by Tom Weppel
For more than a century now, horse racing has been existent and prevalent, in various stages, within the United States culture. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, the three major Triple Crown races always carried a tremendous amount of fanfare and popularity.
They also all carried a great amount of importance and interest within the sports world…much more so than three of the four major sports we follow today! Only baseball was considered a ‘major’ sport in those days. The NHL, NFL, and NBA were barely, if at all, existent!
What that meant was that the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes were major, major events…on the same level as the Masters (golf) or the Indy 500 (racing) are today. Of course, with the limited media back then, it took a while for things…and results…to hit the streets. Nonetheless, horse racing was special…coveted and respected…in its own right.
And so, when a horse was able to accomplish the feat of winning all three races, it certainly carried a vast amount of super-stardom, without question. Fast-forward to now, and it is almost unfair to try and compare the times of old…even though winning the Triple Crown in this day and age is, and would be, incredible.
That said, it was a huge, huge letdown for the horse ‘I’ll Have Another’ to have been scratched from racing in the Belmont this weekend. There was a strong, solid throng of horse racing fans that were eagerly looking forward to seeing this horse win the race and become the first to capture the Triple Crown since 1978, when Affirmed accomplished the feat. In the last 34 years, other horses had won the first two races, only to have fallen out and not taken the Belmont, for various reasons.
Unfortunately, with I’ll Have Another, it came down to a swollen front leg tendon that came about after a practice run on Friday. The trainers, and other medical experts, determined that the horse could not go for the mile-and-a-half on Saturday.
When the announcement was made on Friday, it was like a bomb had gone off. The whole perspective of the race changed drastically. Plenty of sports fans who barely followed horse racing had no clue who else was even entered to race! NBC…the network covering the event…was dealt a fairly large blow, and a good amount of fans won’t even give a minute of interest as to what happens on Saturday!
What that all means now, is that those of us who even have an inkling of consideration will have to wait one more year to see if it is even possible for a horse to come through and make a challenge to win all three races that make up the Triple Crown. A century ago, we would’ve been talking about it for quite a while. Now, we’ll just move to whatever is that much more interesting or entertaining in the sports world, usually within the next 24 hours…
Now that the Basketball and Hockey seasons are completed (NBA/NHL), our attention can turn to America’s pasttime (if that is indeed still your own belief)…Baseball!
And Major League Baseball is already in full swing, as June will complete the third month of their season.
Watching MLB games on TV, there are certain prevalent tendencies of so many players, depending on what you’re looking for. And there is one action that you can almost be guaranteed to see no matter what the case, no matter who the teams are, and no matter who the players are.
What is it? Chewing and spitting.
Indeed…without question, you can and will easily find a number of guys chewing and or spitting something while playing their game of baseball, especially in the Major Leagues.
Call it a tradition if you wish. I tend to lean more towards considering it a pretty nasty habit. I say that, not being the cleanest guy in the world! But hey! I’m a single male! What else am I gonna do?
Anyway, once I realized I was going to write something about this, the more and more I’ve been tracking it, just to see who does what, and how often. I guess what amazes me more so than anything is how baseball players are able to continuously chew and/or spit during an entire game, no matter what they’re doing!
That’s right! Its not just on the bench, or waiting for an at-bat…players do their thing non-stop, on or off the field! Even during action and their involvement, players are doing some sort of chewing or spitting during games.
And that alone kills me! Why? Because most of the time, in no other sport, do we see the athletes operating or performing with something in their mouth! I also know that during my time working out and participating in physical activity, could I even imagine the possibility of chewing some glob of whatever!
I’d probably end up swallowing most of it, and that alone gives me the creeps! I can imagine it being the same scenario if guys were chewing in the NFL, the NHL, or the NBA! It would be ridiculous!
Even in golf and tennis, do we NOT see the athletes doing any chewing. The PGA and ATP Tours don’t even allow that kind of activity during play. Seriously…can you imagine watching the U.S. Open golf tournament, and seeing the players spitting after shots, between shots, and while lining up a putt!? How about watching Rafael Nadal playing a Wimbledon tennis match with a glob of gum in his mouth, serving and volleying? It’d almost be impossible!
But that is EXACTLY the way it is in Major League Baseball games! Watch the New York Yankees, and you’ll see outfielder Nick Swisher ALWAYS with a lump of something in his cheek! What that something is, I have no idea. It must be something good, or else he wouldn’t have it glued into his mouth the entire time he’s playing!
3B Alex Rodriguez always has a pocketful of seeds (probably sunflower), getting them into his mouth, then spitting the shells out all the time…even while playing! He’s not the only one, but A-Rod is the one we all know about because HE gets the camera time!
So, players do the seeds, but they also do the bubble gum. Cincinnati Reds P Travis Wood chews gum while pitching for the Reds. Watching him do it can almost create self-anxiety!
Managers do this as well. Yankees Manager Joe Girardi chews globs of gum all the time. It allows him to keep his mouth moving while watching games and make decisions as to what to do.
Of course, along with the chewing comes the spitting, and that is done constantly by everyone, on the field, in the dugout, during at-bats…there are no rules to spitting in baseball!
And while seeds and gum seem to be the choices, you will also see an occasional guy or two, such as Reds Manager Dusty Baker, do his job with a tooth pick in his mouth. God help him if he ever swallowed that thing!
One item you will notice that is NOT being used is tobacco. Seems not only has that been slightly banned, it has also been realized how bad it can be in the long run. Back in the day, players chewed tobacco constantly, spitting out tons of juice! That is not the case any more.
If there are certainly guys on the baseball field who usually don’t do any chewing or spitting, I guess it would be the home plate umpires and the team catchers! Those guys have much more on their minds, calling games or pitches, then thinking about the seeds or gum in their mouths!
So, next time you’re watching Major League Baseball, take a minute and simply watch and see who is doing what, on the field, and off. After a while, you might think it gets kinda crazy!