By Ryan Divish
Her name was Valerie and she was perfect. I treated her better than any girl, I had ever treated in my life. I babied her at all times. I made sure she was always warm and taken care of and never left her alone in strange places. She was always with me wherever I went. I was loyal to her and she was loyal to me. And above all else, I never once threw her.
Valerie was the name of the Easton Reflex baseball bat that I used during my junior year of college.
Yeah, I sound weirder to people with every column I write, but it's true. I named all of the bats I used after girls. From my last year of legion through four years of college baseball to fastpitch now, my bats all have girl names.
It's an odd superstition from a very odd superstitious person. I don't know where it came from really. I treated my bats as if they were my girlfriend because, as many people teased, they were the only girls that would talk to me at the time.
No matter how insane I may seem, the bond between ballplayers and their equipment borders on obsessive compulsive.
It could be a specific glove. Former Atlanta Braves shortstop Walt Weiss used the same glove, he called "The Creature" every game of his college and professional careers that spanned over 20 years. Weiss simply didn't like any other gloves. And no matter how tattered or torn the Creature would get, he would patch it up because he couldn't use a different glove.
The same is even more true with hitters. If you are a hitter, your bat is your life. It's that simple. It's your only weapon against hundreds of pitchers who are out to make you look stupid. Consequently, you want your bat to be perfect. While technique, hand-eye coordination and strength, play important roles in hitting so do things like comfort, feel and confidence.
If you don't feel comfortable in everything that you bring to the plate it's tough to feel confident.
This is where my problem lies with Sammy Sosa and the corked bat situation.
It's not that I think that Sosa used a corked bat for every game of his career. On the contrary, Sosa didn't need to use a corked bat to hit some of the mammoth homeruns he has launched on his way to 505 career homeruns. What difference is corked bat going to make when a guy is hitting the ball 500 feet?
However, in the two games leading up to this whole fiasco, Sosa was 1-10 with eight strikeouts, including a game where he struck out five times. He was missing balls so bad, he couldn't have hit them with a tennis racket.
This season, Sosa has hit only six homeruns and has missed over 20 games with an injury. And since getting hit in the head by pitch, he hasn't been the same Sammy. He is tentative at the plate and swinging at horrible pitches.
Sometimes desperate men resort to desperate measures.
What else could it be? Sammy's excuse that he grabbed the wrong bat is the worst excuse uttered since the dog ate my homework.
"If I would have known, I wouldn't have picked it up. I would have come back and gotten another,'' Sosa said in a press conference following the game. ''I was so focused on the game, I don't have time to look at the bat. I just picked up one bat.''
Yeah right. And I was so focused on doing my homework, that I didn't notice that the dog was eating it at the same time.
Professional baseball players use wooden bats that roughly weigh about 32 or 33 ounces. When a bat is corked, the weight drops by almost four to five ounces. It may not sound like a lot, but in a baseball bat, its the equivalent to a metric ton.
Besides, professional players make my obsessiveness over my bats look like a slight personality tick.
They aren't obsessive when it comes to bats - they are borderline psychotic.
Most major leaguers receive several shipments of bats usually around four dozen. Of that four dozen, they go through and probably find maybe eight to 10 "gamers" or bats they would use in games. The rest go for batting practice. Once they find their gamers, each bat is meticulously worked over even more. The handles are shaved. The barrels are boned. They are taped, tarred and written on. And above all else they are taken care of.
New York Yankee first baseman Jason Giambi has a special case for his game bats that is part of his own personal luggage. He won't even let his bats fly with the team equipment.
As professional hitter Edgar Martinez of the Seattle Mariners said this week, "No one touches my gamers, but me."
Still Sosa maintains he grabbed the wrong bat on accident. He obviously didn't notice the gigantic "C" written on the bottom of the taped up knob on the handle of the bat.
Sosa was smart enough to mark the corked bat with a big C on the bottom, but not smart enough to notice it when he was grabbing it, handle first, out of the bat rack.
Why even have a corked bat in the first place?
Sosa said he used it for batting practice to put on a show for fans. But even that excuse is pretty hollow.
First of all, most players use heavier bats during batting practice to get ready for a game. Martinez hits with a weight on his bat. Why would Sosa use a lighter bat in batting practice when he was struggling at the plate already?
Second, who was he putting on a show for? The Cubs were in the midst of home stand. At Wrigley Field, the fans aren't allowed in the game until an hour and a half before the game. By that time, the Cubs have already finished batting practice and the visiting team is taking BP. The only show Sosa could be putting on would be for his teammates and the people working in the stadium.
My first reaction to this whole putting on a show line was to ask, "Which bat did he use during the All-Star homerun derby last year, where he put on a show by hitting 13 homeruns in one round?"
Sosa's excuse has so many holes in it, that he needs some of the cork from his bat to stop the leaks.
I'll be honest. I have never been a big fan of Sosa and this isn't helping it any. Still, I respect the man enough to know that he is possibly one of the most important men in baseball. He was recently rated by the Sports Business Journal as the most marketable player in Major League Baseball. What he and Mark McGwire did in 1998 resuscitated a dying sport.
But now all of that has been thrown into question. Regardless of intent, or if every bat he owns, or ever uses, is X-rayed and found cork free, his image is tarnished. All because he decided to carve open a bat and fill it with cork.
Somewhere Valerie is crying.