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Sports Authority

Kelly: In defense of Fernando Tatís, Jr.

| Thursday, August 20, 2020

For months now, the sports world has been starved for entertainment while mired in the depressing depths of the COVID-19 pandemic. Baseball finally injected some excitement back into the lives of sports fans when its shortened 60-game season started in late July, advertised to be a season of high intensity and excitement with an increased focus on regional rivals and each game being worth almost triple value of a standard game in the marathon of a 162-game season.

Yes, the first couple games were exciting, but other sports began their postseasons, and baseball’s lopsided box scores and lengthy game times eventually caused the casual sports fan to lose interest. The usual grumblings of baseball needing to “make the game more interesting” began to arise as complaints of game time and pace of play began to surface in juxtaposition with the restart of the NBA and NHL seasons.

Also, the adjustment and training time that baseball players were robbed of played a factor in the slow start to the season, as pitchers needed to build pitch counts and other position players struggled with timing, injuries and the general aches and pains of getting used to playing this nuanced game once again.

People wanted, and needed, more excitement in the sport in order to keep watching and satiate the complaints of the younger generation for an exciting product. Enter Fernando Tatís, Jr, a young alpha talent that has taken the sport by storm. The 21-year-old, MVP-caliber shortstop for the newly revamped San Diego Padres has set the baseball world ablaze with his power, speed, skill and general flair.

Posting a current stat line of a .316 batting average, .384 on-base percentage and .710 slugging while also leading the league this season in home runs (11), RBIs (28) and bases stolen (six), Tatís is an early leader for National League MVP. That in addition to guiding the Padres into an opportune position to make the postseason and contend for the pennant.

In addition to this impressive stat line, Tatís’ charismatic persona has been integral to Major League Baseball’s efforts to grow the game through fan interaction and media exposure. A personality such as Tatís is a perfect opportunity for the MLB to build an exciting brand by marketing their superstars in such a way that excites the young, casual fan to being to follow and support Major League Baseball. Additionally, a transcendent personality with international ties is a perfect opportunity for the MLB to build its brand outside of America’s borders.

However, despite all of the perceived positives of the shortstop’s game, his hustle and bravado in his play has upset some of baseball’s established managers and players. This is because Tatís has allegedly broken some of baseball’s unwritten rules in this week’s series with the Texas Rangers.

During Monday night’s game, the Padres had built a seven-run lead in the eighth inning when Tatís stepped in the box with a 3-0 count and the bases loaded and proceeded to launch a poorly located fastball five rows deep into the right field bleachers. According to baseball’s “unwritten rules,” Tatís should’ve taken the pitch for a strike while up seven runs, which is how the Rangers’ manager Chris Woodward and reliever Juan Nicasio interpreted the act (and Nicasio threw an even worse fastball behind Manny Machado on the next pitch).

Woodward explicitly voiced his displeasure after the game, citing the aforementioned unwritten rules. Personally, I am all for adhering to baseball’s unwritten rules (hypothetically, if an L.A. Dodger were to throw and hit a Houston Astro in the back, I would be okay with that, hypothetically) but this is not one of those situations.

Easing off the gas pedal is for Little League baseball, not in a Major League season where every game is worth more, and on a slow fastball right down the middle no less. Furthermore, the Padres bullpen is injury-riddled and prone to blowing big leads, so Tatís is perfectly justified in hitting this grand slam.

As many baseball Twitter pundits stated, Nicasio should simply throw a better pitch and there would not be any controversy. The general consensus of the players is echoed by Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer, tweeting that Tatís should “keep bringing energy and flash to baseball and making it fun” while also advising that the only thing Tatís did wrong was apologize.

Tatís is perfect for baseball and will only do good things for the expansion of the game throughout the younger generations. The “baseball purists” need to allow players to have fun and do exciting things on the field; it is simply best for the game.

Although unwritten rules will always have a place in the game, this is not one of those times. Let exciting players hit home runs and steal bases. In the vein of last summer’s response to baseball purists trying to suppress showboating and flair, older authorities need to “let the kids play.” Only then will the game flourish and find passion amongst the upcoming generations.

On a concluding note, Tatís essentially expressed his thoughts on the matter by breaking another one of baseball’s “rules” in stealing third base the next night while up big on the Rangers, and while also choosing his walk-up song to be “Cry Me a River” by Justin Timberlake.

In the long run, superstars like Tatís will be essential and successful in growing the game of baseball through their exciting play and personal flair and bravado, granted that they are able to overcome the naysaying of baseball purists and the outdated “unwritten” rules of the game. Just let the kids play, and everything will be okay.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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