The Rosin Bag Bag

During most baseball games, there are eight people calling the action. Both the home and away teams have radio and television broadcasts, and most of those crews consist of a play-by-play announcer and a color commentator. If those teams have a Spanish language broadcast, the number is even higher. More often than you might think, something notable happens in the middle of a game and not one of those eight people notes it. Maybe a player will square around to bunt but end up taking the pitch, and that detail just goes unremarked upon by everyone. It’s a small detail, but it’s part of the story of the game. It tells you about the batting team’s strategy and their confidence in the hitter. It informs the defense’s pitch selection and positioning. Maybe the television crews figure you already saw it. Maybe the radio crews need to squeeze in a promo or the color guy’s in the middle of an anecdote about that one time he got to be an extra in Little Big League. There’s only so much time between pitches, and the announcers all have a decision to make on how best to fill it. Either way, if you’re listening on the radio, or if you’re looking away from your television for a moment, you’ll never know it happened at all.

Something happened on Wednesday, in the first game of a doubleheader between the Tigers and Pirates. I found it remarkable, but apparently I was alone. No one else mentioned it. The Pirates were starting Jared Jones and Paul Skenes that day, and I was watching Detroit’s television broadcast. I did so partly because Jason Benetti is a delight, but mostly because when Jones and Skenes are on the mound, it’s fun to hear the opposing announcers react with awe as they watch batter after batter on their own team get taken apart limb from limb. Unfortunately for both Jones and me, the Tigers avoided dismemberment, hanging five earned runs and two unearned runs on Jones en route to a breezy 8-0 victory. On the bright side, Benetti and Kirk Gibson, who was serving as color commentator, decided that for much of the game, the best way to spend their time was by bickering like an old married couple.

Benetti: Do they know you at your local donut shop?

Gibson: No.

Benetti: They know you as the guy who orders all the chocolate fry cakes.

Gibson: I don’t. I’m on the sugar free now, so I’m not doing it now. So nobody knows.

Benetti: Well, everybody knows you’re on the sugar free diet because you keep saying it.

Gibson: Yeah, but you keep asking me if I like stuff with sugar on it. And I say no, they don’t know me because I’m not getting them. Although… well… my grandson brought me one over today. So I did it where nobody could see.

Benetti: So you did eat sugar, but you’re yelling at me for saying that I would offer you something with sugar. But you then went and ate it?

Gibson: If that’s yelling, I would peg you at about a year-and-a-half old.

Benetti: [Laughing] Swing and a miss, strike three. Keith strikes out.

In the top of the seventh, as Tarik Skubal was just about finished grinding the Pittsburgh lineup into a fine paste, Benetti mentioned that Skubal does the USA Today crossword before every start. Skubal discussed the ritual on Benetti’s podcast a few weeks ago. He takes it seriously. If he gets stuck, he’ll have catcher Jake Rogers, who also does the crossword every day, provide alternate clues. If Rogers is stumped too, Skubal checks the answer on his phone. He didn’t have any trouble on Wednesday. “I got through it pretty good,” Skubal told reporters. “Rog only had to help me on the bottom left.” After telling this story, Benetti pulled out a copy of the puzzle and handed it to Gibson, saying, “I swiped one of the crosswords from the clubhouse, and I was wondering if maybe by the end of the game you could just finish the crossword.” It was the first time I’d ever heard a play-by-play announcer give the color commentator homework.

There was a time in my life when I did the USA Today crossword. In 2007, I was a marketing assistant at a law firm. It was my first job after college, and on most days, there was literally no work at all for me to do. The firm had several blanket subscriptions for its employees, which meant that I could sign into just about any major newspaper and do the crossword puzzle, so that’s what I did all day. I would do the New York Times crossword, then the two Washington Post crosswords, then the USA Today crossword. Last, I’d go to the Wall Street Journal, which had all of its Sunday crosswords available in an archive, and work my way back until it was time to go home. In my five months at that job, I made it through several years’ worth of Wall Street Journal puzzles.

I learned many things at that job. The most important thing I learned was that time and energy are precious resources, and that we should make the most of them. I eventually gave up crossword puzzles. I still love them and I’ll do them if I’m ever on vacation, but I wanted to read and write and make things, and I figured that’s where my energy should go. However, the first thing I learned at that job was that the USA Today crossword puzzle is an absolute joke. It’s a travesty. It is the easiest crossword puzzle imaginable. It belongs on a kid’s menu. While that annoyed me at the time, I now realize that that also makes it a fantastic puzzle to do right before a start. The USA Today crossword is an incredible confidence booster. It makes you feel like the smartest human being who has ever lived. It’s like playing one-on-one against an 8-year-old. It makes you feel 10 feet tall. It should be prescribed like medicine for any pitcher who needs to start trusting their stuff and going after batters.

In the top of the eighth. Benetti finished reading a promo for Comerica Park’s first annual Pickleball Night, then he started in on Gibson. The result was like something out of Beckett.

Benetti: You play pickleball?

Gibson: Not lately.

Benetti: But you have.

Gibson: Yeah.

Benetti: Are you good at it?

Gibson: I don’t move very good anymore, but yeah, I was. You gotta… I don’t like it because you can’t go in the kitchen.

Benetti: Whose kitchen?

Gibson: The pickleball kitchen.

Benetti: My kitchen?

Gibson: Pickleball.

Benetti: Like if you were playing against me?

Gibson: No. Your own kitchen.

