There is really no smooth way to do a curtain call. Even the guys who hit the really big home runs all the time look dorky when they tip their cap to the screaming fans who want them to take a step out of the dugout and give a smart little wave or salute.
First of all, it's really difficult to hear in those dugouts. Imagine being locked in a hermetically sealed room with no windows or cell phone reception - that's exactly what it's like to sit in a big-league dugout. The difference is a guy in the dugout can see 45,000 people in the stands ringed around the diamond freaking out. He can see everyone screaming, but can't make out any of the sounds.
"You can't hear anything," said Phillies pinch hitting savant, Greg Dobbs. "It's just a bunch of noise."
So surrounded by all that noise that he couldn't hear, Dobbs' teammates pushed him out of the dugout so he could give a little wave or a salute to the screaming crowd. But instead, Dobbs stood there for a second like a deer in the headlights trying to make sense of his surroundings. But once he saw that the game had paused for a moment and the wave of noise cascading down from the top tiers of the bowl had washed over him, Dobbs gave a big wave before ducking back into the home dugout.
That was it. A brief moment that last a second or two will be something Dobbs remembers for the rest of his life.
"It's very humbling," he said.
Dobbs got the curtain call - yes, ballplayers get curtain calls - after slugging a three-run pinch-hit home run in the fifth inning that capped off an inexplicable seven-run frame against the Atlanta Braves and proved to be the game-winning hit in the Phillies' 10-9 comeback victory.
Better yet, Dobbs' shot was his 20th pinch hit of the season, which tied the club record set by a guy named Doc Miller in 1913. With 59 games remaining in the season, there's a strong chance that Dobbs will have the record all to himself very soon.
But here's the wacky part about Dobbs and his pinch-hitting prowess... he's better when he gets just one chance a game than he is when he starts a game and gets four chances. At least that's what the stat sheet says. An under-the-radar waiver pickup from Seattle prior to the 2007 season, Dobbs is hitting .362 (34-for-94) as a pinch hitter since joining the Phillies, including a lusty .435 (20-for-46) in that role this season.
Meanwhile, Dobbs is hitting just .264 (95-for-360) in non-pinch hitting situations. That means Dobbs has turned the so-called toughest job in baseball into child's play.
The secret to his success?
Practice, practice, practice. And then some more practice.
"I have a tendency to over-prepare," Dobbs admitted. "I take a lot of flak from my teammates because sometimes I go to the (batting) cage (as early as) the fourth inning."
Manager Charlie Manuel says that the foundation for Dobbs' pinch-hitting prowess was laid when he was an up-and-comer with the Mariners. Tired of yo-yoing back and forth between Seattle and Triple-A, Dobbs found himself a mentor who explained the finer points of the art of pinch hitting.
"He was around a guy named Dave Hansen. When Dobbs was in Seattle he used to sit with Hansen on the bench and some of the things they talked about rubbed off on him," Manuel recalled. "He's always ready and always concentrating on each at-bat, and I think that helps him."
Like Dobbs, Hansen was a part-time third baseman and full-time pinch hitter. During his career with the Mariners, Dodgers, Cubs and Padres, Hansen set a big-league record in 2000 with seven pinch-hit homers. In 15 Major League seasons and one in Japan, Hansen had 139 pinch hits and practiced a Zen approach to the roll, calling it a "state of mind."
"He was kind enough to take me under his wing and I paid attention to what he told me and took a lot of notes," Dobbs said.
Actually, Hansen mostly taught Dobbs about preparation, concentration and developing routines. If he's not starting at third base, Dobbs watches the first few innings in the dugout before heading off to the indoor batting cage. Once he gets loose and warmed up, Dobbs focuses his attention on the opposing team's pitchers to the point where he doesn't notice anything going on around him.
Sometimes he doesn't even hear Manuel tell him to grab a bat and get into the game.
"About a week ago I tried to rush him up there before they had a chance to warm up a lefty, and I kept telling him to get up there and hit," Manuel said about Dobbs. "After the game he told me that when I told him to get up there he started to thinking about how he was going to prepare for him and attack him. Actually, he said he didn't hear when I told him to get the hell up there and hit. He stays ready and he's prepared."
"It happens a lot," Dobbs said. "I'm so focused on the pitcher and preparing myself for that at-bat that I don't hear him yelling at me, telling me something."
Otherwise, Dobbs says his approach is to remain calm. Pinch hitting can seem like a high-wire trapeze act where the player is suddenly thrust into a pressure-packed situation where the outcome of the game is often hanging in the balance. When he can rein in his adrenaline, Dobbs says he breaks the task down to its essence.
All he wants to do is get on base, he says.
On Saturday he ended up circling the bases.
"I wanted to keep the inning going," Dobbs explained. "I had to find any way - a walk, a hit, a hit-by-pitch - to get one base."
In the meantime, Dobbs is not going to work on his curtain-call techniques. You won't catch him walking into the house or a different room and suddenly wave to the folks sitting there. Nor will anyone find him waving to passersby on the street or the produce aisle in the grocery store as if it was a great accomplishment to pick out the ripest piece of fruit.
Instead, count on Dobbs remaining focused and prepared to take his one hack per game.