Throw Strikes!

An Incomplete Guide of What Not to Shout at a Baseball Game

Spring is so close. Baseball teams have returned to Arizona and Florida. Daylight Savings—the good one—is just on the other side of next weekend. Maybe there’s an end to this pandemic up ahead, and with some luck, each of you reading this story will soon enough find yourself in a lawn chair watching a baseball game on a long, warm, golden evening. Can you feel the grass between your toes? Don’t forget the sunflower seeds. 

We’ll all be rusty on the situations, players and spectators alike. Understandable; it’s been a minute. While the kid playing right field may have forgotten where to throw the ball on a single with a runner on first and two outs, you may have forgotten what to yell at the game. 

Nothing is everywhere at a baseball game. It permeates. For nearly 200 years spectators have filled the nothing between the pitches with chatter. We are compelled to be heard in that nothing. Of course, leaving the nothing as silence is no good either (games with empty stadiums is a recent reminder), but often the nothing is filled with counterproductive, self-evident, too late, passive-aggressive, not-as-clever-as-you-think crap. 

There are any number of sentiments fitting to yell at a baseball game, but there are a handful of phrases that need to be removed from any spectator’s rotation. They gotta go, regardless of intent. That’s what we’re here to start. 

With the help of friends, family, coaches, parents, I’ve collected the following list of things to avoid shouting when at a baseball game. Consider this a living document. Send me what I’ve missed. We’ll work together on it, and in the process we’ll make games, especially youth sports, just a little less dumb. 

Keep your distance, and keep yourself from yelling any of the following at the ballgame.  

Throw strikes! If nothing else comes from this list other than one less person shouting Throw strikes! at a baseball game, then this story will have been worth it.

To the folks who yell that at a game, I ask you: what in the goddamn hell do you think all pitchers, ages 8 to 80, is trying to do? I promise, their intention was not to walk the previous four hitters. Just because they struggle to throw a strike doesn’t mean they forgot the purpose of their presence on the mound. All pitchers, at every level and every game, are trying to throw strikes, so stop shouting that.

Focus! Question: would someone yelling Focus! while you worked help you keep your attention on the task at hand? Similar: Keep your head in the game! 

Tie goes to the runner! You’re superhuman? You have a slow motion feature in your brain? Oh, you don’t? So then maybe ease up on the retired gym teacher umpire making a judgement call on the bang-bang play. In fact, just resist the urge to yell rules, made-up ones—like “tie goes to the runner”—or otherwise.  

Trust your arm. How does one trust his or her arm? Can an arm betray trust? Can an arm earn trust? This phrase is typically something a father will say to his child who he thinks is superior to the hitter. Trust your arm, in other words, is “your average fastball is more than this kid can handle.” Or, consider this: maybe the pitcher isn’t trusting his/her arm because it sucks on that day and the last four batters have hit standup doubles. 

He’s not looking to hit. One of my favorites, ℅  my college buddy Kevin Wiessner. While the spectator is saying this to the pitcher, this is just as much directed at the opposing team’s hitter. He’s not looking to hit is saying no less than “this player is bad at hitting a baseball. So terrible that you, pitcher, don’t need to waste time thinking about pitch selection or location. The only way this hitter hurts you—the only way— is if you can’t throw three strikes.”  

He’s not looking to hit is the combination of Throw strikes! and calling an opposing player trash in one succinct phrase. 

Watch the junk! God love him, my dad would yell this anytime I had two strikes on me in an at-bat. Thinking about a curveball with two strikes is an effective way to watch a fastball go by and strikeout looking. We’ve all been told hitting is very hard, and it happens in less than a second. My advice: don’t put ideas into a kid’s head the moment before he/she needs to make a decision.

In fact, no instruction is helpful from the stands during the game. Practice is the time for instruction. The batting cage is time to work on technique and approach. If you want to fill your kid’s head with bad info, at least do it away from the game. That time is over once the game starts. 

