When I was about 10, I challenged my dad to a footrace around the block.
I’m not sure why I wanted to race, but my dad and I were always thinking up competitions with each other. I must have figured it was a no-lose race.
My dad said his longer legs would beat me, but I knew that I was fast. Even faster with my P.F. Flyers. I knew I could out-sprint an oldie like him.
We set the ground rules. From the tree in our front yard, we would run counterclockwise around the block. First one back to tag the tree wins.
Google Maps confirmed that my childhood home — and the round-the-block track — in California still exists. But, the finish line tree-of-legend is gone.
With the rules set, we took off into the street. A neighborhood block is much longer around than you think it is, especially when you’re 10 and your legs are much shorter than your dad’s. But, I picked up steam just as he was losing his, and I drew even with him somewhere around the houses that lined the block behind us. When we came to the final turn for home, my dad was pooped. I was hitting my stride.
It was at that moment that my dad veered off the street. He cut through our next-door neighbor’s yard, hopped over the waist-high fence that separated our houses, and tagged the tree. He had cut several seconds – and several feet – off of the race by short-cutting across Mr. and Mrs. Faustini’s lawn.
I was still running in the street. Soundly beaten.
I had yet to learn any of the wonderful, bleepful words that grown-ups use but children don’t. So, I probably just called him a “big cheater.” I was pretty mad.
He was jubilant. “Hey, Kid, you never said we had to follow the street.”
It would be my first time getting screwed by a loophole. There would be no rematch.
I’m not sure my dad saw any great lesson in our race. He was just the kind of guy who liked to prank his kid from time to time.
But, his non-lesson left a big impression on me, and I’ve been pretty careful about making ground rules clear ever since.
Which brings me to this.
Ground rules are a baseball thing. They are the special rules governing play that are unique to a park, usually identifying a park’s lines, corners, poles, and edges as fair or foul.
At Wrigley Field in Chicago, if a ball gets stuck in the ivy it’s a double, but if the ball pops back out, it’s in play.
At Tampa’s Tropicana Field, the four catwalks are governed by different ground rules. Hit the lower ones, it’s a double; hit the higher ones, a homer. Indoor parks have all sorts of ground rules for balls that hit the roof, trusses, cables, or other stuff hanging down.
Some individual games have had their own ground rules. In 1903, during the first World Series, the games were so packed that fans overflowed into the outfield. The Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Americans agreed that if a ball was hit into the fans it would be a “ground-rule triple.”
The Americans went on to hit 18 triples over the course of the eight-game series, a World Series record that still stands.
The key thing is this – ground rules are unique to a single park or event.
Here’s what’s not unique in baseball.
Rule 5.05 (a) (6)
A fair ball, after touching the ground, bounds into the stands, or passes through, over or under a fence, or through or under a scoreboard, or through or under shrubbery, or vines on the fence, in which case the batter and the runners shall be entitled to advance two bases;
There you have it. A ball that bounces from fair territory into the stands is a double.
Nothing unique. Happens all the time. The rule is the same no matter where you are.
It is not a ground rule double. It’s just a double.
What do doubles have to do with my dad? Nothing really.
But, my dad was a stickler for getting things like this right.
San Francisco Giants broadcaster Jon Miller is a stickler, too. While most everyone else calls a fair ball bouncing out of play a “ground rule double,” Miller will call it what it actually is – an “automatic” double or a “rule book” double.
Jon gets it right, but if you listen through, you’ll hear Mike Krukow get it wrong. And, look! That’s former Oriole’s closer Jim Johnson on the mound giving up the automatic!
(Even legendary Dodger’s broadcaster Vin Scully gets it wrong. Listen.)
Though he liked the Dodgers, my dad wasn’t much of a baseball fan, but I think he would appreciate my using this Father’s Day post as an opportunity to set the record straight about ground rule doubles.
And, he’d probably ask me to remind you: Always set clear ground rules, lest you get beaten by someone who discovers the “Faustini Loophole.”