To the average baseball fan, there are many different types of players. There are pitchers, catchers, infielders, and outfielders; there are home run hitters, contact hitters, and speedsters; but to someone who really loves and appreciates the game, there are really only two kinds of baseball players, those who are ballplayers and those who are not.
The tenth edition of the Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines ballplayer as a noun that means “a person who plays ball; especially a baseball player.” Under this definition, everyone who played the game would be a ballplayer, but this is very far from the truth.
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What separates the ones who are ballplayers from those who are not? Skill and ability have little to do with it. A player does not have to be successful to be a ballplayer either. Being a ballplayer does not take a high batting average, a low ERA, a World Series Championship, or a multi-million dollar sports contract. A ballplayer’s name is not necessarily known outside of the game’s inner circle or his team’s hometown. So what is a ballplayer?
A ballplayer can be described in many ways. At the least, he is an overachiever who makes the most out of himself by possessing a strong work ethic. He is a hustler who is tough and gives his all every play of the game. A ballplayer has a great feel for the game derived from countless hours of practice and countless innings of play. He possesses great knowledge of the game of baseball. He is a team player and he is a winner. Ballplayers are not usually flashy. They are dependable, they love to play, and they are the types of players coaches want on their team.
A believer in the value of a ballplayer is Jim Leyland, one of the most respected coaches in the world. He led a low budget Pittsburgh Pirate team to multi-divisional titles in the early nineties and took a team of free agents in Florida to the Marlins’ first World Championship. He once told the owner of a team, “Give me three good players and six ballplayers and I will never lose a game.” He believed that the problem with his winning equation was not finding the good players, but finding the ballplayers to go with them.
Baseball historians often talk about the “Golden Age of Baseball” in the early to mid-twentieth century. To many, these were the greatest times the game has ever seen, and it is no coincidence that this was probably “the age of the ballplayer” as well. This was a time when players played every day for the love of the game. There were no contract disputes and players took pride in their team. Most wore the same uniform their entire careers and were more concerned with the team’s record than their salary. A player introduced himself to others as a baseball player, not a professional athlete. Baseball was their life, they loved it, and it made the game as pure as it has ever been.
Today ballplayers seem to be a dying breed. In a time where the home run is what makes money and sells tickets, it is more difficult to find as many ballplayers as there used to be. Teams are lucky to have more than three guys on their team who personify this special breed of player. Teams that have more are usually the teams that win more. Ballplayers are the best-kept secret in the major leagues today.
At the next baseball game, you get the chance to see try to pick out the ballplayers. To identify them do not look at the colour of their skin, their position on the field, where they fit in the lineup or the statistics under their name; instead look for the player who lays down a bunt to put a runner in position to score, who sacrifices his body to break up a double play, or who looks like he is playing hurt. He is probably the most intense person on the field, although I will guarantee there is no one in the stadium enjoying themselves more. If all else fails, at the end of the game find the player with the dirtiest uniform. Nine out of ten times you will find yourself a ballplayer.
Baseball is the greatest game in the world. The game has lived in the history of the United States for over 130 years and it is our national pastime. Baseball will always hold a special place in the heart of America and ballplayers will always be the heart of the game.
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