Photo by trpnblies7
One third of a standard baseball field is covered in dirt. From the area covered in dirt, a little less than one third is where I make my livelihood. This area is called shortstop. Shortstop is my office, my sanctuary, and my home. This is where I go to work, where I go to play, and where I go when I need get away from the action.
The position of shortstop is arguably the most demanding defensive position on the field. There is a certain mindset that is required of a good shortstop. You are defense. You have to be thinking ahead to every possible situation that might occur with this next pitch. You need to know where to go, where to tell your teammates to go, and where the ball needs to end up to make an out.
When a ball is hit in your vicinity, it is your sole responsibility to field it and get it to first base as quickly as possible, before the runner arrives. Nothing is supposed to get through the dirt at shortstop as long as you are there. You are depended on to protect shortstop, and you depend on it to give you good hops on the dirt that day. If you are getting bad hops, you are supposed to pick a good one and get it, before the ball starts bouncing weirdly.
Some days, shortstop can be friendly, but a lot of days it can be unforgiving. Was the dirt hard or soft that day? Was the dirt smoothed out or choppy? Was the dirt dry or muddy? On any given day, shortstop can have different personalities. If you respect the position and the area, it is more likely to be forgiving.
Sometimes shortstop is fun. Making the play, being the hero, and getting the chance to smile on the field. Standing alone on that dirt after you make a big play is so rewarding. Knowing that everyone just saw your play and that all eyes are on you at that following moment. There are times when you don’t perform as you were expected to and you make an error. Then it feels like you are standing alone on that dirt with all eyes of disappointment glaring into your soul. This is when the position is most difficult. Then, you have to be ready for the next play no matter the result of the previous play.
Whenever you are at shortstop, you know that you are alone. If you are playing well, it is easy to keep your chin held high. In the situations where you might not be having a good game or have just made an error, it’s hard to know where to look. I look to the dirt. As if this dirt were the only friend I had in the world at the time. I stare and think. I stare because there is comfort in this dirt.
When I look down at shortstop, I see every crevice and cleat mark clearly. Everything I see, could result in getting a bad hop if the ball hits that spot on the dirt. Whenever there is a break in the action, you should always be cleaning up the dirt. You should constantly be smoothing out the dirt with your cleats, making sure there is no spot at shortstop that will interfere with your fielding a ground ball. This is called maintenance. If you want something to look good and perform at its best, you consistently apply maintenance with hopes of being rewarded.
A shortstop’s work load varies from game to game. Some pitchers have a style of pitching that does not result in ground balls as much as fly balls or strike outs. Some pitchers work to the part of the strike zone where hitters will most likely hit ground balls to the shortstop. There are some games where you can walk off the field after the game without having seen one ground ball. On the flip side, you can be called upon to field almost ten ground balls and three pop flies in one game. You never know.
You know how hard you have worked on any given day by the cleanliness of your jersey. Most active shortstops, those who like to hustle, will usually never walk away from the baseball field without a little shortstop dirt on their uniform. Whether it is your thighs, your knees, or your chest, hard-working shortstops love getting dirty playing the position. Nothing says hustle in baseball like a jersey covered in dirt. Major league Hall of Fame baseball player, Rickey Henderson is famously quoted when he says, “If my uniform doesn’t get dirty, I haven’t done anything in the baseball game.” Dirt on your jersey means you put your body on the line with the effort to help your team win. Successful or not, when you get up off the dirt at shortstop, you look down at how much dirt you have on you and know, the more dirt, the better.
Roderick (Ricky) Surum is a senior at the University of Mount Olive from Atlanta, GA. He is a student-athlete, currently studying Sport Management and playing shortstop for the baseball team. He hopes to have a career in professional baseball and multimedia journalism is his future.