I think what Gibson meant was that in pickleball, you can’t just wind up and smash the ball right at somebody, but we’ll never know for sure. With Mason Englert about to deliver an 0-2 pitch to Alika Williams, a gust of wind sent a small white rectangle cartwheeling up the back of the pitcher’s mound and deposited it on the peak, directly in front of Englert. Because the broadcast was on a closeup of Englert, and because Bally Sports has the largest on-screen graphics known to humankind, obscuring the entire bottom of the picture, there was no way of knowing what the rectangle was or where it came from.

Just as Benetti was trying to clarify which kitchen Gibson was talking about, Englert called time out and bent over to pick up the rectangle. The rectangle had other ideas.

Home plate umpire Doug Eddings called timeout and stepped out toward Englert. Although the microphones didn’t pick it up, someone in the vicinity of the third base dugout advised Englert to deposit the rectangle underneath one of the rosin bags. The reason I can say with confidence that the brilliant rosin-bag-as-paperweight gambit came from that direction is that Eddings then turned toward the third base dugout. “That was mine,” he shouted, regarding the timeout. “Great idea,” he shouted, regarding the great idea.

At least I think that’s what happened. It’s also possible that Eddings shouted, “That’s my great idea!” which I would totally get. It was a pretty great idea, and if I’d come up with it, I’d want credit too. I spent the rest of the game wondering what the rectangle was. Was it a piece of paper that fan dropped onto the field? Was it some sort of extra-large defensive positioning card? How did it make it all the way up the mound? Yesterday, I went back and watched the play on both television broadcasts and with all four audio feeds. The other three never even mentioned that a timeout had taken place. They all had more important things to discuss. However, the video from the Pirates broadcast revealed the identity of the mysterious rectangle. It was a rosin bag, sort of.

As it turns out, it was the bag that holds the rosin bag, the rosin bag bag. Apparently, pitchers aren’t to be trusted with an unprotected rosin bag, lest they reach heretofore undreamed-of levels of stickiness. They may only touch it through a second bag. The rosin bag holds rosin (which is technically resin), and the rosin bag bag holds the rosin bag. Simple as pie.

In the bottom of the fifth inning, Jones surrendered a three-run homer to Matt Vierling. He then did what pitchers often do while they’re waiting for their tormentors to jog around the bases: He went to the rosin bag. In doing so, he managed to remove the internal bag from the external bag. Maybe it was an accident. Maybe the bag wasn’t fully closed. Maybe he was just really frustrated and he needed his rosin pure and uncut. Either way, there were two bags on the mound before the pitch and three on the mound after it.

I was watching the game pretty closely, and at some point, I did notice that there was a third bag on the mound. However, I chalked it up to the fact that it had rained earlier, figuring that the third was needed because the first two were wet, and promptly forgot about it. Somehow the external bag — which was sitting on an elevated platform, weighed approximately 12 grams, and had the exact same shape, composition, and overall aerodynamics of a sail on a windmill — managed to stay in place for more than two innings. Then in the top of the eighth, it started to get restless.

A few pitches later, after nearly an hour at base camp, the bag finally decided that the conditions were right to make its ascent. And then, just one pitch later, it was gone.

If you’d looked away from your television for a moment, you never would’ve known that any of this had happened. On the Tigers broadcast, although Benetti acknowledged that time had been called, neither he nor Gibson ever mentioned the reason for it. He was trying to puzzle out exactly what Eddings had yelled.

Benetti: What did he just say? What did Doug Eddings just say? That was mine, my timeout? I think it was his timeout.

Gibson: I’m not sure what he said. You were talking about pickles.

Benetti: Pickleballs specifically. Broken bat, second base, Keith. Would you say Keith speared it?

Gibson: You’re still on the pickles?

Benetti: It’s your choice.

Gibson: No, koshered it.

Benetti: Was it a little jarring for you?

[Silence, followed by audible chuckles from Benetti.]

Gibson: Could you stop? You’ve been on it all game.

Benetti: OH YEAH —

Gibson: Give me a break.

Benetti: — It’s been me! Definitely me.

Gibson: Hey, how you coming on that crossword puzzle?

Many thanks to reader and pickleballer thehaze, who explained that the kitchen, also known as the non-volley zone, is the seven-foot section on either side of the net where it is illegal to play the ball on the fly.

There. Now we’ve all learned something about pickleball.

Davy Andrews is a Brooklyn-based musician and a contributing writer for FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @davyandrewsdavy.

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1 month ago

Tigers broadcast definitely improved w/ Benetti coming aboard, but maybe they’re getting their water from Flynt, and Benetti has been infected w/ Detroit Broadcast Inanity Virus, ’cause he can’t seem to leave poor old Gibson be. Gibson is terrible, I’m sorry he’s ill, but he shouldn’t be in the broadcast booth, and Benetti can’t seem to help himself from torturing him.

1 month ago
Reply to  Oneear

Yeah, it’s a shame because Gibby was really good once upon a time. Probably my favorite Tigers broadcast team ever is Josh Lewin & Gibby from the late 1990’s-early 2000’s. Lewin was (is) awesome & Gibby still had the analysis & humor that he has now..but, was much more energetic. The Parkinson’s has taken such a toll. He just sounds physically weak.

My gut says Gibby loves the needling & I do find myself chuckling with these 2.

Benetti is awesome. Such a joy after years of the robotic, boring Matt Shepherd. I also really like Carlos Pena when he does Tigers game.