Game commentators, sportswriters, and couch critics alike seemed to cherish reporting on Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter and his latest eccentric training gimmick: his new water polo clock. Jocular chatter brewed throughout spring training and well into the opening weeks of the 2013 season. Were the Orioles still playing in the same league—much less the same sport? Not surprisingly, Showalter’s motives were far more practical than the amusing lore implied. He simply felt that the clock was an effective timing device during spring training fielding practice for calibrating a strict “internal clock” for his players.
Admittedly, this notion of a clock in baseball seems curious for a sport that historically shuns all manner of imposed time constraints—to say nothing of a lacking awareness of time in general. Particularly in recent decades, baseball continues to drag its feet with lengthy, elaborate, and some may hazard to say tedious gaps in the game: pitcher and batter rituals, almost comical sign exchanges, and intervals between pitches and swings. Apart from a speeding base runner, any urgent threat of time running out simply does not exist. For not unlike tennis or golf (and I say that begrudgingly), baseball of course knows nothing of game clocks, shot timers, or buzzers. Strangely, though, what Showalter valued most in the water polo clock was its emphasized feature of a countdown.*
But O’s fans need not fear: Camden Yards will not become the Water Polo Grounds. Sportswriter Jayson Stark on ESPN blogs assures Orioles fans that “No, the Orioles aren’t performing any PFPs underwater.” However, Showalter did commission some research and “determine[d] that the average hitter took 4.5 seconds to run to first base last season, [so] he then took that info to the next level,” naturally.
Showalter, quite rationally, further explains the origins of his new gizmo:
I’ve talked about this with our infield guys for three or four years… . How do we teach a clock? Everybody says, you’ve got to have that [internal] clock. Well, you don’t teach it. You can’t say, ‘Hey, slow down. You don’t have to hurry that much.’ You’ve got to go, ‘Here’s how much time you’ve got.’
Indeed, how do you “teach a clock?”
Well, apart from the countdown element, the clock’s salient buzzer appears to hold some additional appeal for training purposes—appeal for the trainer, not necessarily the trainee. Again, Stark explains:
So the concept here is to give players a sense of how their internal clock should function by supplying an external clock that pounds the amount of time they actually have into their noggins. The only downside is that, when that water polo clock hits zero, the shrill buzzer it uses to get that message across is also doing wonders for Advil business in the clubhouse.
The players concur: “‘I’d say it’s not the kind of buzzer you want to hear,’” [player Jason] Hammel chuckles. “‘It’s kind of like the alarm you get in the morning.’”
In any case, it seems to be working so far (although the season is still early at the time of this writing). The O’s currently sit in their division standings just behind the first-placed Boston Red Sox, as the Baltimore team boasts a winning record safely above the .500 mark—and in one of baseball’s tougher divisions. More relevant to Showalter’s spring training stratagems: as a team, Baltimore currently ranks first in fielding in MLB.
In fact, even with nary a reference to the water polo clock, some sportswriters genuinely discern this noticeably improved talent of timing in the Orioles. For example, speaking of young Manny Machado (currently at third base), The Baltimore Sun observes how “Machado’s internal clock is tuned pretty precisely.”
Leave it to seasoned manager Buck Showalter to find something new under the sun in a game as old as baseball. And while he’s certainly not as old as the game, Buck has been around for a while… .
*Note: there seems to be an absolute dearth of any available images of Buck’s infamous water polo clock. From various reports, however, it should be assumed that Showalter opted for an updated, digital clock system rather than some antique analog one (as fun as that would be).
Stark, Jayson. “To no surprise, O’s rotation far from settled.” Spring Training. ESPN, 19 Feb. 2013. Web. 27 April 2013.
The Official Site of the Baltimore Orioles. MLB Advanced Media, 2013. Web. 26 April 2013.
Vensel, Matt. “Manny Machado isn’t showing his age at third base.” The Baltimore Sun, 24 April 2013. Web. 25 April 2013.