Back in my days of lightning fast metabolism and the energy of a woodpecker on Jack3d, I was an avid sports competitor.
All you had to do was roll a ball in my general direction and banish me to the backyard. Yet as much as I’d like to say I was a two sport athlete bearing a varsity letterman jacket, with an invitation to the Cape Cod League, I can’t. Reason being, my sport of choice was actually football. Okay… soccer. But technically I can say football. Right? To be honest, I’d be lying if I proclaimed I watched the sport, sans World Cup season. But playing it was a blast.
I remember the first time I was recognized for my play, when an opposing coach ventured over to our sidelines following a Saturday morning match. He extended his hand, and praised, “You’re a heck of a player. I’d take you on my team any day of the week.” What did I do differently that fine fall morning? I got dirty. I hustled. I performed slide tackles through the muddy, Milton soccer field, fresh with that morning’s geese shitting conclave. If only there was a title for my style of play…
People notice dirt dogs. The fans appreciate Boston’s blue collar stars of yesterday and today, forming a silent bond through the TV set, willing your mind to make contact with the Brian Daubach’s of the world.
“Hey,” you think to yourself. “I work hard too. I relate to this guy.”
Suddenly, those of the 1.0 career WAR’s have a following. Pokey Reese sure couldn’t hit, but who’s gonna root against the guy that brushes diamond dirt off the front of his jersey every third inning? Now, put yourself in the shoes of a lazy bones. Reminisce over the likes of Manny Ramirez or Israel Alcantra. Don’t mince my words here, I loved Manny. The lineup was absent of pop without him and while Papi learned how to rake, Ramirez provided him with protection. But I hated seeing his lackadaisical jog to first, in a quarter-ass attempt at voiding an end of inning double play. Or Izzy, the man we hardly knew, allowing a soft fly out to instead drop in front of him, with the Sox broadcast showing replays of him walking towards the ball. You can almost feel the laziness emanating from the boob tube, as the lack of hustle is cruelly highlighted after your ten hour, back breaking Bostonian work day.
Alas, in a time of advanced sabermetrics, exit velocities, and specific-to-a-fault batting splits, some good, ole fashioned hustle and tenacity tends to go overlooked. However in a city such as ours, where pride reigns supreme, the Fenway Faithful are eyes on, year round. And we’ve had the luxury of watching the hustle of Christian Vazquez stretch a single to a double; Pedroia ranging to the left side of second base to gun out a runner at first; Chris Sale busting his ass out of the batters box for a two base hit in an interleague game; and the still young Xander sliding headfirst (all too often) into first base for that 0-2 infield single.
There’s no statistic, amazingly in this day and age, to measure a player’s hustle factor. Baseball Reference does not have a row of excel cells annotating the number of a player’s dirt cloud inducing slides. Buster Olney does not keep track of which players run as if their hair is on fire, feverishly dashing to cut off a gap shot so the runner can’t add a double to his resumé. But that’s what adds glory to the Dirt Dog title! When one of our beloved hometown heroes dons the dreaded golden sombrero to go with a pair of fielding errors, we can curse them and text “DFA this loser,” to our social circles, sure. But a complete 180° lies ahead, as said Dirt Dog will beat feet, eyes on the prize, cleats to the warning track, body into the stands as he’ll selflessly launches himself into the laps of fans, merely attempting to rope in a foul pop up.
A dirt dog resembles grit and hustle. So when you play a 162 game schedule, in 95° summer heat and humidity, going weeks without a day to rest and dealing with the likes of Shaughnessy and Drellich day in and day out, grit is another round in your chamber; another tool for your tool belt. It’s what gives a player the ability to grind out an 11 pitch walk, advancing to 2nd on a bouncing curveball, then scoring on a play at the plate following a bloop single. It might just show up as a 1R in your fantasy team’s box score, or it could be the difference in a 3-2 victory amidst a season where division winners and playoff seeds could be up in the air come the final game of the regular season.
So while players like Bryce Harper quaff their hair, pick dirt out of their fingernails, and look for the best lighting angles prior to a post game interview, I’ll go to war with the grit and tenacity of our Boston Red Sox.
Any day of the week.