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Jacobsen: Breaking down Dress-Up day (Sept. 24)

Vicky Jacobsen | Monday, September 23, 2013

A mature baseball fan would use this space to discuss the remaining playoff races or the final home game for Yankees legends Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte.

But I’m a 21-year-old whose happiness rests largely on the pitching arm of Jon Lester. I mostly subsist on a diet of Teddy Grahams. In short, I’m not writing about any of the important or relevant issues in Major League Baseball.

Instead, I’ll focus on the extraordinarily juvenile (but let’s face it, highly entertaining) tradition of Rookie Dress-Up Day.

This is the day when the veteran players on each team kick off the final road trip of the year by stealing the rookies’ clothes and replacing them with horrifying costumes. In these closing days of the regular season, even the Milwaukee residents who long ago gave up on the Brewers season can share a laugh with Braves fans, who have a playoff spot locked up and most likely spent their Sunday tuned into the NFL instead.

If you’ve ever wondered what Detroit Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias would look like if he were forced to wear a Tinker Bell costume, wonder no longer. Could Mike Trout pull off a Lady Gaga get-up? The definitive answer: No. (That was in 2011. In September of his breakout 2012 season, he was simply made to dress up as a baby.)

The 2012 Yankees rookies each dressed as a “Star Wars”character. (Judging by the quality of Darth Vader and Chewbacca costumes procured for the occasion, it appears that the Yankees not only have the highest payroll in the league, but also the highest budget for pranks and other frivolity).

In the absence of strong and organized veteran leadership, some classes of rookies end up in a mismatch of ill-fitting Halloween costumes or brightly-colored Speedos, which is really too bad (for both the rookies and anyone who has the misfortune of spotting them while they travel to their next destination).

But the teams that really do it right force their rookies into matching costumes. The ring-leaders of this escapade in light hazing can honor their location – the San Francisco Giants decided that a visit to New York was a perfect excuse for Naked Cowboy-themed dress-up day. Last fall, Washington Nationals veterans tipped their caps to the recent London Olympics, dressing up Bryce Harper and his fellow rookies as the gold medal-winning women’s gymnastics team for the train ride from D.C. to New York (whether their fellow Amtrak passengers were amused or not, I can’t say).

Now, this is not a time-honored tradition. (Don’t go looking for pictures of Derek Jeter’s rookie dress-up day, he escaped what is now a rite of passage).

As best I can tell, it’s the sort of thing made possible by the Internet. Really, there was little reason for forcing the new outfielder into a woman’s Halloween costume in the days before photographic evidence of the event could be posted online. Personally, I think it’s one of the more entertaining things the Internet has given us.

There are naysayers, of course. For one thing, there are plenty of teams that do a poor job. Last year, the Red Sox had 10 rookie cheerleaders … and one Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. Will Middlebrooks looked very out of place in gingham. This year, Boston went with a shirtless-kilt look, which only confirmed that one does not need to have six-pack abs to play major league baseball.

On a serious note, there are executives who find the antics not so funny when their teams are just a game or two from elimination. I don’t really understand what they’re worried about. Did Angels management truly think wearing a bib for an afternoon would hurt Mike Trout’s concentration at the plate the next day, as was rumored last season?

Honestly, these hijinks are part of what fans love about baseball. Winning games is the goal, but when there are 162 contests stretched over the summer there’s room for levity and silliness.

An NFL coach would never tolerate this sort of stuff, but that’s part of what makes it enjoyable. Football is a game of intensity and focus, of near maniacal attention to detail. All the preparation completed during a week is channeled into three or four hours of ferocity and violence on Sunday afternoon. There’s no crying in baseball, but there’s not much time for laughing in football.

Baseball, on the other hand, has time for mascot races and seventh-inning stretch songs and exchanging of pleasantries at first base. You can still go to a baseball game and get the sense that game was originally intended to be fun.

Thank goodness baseball players still remember a little fun can go a long way.