, 2007 6:08PM
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Kelly Johnson
Kelly Johnson underwent Tommy John surgery in the offseason, so the Braves stuck him at second base.
Rich Pilling/MLB Photos via Getty Images
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Baseball has returned, and with it, watching sports has become a peaceful crawl. This is not basketball, with screaming broadcasters and artificially generated excitement. This isn't hockey, with its violent collisions and dentally challenged warriors. This is baseball, which is all, you know, pastoral. The announcers are older men who sound like our grandparents, speaking in muted voices, recalling stories from spring trainings of yore. The fans are laid-back, keeping score on a pad in their lap while shucking peanuts onto the cement floor. Most exciting to me, there's ample strategy to observe, as pitchers try to outfox batters who are trying to outfox the same pitchers.

I've fully embraced the start of baseball this season, thanks in part to the allure of baseball's glacial pace, but also thanks to the return of MLB's Extra Innings package to digital cable and also Alyssa Milano's compelling blog. And perhaps more than anything else, my renewed joy of baseball has been influenced by my brethren, the second basemen.

According to Wikipedia, "the second baseman often possesses quick hands and feet, needs the ability to get rid of the ball quickly, and must be able to make the pivot on a double play." Like many things on Wikipedia, this isn't entirely true. We second basemen (I played in high school) are usually little guys, the smallest players on the team. If they have quick hands and feet, it's probably because they've had to run for their lives in pursuit of conflict avoidance for years. Second basemen are bulldogs, feisty runts who play with vinegar and bile. Being a Braves fan, when I initially think of second base I think of Marcus Giles, Mark Lemke, Glen Hubbard -- short men with dirty uniforms. These days I think of Dan Uggla or even the burly Ronnie Belliard. I think grit, not glamour.

If I was a Major Leaguer, I'd be a second baseman. During my undistinguished high school baseball career I actually was a second baseman. I liked to think that I was positioned at second for my defense or because the coach believed he needed my bat in the lineup, but I knew the truth: It was because I wasn't a very good baseball player. I could field most grounders, but my arm was weaker and less accurate than that of Cincinnati mayor Mark Mallory. So our coach put me in at second.

I did not look like the type of athlete who appears in fitness advertisements, but after all, it was baseball. Take one look at Braves closer Bob Wickman and it immediately suggests that prime physical conditioning and success in baseball are not mutually exclusive, regardless of position. And at second base I was able to find consistent playing time, my fitness level notwithstanding.

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