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Baseball is a frustrating sport. Sometimes, the players need to vent.

July 09,2016 07:09

In a sport in which even the best of hitters fail most of the time, managing emotions is a daily struggle. Baseball history is littered with memorable moments of anger-letting: David Ortiz demolishing the bullpen phone at Camden Yards with a bat; Paul ...and more »

Professional sports are emotional by nature, adrenaline pumping during high levels of physical exertion. Baseball, a sport that revolves around failure, is particularly emotive. “You’re out there giving 100 percent, and when things don’t go your way it gets frustrating,” New York Mets starter Jacob deGrom said. Consider the case of Wilmer Flores and his helmet. Before he turned into Ted Williams on Sunday as the Mets capped a four-game sweep of the Chicago Cubs, they trailed by two runs in the fifth inning of Thursday’s game. Flores scorched a line drive that could have sparked a rally, but Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant snared it, diving to his left. In the Mets’ dugout afterward, Flores cracked and so did his helmet when he furiously slammed it against the bat rack. “It split open,” Flores said later, smiling. “I don’t know how it broke, but for my next at-bat I had a new helmet.” In a sport in which even the best of hitters fail most of the time, managing emotions is a daily struggle. Baseball history is littered with memorable moments of anger-letting: David Ortiz demolishing the bullpen phone at Camden Yards with a bat; Paul O’Neill pummeling the water cooler in the dugout or taking a bat to the toilet paper dispenser in the Yankee Stadium bathroom; Bo Jackson breaking his bat over his helmet; Kevin Brown breaking his hand by punching a clubhouse wall. The 2016 Mets have not been immune to such moments. “We’ve hit some coolers, we’ve kicked some trash cans and we’ve sat down and dealt with it,” said Mets manager Terry Collins, before adding this about the home dugout at Citi Field: “We’re very lucky that we have a stairwell that goes down and has a nice big space where there are some frustrations taken out once in a while.” Over the past two months of inconsistent offense, the Mets have visited two stadiums that have built-in spots for venting. Hanging from the ceiling of the bathroom of the visitors’ dugout at Miller Park in Milwaukee is an old Everlast heavy bag, a piece of equipment usually associated with boxing. “I’ve beaten that bag up a few times,” said Mets second baseman Neil Walker, who made many trips there in his years with the Pittsburgh Pirates. There is a similar punching bag in the visitors’ dugout tunnel at Turner Field. The Atlanta Braves’ longtime visitors’ clubhouse manager, John Holland, installed it almost 10 years ago after seeing an angry player use the one in Milwaukee. “We’re tying to minimize the damage,” he said. The punching bag is so hard that warnings cover it. “Be careful” and “No direct fists!” are written on one side in permanent marker. “Use at your own risk!” is written on the other. “You can kick it,” Walker said of the similarly hard bag at Miller Park. “You can hit it, just not straight on.” Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur knows about both punching bags, but he prefers another way to release his emotions during a game. “I go down the tunnel, find a wall and I just throw my bat,” he said. “I don’t do anything else because I don’t want it to hurt. I just let it snap and then I’m good. It’s the bat’s fault, not my fault.” The danger in losing control of one’s emotions is injuries. Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper needed stitches in 2012 for a cut above his left eye when he slammed his bat against a wall at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati and it recoiled. Three years later, his teammate Drew Storen, a relief pitcher, broke his right thumb when he hit his locker after giving up a go-ahead home run to Mets slugger Yoenis Cespedes as the Nationals were swept in a key September series. “In this game, you’re going to have failure,” Nationals starter Max Scherzer said. “It’s going to be in your face, and how you’re going to handle it is how you’re going to get better. Kicking stuff, breaking stuff, breaking your hand, that’s somebody who can’t handle the failure properly.” When he was with the Detroit Tigers, Scherzer was so mad he gave up a home run on an outside pitch to his nemesis Shin-Soo Choo that he kicked a table in the clubhouse between innings. He felt something in his left ankle but finished the game without any issues. From then on, Scherzer vowed to kick only air-filled elastic workout balls — and he said he had not even done that in a while. “We’ve all had our moments when we’ve gone nuts on something somewhere,” said Kelly Johnson, a veteran utility player for the Mets. DeGrom said that he was usually able to rein in his emotions but that he, too, fell into the same trap as Scherzer: He punched a plastic cooler with his throwing hand after a start last season. “If I broke my hand, was it really worth it?” deGrom said. “After you do that, you realize it’s dumb. What happened out there is already over with.” With time, Mets shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera said, players learn to minimize their waves of frustration. Early in his career, he said, he threw his helmet or bat. Now, he takes it out on his batting gloves. He wants to set a good example. “I have a kid who watches my games,” he said. “A lot of kids watch the games. I don’t want kids to see that anger. We’re stars for them.” Francoeur said misbehavior after failure could linger into future at-bats. Cespedes, who has had a lot of success in a Mets uniform, said he preferred to be constructive after mistakes rather than destructive. “I go sit down and think about what I did wrong so that the next time I can do better,” he said. Some players simply have different personalities, like the Cubs’ veteran starter John Lackey, who is known for yelling at himself, his manager and his opponents while on the mound. After infuriating starts, Lackey said, he has had to tip the clubhouse assistants for damaging things like tables and chairs. “I’ve been doing this a long time,” he said. “I’ve done all kinds of stuff.” In a recent Mets moment of futility, struggling outfielder Alejandro De Aza popped up a bunt, did not immediately run because he was tossing his bat, and was thrown out at first base for a double play. For the first time in his nine-year career in the majors, De Aza said, he flipped out and screamed in the dugout tunnel at Turner Field. He forgot about the punching bag. If he had not, he would have used it. “The helmet was going to pay a price, but it slipped out of my hand when I wanted to throw it,” he said.

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