I was sorry to hear about the passing of former Major Leaguer, Bill Buckner, who played several seasons with the Boston Red Sox here in the 1980s. Buckner played first base for not only the Red Sox, but also the Cubs, Angels, Dodgers, and Royals. Buckner will remain an important part of Red Sox history, not only for his ability to hit the baseball but also the one play that unfortunately defined him for decades. The Red Sox fans have long since forgotten and forgave the first basemen for “that play” in the 1986 World Series. And love and support replaced any anger or frustration over the years, none more evident than when Billy Buck threw out the first pitch of the 2008 season at Fenway Park.
The role of the first basemen is multi-faceted. Fielding ground balls from tough lefthanders pulling the baseball down the first base line. Charging and making a play on a bunt. Receiving throws from all angles of the infield – catcher, pitcher, third, shortstop, second, sometimes short right field. Stretching out to meet the baseball. Digging out a short hop throw from deep shortstop. Coming off the bag to snag an errant throw to tag a sprinting base runner. And, then there is the social aspect of being a first basemen.
Your opponent gets a base hit, passes the bag at first base, and then returns to take his/her spot at first base. The first basemen walks over to the bag, kicks the dirt around, looks at his/her opponent, and then starts the process of socializing with the other team. Perhaps, the first base coach from the other team gets the conversation started. Or, the first basement starts by a simple gesture, a nod, a tap on the leg with your glove. Another scenario is you and the runner know each other from school, are former teammates, or perhaps teammates on another team. The conversation and interaction begins. And you, the first baseman, have a responsibility to be in that moment at that position. No matter how much you like or dislike that player at first base, you have to be in position to cover that base runner now. On the “little field”, this is not so regular as runners can only advance on a wild pitch or after the ball is put in play or when the ball crosses the plate. But on the “big field”, the first basemen must hold the runner on, because that runner can lead, steal, and potentially advance to another base or bases.
So, will you be sarcastic? Will you be distracting? Will you be congratulatory? Will you talk about video games? How about the prom coming up? Who are you taking? What is your favorite Star Wars film? What batting gloves are those, those are cool? Is Jimmy Trevino playing for you this year? Can I have some of your sunflower seeds? The first baseman social minute or two you have with a base runner can be fun filled or awkward depending on the two of you. Heated rivals will stare each other down, less talk and more tension during your social minute. Buddies will have fun with the moment, teasing, heckling each other until your base running buddy moves onto second base. Sometimes, you have to play mediator if the base runner was hit by a pitch or doesn’t like your third baseman for whatever reason. Some first basemen will use their social skills to distract the base runner into making a baserunning error, like getting picked off first base or getting a slower jump to second on a steal.
Thinking about Buckner, I can’t imagine the hundreds of base runners he got to meet as he greeted them at first base. The same can be said for my playing career in middle school, high school, and briefly in college. I met tons of players from neighboring towns and cities here in Rhode Island. And I got to play with some of these players on Babe Ruth and American Legion teams as I got older. And a few of them when I got to Springfield College. I was a socially outgoing first basemen. “Good hit, dude,” was so easy for me to say and was my typical introduction. Most would acknowledge me, some snubbed their nose at me. Ultimately, you have to be yourself at first base and I was definitely not afraid to start the social minute.
As a former first basemen now watching my son and others play first base, I am always curious about the social life of a first basemen. Watching these kids interact at first base is a great social exercise for these anti-social teens of this generation. The meet and greet, the compliments, the psychology of the social minute at first base is fascinating for me to watch and be a part of. The social life of a first basemen teaches the players how to interact with others, how to resolve conflicts perhaps, and maybe how to strategically put your opponent (the base runner) at a disadvantage during a game. So, first basemen talk it up over there at first base. Your social skills for when the game is over and you walk outside of the base paths will take a huge leap in a positive direction.