THuG (part 1)

Dodgers pitchers and catchers have to report to Spring training a week from yesterday. Since the season is almost ready to start, I thought this would be a good time to tell y’all about the statistic me and my buddies invented back high school. I have to admit I haven’t used it in a while, but I bet it is still as good an indicator of a player’s offensive abilities than a lot of those metrics that confuse the hell out of everybody but Andrew Friedman. And sometimes I’m not sure even he gets them lol.

Growing up, I had two best friends. We met the first year we played little league, and I reckon you’d say we were inseparable until we graduated high school and went our different ways. We’re still in touch, but you can’t be friends with people the same way when you’re in three different cities than the way you were friends with them when you saw them every day for nearly all your life.

My buddies’ names were Gardner and Turner. Yeah, we got a lot of jokes about all having first names that were 2-syllable last names ending in R, but those are the names our parents gave us. (Slater and Sumter have names like that, too. I just realized so does Lucas’ brother Carter. There’s some kind of weird pattern going on there lol.)

Me and Gardner and Turner were all born in Maryville and were in the same grade. Me and Gardner went to the same elementary school, but we all ended up at Maryville High in the 9th grade. We were always on the same team in little league and always hanging out in each other’s backyards. Anytime Dad made Block Burgers, you could bet that Gardner and Turner were gonna be there. We hated being called the three musketeers, but we got called it a lot, especially when we were little. I reckon we kinda were the three musketeers.

Only we had baseball bats instead of swords.

The thing that brought us together was baseball, and it was the thing we spent the most time talking about, playing and going to. In addition to driving us to little league, our parents had to take us to a lot of Smokies games too — until I got that car for my 16th birthday and we could drive over to Kodak ourselves. I think Dad liked taking my buddies along to some of the games we went to, but a lot of the time Turner’s mom did the driving. I don’t think we ever fully appreciated her. Not so much because she had to manage three boys (since we paid attention to the game and all three of us kept score we weren’t a discipline problem), but because she hated baseball. And a ballgame can be a very boringass thing if you’re not following it. She always brought along her knitting, though, and did say that she enjoyed working on it on outside on a nice Tennessee summer evening.

(Turner’s mom is seriously into knitting. I still have a sweater and a couple scarfs she made me.)

Gardner was a good ball player, and played 2nd base next to me for our first three years at Maryville High. We turned a whole mess of double plays, and it taught me that one of the best things you can do as a shortstop is be good friends with the dude at 2nd. If you look at my double play stats, I turned more the years I was friends with the 2nd baseman. It just helps get the two of you in sync.

I’m not sure why, but Gardner switched to right field our senior year. I missed him, but he was awesome out there. He made catches you never thought he’d get, and he had one hell of an outfielder’s arm. The dude could throw hard…and get it to where he wanted it to go.

He was an even better football player, and started at tight end on both the JV and varsity teams. (He’s bigger than me: he was 6’1” at the start of senior year and is 6’3” today.) That earned him a football scholarship to a school up in New England. He moved to Boston after graduation, so now he barely sounds Southern when I talk to him on the phone.

Turner was a different story. He loved baseball as much as me and Gardner did, but he just wasn’t cut out to play it. Nobody on our little league teams tried harder than him, but, no matter how hard he tried and how hard me and Gardner tried to help him, he was still the worst kid on the team. He was real smart when we got to high school, though. He gave up playing and became a sportswriter on the school paper. He started announcing school games too, and he became the official Voice of Maryville High senior year. He got himself an internship with the Blount County paper (the Daily Times) senior year and a summer job with the Knoxville News Sentinel right after high school. He went to school in South Carolina, and got a journalism degree. Now he’s working as a sportscaster down in a small market in Alabama. I reckon he’s got a big future ahead of him.

So the three of us did everything together…and I mean everything. We all took German, so by senior year we were good enough to be able to use it to talk in front of our parents so they wouldn’t know what we were saying lol. We had other friends, sure, but even my Romeo & Juliet relationship with Shoshanah Rabinowitz didn’t come between the three of us. And Gardner and Turner were the first responders when I ended up with a broken heart. It was great having 2 best friends: one of them was always free to play catch with if the other had a family thing to do or had homework to catch up on.

I was the kid who did his homework fast, but not carefully. Gardner was slow, but careful. Turner was fast and careful. We were all good students, though. Turner was practically an A machine…but neither me nor Gardner was a typical dumb jock.

We all sucked in something (it was science for me, English for Gardner, and Turner just didn’t get history…unless it involved sports teams.) The thing we were all good at was math, which was probably why we reckoned we could come up with our own baseball statistic sophomore year. But I reckon telling y’all about THuG will have to wait for my next post.

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