If you’re in the stands, then you are not the coach, so don’t coach. I know it might feel like it, but your 11 year-old’s MLB draft stock will not be impacted by the fourth at-bat in the 9 AM consolation game at the weekend tournament 50 miles on the other side of nowhere. 

Special consideration for “don’t” coaching from the stands. The only thing worse than shouting stay down at the infielder who just a ground ball go between his legs is to shout don’t come up!  Same goes for don’t lunge (when hitting), don’t nibble (when pitching). If you’re committed to shouting dumb things at a baseball game, at least shout what you want. 

Just a long strike! A favorite phrase of the dad who fancies himself the funny guy in the crowd. Typically this one comes out after an opposing cleanup hitter who hit puberty three years before the rest of the kids sends a pitch 400-feet on a line, just foul. While technically true—the foul ball is a strike—psychologically, this was not just a strike. Anyone at the game feels it and knows it to be true. A missile foul ball can be far more damaging to the pitcher’s psyche than a ground ball with eyes.

I understand the intention of trying to get the pitcher to move onto the next pitch, but we can get there without drawing attention to the ball that cratered the hood of a SUV in the parking lot beyond right field. 

Besides, everyone knows a foul ball – be it a bunt or a moonshot – is a strike. It doesn’t need to be said, and it does not deliver the positive reassurance proposed in the phrase. 

Just ‘lets’ us score more! I have saved the worst for last. This is not a common phrase—thank god—and we must keep it that way. 

This embarrassment is the wordcraft of an otherwise excellent coach and mentor. He knows who he is, and it is out of an abundance of respect that I don’t call him by name. Future generations of his family don’t deserve the burden, so great is this crime against the game. 

Coach would like to shout this, almost with a sick glee, when the opposing team was in the frenzie of scoring several runs in an inning. There’s a momentum that comes with the opposition putting together a big inning. With each run, the weight gets heavier, and it gets harder and harder to get out from under it. Even an out is an act of mercy. 

That’s when he’d shout it: Just ‘lets’ us score more! 

What it felt like: 

5 runs deficit? Not a problem! 

8 runs? We’ve done it before! 

10 runs? What an awesome opportunity! 

First, the opposing team scoring a lot of runs did not then let us score more runs. A victory required more runs. Second, big comebacks happen not through blinding positivity, but through a plodding, steady persistence. 

The rebuttal to my argument is that the phrase is about a mindset, of course. It’s not meant to push blind positivity. It’s more of a PG version of an “f-it” mentality. It’s about avoiding a dugout of moping. Moping leads to a little less hustle, and no team’s coming back from a big deficit feeling sorry for itself.

All of that is true and right, but there’s got to be a less lame, bright-eyed way to convey that point. Just ‘lets’ us score more is like yelling “just ‘lets’ us swim!” to the townspeople as the dam breaks. 

So what are some good phrases to yell at a ballgame? It’s pretty simple: heap specific praise on players, especially on the young ones. 9/10 things you shout should be positive. Don’t be the a-hole who only chimes in when his/her kid does something.  If you’re consistently praising all the good stuff, then it’s fine to call out a lack of hustle and mental mistakes, but maybe go with “we” instead of a kid’s name.

You might be wondering, “Who is this guy to tell me what to shout at a baseball game?”

I’m no one, man. But on this, I am right.

– Phil Lang, 03/03/21

 

Since we’re here, we can quickly cover off on some other sports, too, including basketball, hockey, soccer, volleyball, swimming, and more. 

Here’s a start of running list of phrases to avoid: 

Get the ball

Jump

Run

Skate

Shoot

Dribble

Kick (swimming)

Over (volleyball)

Let’s hear some chatter

Look alive

Take the body

Move it

Keep your head in the game

Walk it off

Box out

Any swearing at a youth game, because you’re better than that. 

Not exactly a phrase, but this still ought to go: holding up four fingers to signal the 4th quarter of a football game, as if to say your team owns the fourth quarter. How unoriginal can a “tradition” be?