Reporter learns tough lessons as bat boy (w/video)

Marcus Gutierrez By Marcus Gutierrez

July 29, 2017 at 9 p.m.
Updated July 30, 2017 at 6 a.m.

The Victoria Generals' bat boy, JR Gips, 11, left, and Victoria Advocate sports reporter and honorary bat boy, Marcus Gutierrez, prepare for Thursday's game against the Texarkana Twins at Riverside Stadium.

The Victoria Generals' bat boy, JR Gips, 11, left, and Victoria Advocate sports reporter and honorary bat boy, Marcus Gutierrez, prepare for Thursday's game against the Texarkana Twins at Riverside Stadium.   Angela Piazza for The Victoria Advocate

The last time I was on a baseball field, I was 6 years old playing for the Westbury Little League Cardinals in Houston.

It was my first time playing baseball, and I didn't know what to expect.

I had a lot of memories from that season, and most were not so pleasant.

I remember throwing my helmet when I was called out at first base, and I remember dropping a fly ball in center field that cost my team a game.

The one good memory I have was hitting a three-run triple and watching my parents going crazy in the stands.

For a minute I thought, "Hey, maybe I can play this game."

That thought didn't last long, however.

That would be the last time I played little league baseball, and I would never pick up a bat or glove again competitively.

July 11, our sports editor, Alexandria Alejandro, asked me if I would be willing to try my hand at being a bat boy for the Victoria Generals.

She sent some emails and made some calls and the next thing I knew, the Generals' owner, Tracy Young, and vice president and general manager, Mike Yokum, had agreed.

They all agreed: It was a great way to highlight a job so many young kids aspire to do.

Showtime

Thursday, I arrived at Riverside Stadium, and I met JR Gips, who is 11 years old and is in his first season with the Generals and one of the Generals' bat boys. Nathan Galvan, 11, is the other bat boy, and he was visiting family out of state that day. They alternate between games.

I sat down and told JR I was going to be helping him all night, and we were going to be pals.

"That's really cool," said JR, who will be in the sixth grade in the fall at Howell Middle School. "I will teach you everything I know, and we will have a good time."

I went to the locker room to pick up my uniform from Generals head coach Michael Oros, and he told me, 'I haven't had any problems with the bat boys all year so just listen to them, and you will be fine.'

He laughed after that comment.

The Generals were wearing all white, and I had my white cleats on so I was looking fresh and clean.

JR came into the locker room and told me to grab the helmet bag while he grabbed three boxes of baseballs for the game.

We walked down the ramp into the dugout, and I started putting the helmets on the shelf. Then I helped JR unwrap several baseballs and put them on the side of the dugout for the game.

Experienced bat boy

I asked JR plenty of questions - from preparation for the game and his daily gameday routine.

He told me we needed to make sure to get the bats for the home team and make sure the umpires have the right amount of baseballs on them. If there were any foul balls that went by the net, we needed to grab them, too.

He also had a couple of tips for me.

"No. 1 is you have to stay focused," Gips said. "No. 2 is you have to make sure to stay out of the way as much as possible and hustle to go get the bats. No. 3: Just have fun, man."

We had some time to spare before the game started, so we decided to play some catch.

It reminded me of playing catch with my brother Michael Delgado, who was the baseball player in the family, but I will always be the best athlete between us, and he knows that.

Questions to ponder

While we were playing catch, I asked JR, 'Are you scared of being hit by a ball during the game?'

He said. "I'm a paranoid person, but I have a helmet on, and I'm always watching out for the ball, and I stay behind the net most of the time."

He brought up a good point.

I don't know the current numbers, but bat boys, most often than not, can't avoid getting hit by foul balls. They've got to know how to keep safe from getting hurt, even when sometimes, it can't be avoided.

For some unfortunate ones, affecting what happens in a game can't be avoided, too, like the bat boy who foiled the New York Mets' Wilmer Flores' attempt to catch a pop fly when they collided. Mets manager Terry Collins argued the call, got ejected, and the Mets lost to the Milwaukee Brewers 2-1.

For my safety, I knew to watch out for the baseball all night, and I knew to stay out of the Generals' way as much as I could.

I told JR I was going to observe him the first inning and then take over in the second inning.

So in the top of the second inning, the umpire needed some baseballs, and I took three out to him and asked him, 'How many baseballs do you like to have on you?"

He said, "I like to have at least five or six on me."

Then he said, "You're kind of old to be a bat boy, aren't you son?"

I'm 6-foot-1 and about 222 pounds, so I guess that's not the average size for a bat boy.

I laughed and told him I was a sports writer, and I was trying to be one for a day.

It was showtime in the bottom of the second, and it was time to get some bats.

I jogged out onto the field to get my first bat and bent down to grab it and jogged back to the dugout.

By this time, I had been in the Texas heat for a couple hours, and I was drenched in sweat.

During the game, several players would throw their helmets down in the dugout due to frustration at the plate.

I picked up those helmets and whatever gear was on the ground and put them back on the shelf to keep the dugout clean.

I picked up 15 bats and handed the umpire probably 25 to 30 baseballs during the game.

Keeping up with ... everyone

While I was going to get some of the bats, the Generals were already at the batter's box so I knew that I needed to run a little faster to the bats.

I remember one bat in particular because I had to run halfway down the first base line. That was a long jog, and when I picked up the bat, I grabbed where all the pine tar was and my hands got sticky.

As I got back to the dugout, Generals leftfielder Chase Whetsel gave me a fist bump and said, 'Good job.'

The bottom of the eighth was the big inning.

The Generals scored four runs. The Generals brought eight batters to the box and hit a lot of foul balls in the inning, so JR and I were busy running for bats and getting baseballs for the umpire at the plate.

A Texarkana Twins outfielder threw a ball to the catcher, but it was off the mark and the Twins catcher slid into the net in the Generals dugout, which dropped all the wooden bats.

I quickly put all the bats back up to where they were supposed to go.

On the next pitch, a foul ball hit the net above the Generals dugout, and I caught the ball with my left hand.

The Generals cheered for me in the dugout, and I felt a part of the team.

By this time, I was soaked in sweat, and I started to smell. Water wasn't helping me cool down, so I always hoped a breeze would come and it did at times during the game.

The game ended with a Generals victory, and it was time to get into the victory line and shake the Generals' hands.

I was the last one in line and the last person to shake my hand was Oros and he said, 'Good job man.'

My job wasn't over though. I still had to grab the helmets and make sure they were all there and the dugout was clean.

I asked JR how I did and he replied, 'You did a good job man. It was fun having you around.'

I gave my uniform back to Oros and thanked him for the experience.

I had survived nine innings in the South Texas heat and got to live the bat boy life.

I admit I just thought a batboy had it easy, but it does take a lot of work, focus and you have to be quick on your feet.

JR hustles all the time and believes being a bat boy for the Generals has taught him a lot about growing up and becoming more mature.

He was helpful all night and never lost any energy.


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