“I played a lot of outfield in my career before, and when you’re out there, it’s just like you’re a dog — you just play fetch. You throw [the ball] to the guy with their hands up” — Michael Toglia
That’s how Michael Toglia, a natural first baseman, described his experience as an outfielder.
When I asked about the move, I was primarily interested in the skills involved: How does a player adapt to the outfield after a career spent mostly at first base? For Toglia, the change was not particularly challenging.
“It’s honestly been an easy adjustment,” he said. “I’ve played a lot of outfield in my career before.” Then he added that line about outfielders, dogs, and fetch.
That’s when I realized there’s more to it: In addition to a different skillset, playing in the outfield requires a fundamentally different mindset.
Think about it. Being in the infield means being social — your teammates are around you; you talk to them and toss the ball around between plays; you visit with opposing players when they’re on base; you participate in mound visits; and you may mentor younger players learning their position.
For Kris Bryant, moving to the outfield has proven a significant change.
“Considering that I’ve played infield a lot of my career, it’s a completely different,” Bryant said. “You’re just involved in everything. So even between pitches, you feel like you have to do something, whereas in the outfield between the pitches, it’s kind of like, you’re just waiting there for the next play.”
Remember Nolan Jones’ tough Rockies debut at first base back in May? Here’s what he said the next day: “[Alan] Trejo yesterday was able to help me position myself in different spots when when I was maybe in the wrong spot, or he saw something on a swing that I didn’t see.”
In other words, Jones was able to make in-game changes because he was positioned close to other players and was able to communicate easily with them.
Now consider the outfield, especially the expanse of Coors Field.
“It’s like a graveyard out there,” to quote Bryant.
That’s a simile that will stay with you.
In the outfield, you’re largely on your own. You’ve got hand signals and a positioning card. Sometimes the noise is so loud that it’s difficult to hear your teammates. Sometimes, you’re heckled by fans. You get to catch up briefly with your fellow outfielders if a fly ball brings you together, but being an outfielder is a solitary job. Plus, players have to stay focused, even when they’re not involved in the game.
As former Rockies outfielder Cory Sullivan explained, “There’s games where you go entire games without touching the baseball, so you’ve got to challenge each other to stay involved.”
Imagine how difficult it is to remain focused for the entire defensive half of a game without ever touching a baseball.
So I asked various Rockies about it.
The answers, it turns out, are as varied as the players themselves.
Sullivan said players keeping their heads in the game is “the hardest part.”
“Obviously, we have finite focus that lasts about 15 seconds,” he said. To stay in the game, Sullivan would communicate with his fellow outfielders.
“You’ve got to remind each other of outs, strikes, every time there’s a new hitter, alignment, things like that,” he continued. “That’s the only way.”
Yonathan Daza did not mince words.
“It’s boring when nothing happens out there,” he said, “It’s really boring, especially [because] you don’t have your friends close.”
“It’s tough when nothing happens there,” he added.
The potential for long periods of inaction also explains what’s on Jurickson Profar’s mind when he’s standing left field: “You’re just hoping they hit to towards you,” he said.
Brenton Doyle also acknowledges the isolation and mentioned that he and Profar like to joke around.
“Sometimes it’s pretty lonely out there,” Doyle said, “but it’s fun playing.”
Nolan Jones concentrates on the work.
“Being new to the [Coors] outfield, I try and run through different situations and scenarios,” he said.
He also occasionally sings to keep himself entertained.
“It’s kind of a wide range [of songs],” Jones chuckled. “Usually, it depends on what’s playing on the speaker — walkout songs and stuff like that. That’s usually where I go.”
Charlie Blackmon takes the approach of a veteran.
“Ideally, I think about nothing,” Blackmon said. “My brain is not needing to think about something, so I’m just waiting until the next pitch. When things are going well, I want to see it and react and not really have a stream of consciousness.”
But getting there wasn’t easy.
“I think one of the hardest things about playing in the outfield is not thinking too much,” he said.
Interacting with fans
Infielders tend to interact with each other; outfielders, because of both the space and the isolation, are usually closer to the fans than their teammates. This raises a different question: How do they feel about interacting with fans? Most of them enjoy the opportunity to promote baseball and entertain themselves.
For Brenton Doyle, it’s part of the fun.
“I like interacting with fans, too, and especially here,” he chuckled. “I’ve got a little fan base out there chirping and saying, like, ‘The Doyle Rules’ and all that stuff. So I always turn it back here and there and give a little kid a wave and just gaining that fan exposure and likeliness that the fans are cheering me on.”
Yonathan Daza agrees and sees it as a ways to break up the monotony.
“Sometimes, I’m going to the wall and talking to some fans and try to have some fun,” he said.
And when it comes to chatting with fans?
“I like it,” he said, before adding, “I love it!”
Sean Bouchard also enjoys the interaction.
“If there’s fans yelling at you, it’s fun to be engaged with the crowd,” Bouchard said. “I like to like to be a part of that a little bit, make them feel like they’re part of the game as well.”
Getting fans involved is an approach Harold Castro agrees with: “Sometimes I like to like give the ball to kids to throw it. I try to have fun with them.”
Charlie Blackmon does not — but it’s nothing personal.
“I want to do the same thing every time,” he said. “and that helps me be really consistent, so if I’m interacting with the fans, that means I’m not focused on what I always think about.”
Through his years of playing, Blackmon has come to accept the isolation that goes with being an outfielder.
“I used to hate it, but now I don’t mind it.”
Coors Field Attendance
Since the Rockies were on the road last week, there’s no update on this front.
ICYMI, according to ESPN, 978,085 have attended games at Coors Field in 2023 (the end of the Padres series and the Rockies’ 35th home game). That number ranks 16th in baseball. (Last week, the average Coors Field game attendance was 27,945.)
As a benchmark, in 2022, the average game attendance at Coors Field was 32,467. This marks a 12.1% decrease. Only the White Sox (17.4%) have seen a larger drop in attendance.
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