Remember the Houston Astros? Remember how they cheated and profited from it? Opposing teams do. So the intentional plunking was only delayed, not canceled. One need not have a crystal ball to know Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, and others in that lineup will have to think twice before really grounding themselves into the batter's box this year. Because there will be some retribution. There has to be.
This is obviously a storyline to watch. One of the first opportunities to do so came Tuesday as the Astros played a tuneup game against the Kansas City Royals. In the second inning, KC's Jorge Lopez hit Altuve and Bregman in back-to-back at-bats -— damning evidence of vigilante justice if the pesky facts are ignored.
Altuve dove into a full-count pitch. Bregman was chased by an errant 1-2 changeup. Both came with the bases loaded. There are plenty of context clues to hammer home the idea that neither was intentional. When throwing at someone, there's no reason to increase pitch count by trying to get them out and compiling two strikes. There's also no need to take some heat off the ball.
Lopez is a fringe Major Leaguer who had no control yesterday. Jackson Kowar, who hit George Springer later in the fifth, is also not a household name for his Greg Maddux-like mastery of the black. Anyone with any semblance of baseball acumen understood immediately that the three hit-by-pitches were accidental. Pure coincidence. Probably not worthy of a signal-boosting missive that brought with it the opposite implication. Yet that's what we got.
The SportsCenter account has the unfortunate displeasure of being singled out for effect here, but there were plenty of outlets and even more individuals who used this not-damning-at-all evidence as evidence of something damning. Then there was the inevitable response to the inevitable, manifesting in the Houston Chronicle calling random social media users dumb.
This little vignette is actually reflective of a bigger, more pressing problem baseball and the national media covering it face, one which I've written about before and hasn't gotten any better. At its core is an eroding base versed in the lexicon and intricacies and a dearth of Big Tent coverage that can speak to informed and casual fans concurrently. It's not entirely clear which is the chicken and which is the egg here.
But what happens is that only the lowest common denominator stuff pierces through to be embraced by debate. That debate has to be superficial and is not helpful in any way to growing knowledge about the game. One can wonder if it's helpful in growing any interest either.
So what can be done? Here's the quandary because know-it-all fans are part of the problem too. No one likes a showoff or wants to sit through rather dry strategy and inside-baseball explainers. Even if helpful, they come off as condescending and, honestly, boring. Why would a person want to work this hard and be made to feel this stupid just to have a greater understanding of a sport they're not all that passionate about anyway?
Perhaps this is a bit defeatist. Perhaps baseball will always attract enough eyeballs and interest to survive, if not thrive. And there are reporters and personalities who do great work with baseball-specific content.
It feels like a no-win situation, though, to see a specious narrative that misrepresents the game gain traction. It feels like an even bigger bummer because that's all that tends to gain traction anymore. Saying nothing facilitates a worse conversation. Saying something runs the risk of running off the very people half-interested enough to engage.
If nothing else, this annual lamentation can serve as evidence that baseball is truly back.