In a suspension handed down by Major League Baseball on Monday, Cincinnati Reds outfielder Nick Castellanos got two days.
In terms of the MLB season, I only got two days before Castellanos gave me something to get fired up about.
Before I go on, let me first say that I’m actually with you Reds faithful who came out blasting the suspension all over social media Monday evening. A suspension was a bit much for a dust-up in which no punches were thrown. It should’ve been over as soon as the benches emptied and the relief pitchers that inevitably sprinted in like they were fighting the Battle of Winterfell retreated back to their respective bullpens.
But, really, it should’ve been over even before that. In fact, it should’ve been over the minute that St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Jake Woodford stuck a 94-mile-per-hour fastball in Castellanos’ ribs.
Life isn’t fair, but baseball often is, one way or the other. Woodford’s pitch was in response to Castellanos’ home run … ahem ... trot in the teams’ season opener last Thursday, in which Castellanos played a personal game of hopscotch down the first-base line complete with a bat flip after a home run in a game that Cincinnati ultimately lost.
In fact, Castellanos’ home run in the third came with the Reds down six runs in a 7-1 game. It wasn’t a postseason walk-off. It didn’t clinch a pennant. Heck, it didn’t even come in September, when at-bats and games become most crucial.
It was Opening Day for cryin’ out loud. And I hear all of you screaming about allowing celebrations and embracing bat flips and flair. Hey, no one is saying you can’t bat flip, just take your punishment in the form of a midsection fastball and move on.
But Castellanos didn’t do that. Instead, he struck a Hulk Hogan flexing pose while standing over Woodford after the two met, both racing toward home plate with Castellanos trying to score on a wild pitch thrown by Woodford.
Read that again. He stood over a relief pitcher, not even after a collision, no, after simply sliding ahead of a Woodford tag attempt.
The delusional section of the Reds fan base, which in this area is large, pointed to a picture that seemed to indicate that Woodford hit Castellanos with a knee as the two converged at home plate.
Do me a favor: Go outside, take off on a 50-foot sprint and then slide on dirt while on your knees trying to field a throw and get a tag down simultaneously, all while trying to keep firm control of the momentum and direction of your limbs.
St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina, ever the professional and, in my opinion, a top-fiver all-time at his position, took exception and tried to confront Castellanos, who wanted no part of it, waiting until he had a full-blown, chest-bumping fracas in his rear-view mirror and a coach between himself and Molina to even stop and turn around.
Unnecessary. All of it.
Almost immediately came the outrage, crying about “unwritten rules” and baseball etiquette. I have a two-word, simple answer for those people: don’t watch.
I’m of the belief that baseball as a game is perfect. I don’t need an extra-inning runner at second base. I don’t need a designated hitter in the National League. I don’t need expanded playoffs, pitch clocks or any other change Rob Manfred has tossed around as a possible fix.
The game doesn’t need fixed. You’re in or you’re out.
And those unwritten rules are a beautiful and vital part of that.
Catchers are taught in Little League to protect their pitcher at all costs. Pitchers are taught that they control the game. Don’t like an excessive celebration? Fix it.
Not dangerously. You don’t throw at a batter’s head or knee caps. But one in the ribs, the midsection, the thigh or the hip? Yeah, I’m in, and growing up playing the game, I may have been guilty of a few of those myself.
One of the greatest things about baseball and the thing it has been most romanticized about for generations is that in some ways, it imitates life. There’s freedom of choice and impending consequences.
Celebrate too much and end up with lace marks in your ribs. Hit a batter and be prepared to confront a sprinting hitter running out from home plate. Charge the mound and expect to fend off a tackle attempt from a masked, pad-adorned catcher.
Castellanos made his choice, paid the price but refused to accept that bruising conclusion. Instead, he taunted a relief pitcher who was still on the ground and ran away from one of baseball’s most no-nonsense players in Molina, a catcher who has largely embodied all that’s great about baseball for a long, long time.
So, while maybe a suspension wasn’t ideal, the piper has to be paid.
Because there are rules, written and unwritten. And if you can’t accept the rules, don’t play — or watch — the game.