Players sharpen up pregame with crosswords, chess, other puzzles
Pitching is part feel, part athleticism and a whole lot of enigmatology. That’s the term for the science of puzzles, a genre under which pitching certainly qualifies.
It’s a constant deliberation between fastball and offspeed, inside or outside location, the weight of gut instinct versus situational scouting reports.
In those ways, the craft is an exercise requiring much of the same mental energy as the completion of a crossword.
That’s why those puzzles are often pregame staples for pitchers, with cruciverbalists — a.k.a. crossword aficionados — having long had a place in majorleague clubhouses.
“Even when I got to the minor leagues (in 1979), I’d see guys doing crossword puzzles,” Rockies manager Bud Black recalled. “And when I got to the big leagues, there would always be the daily guys, I’d say maybe a handful of them, who would do a crossword puzzle every day and it was really a part of their routine.”
The Rockies’ cruciverbalist happens to be the pitcher who’s having the best statistical season on the team, as right-handed reliever Adam Ottavino (0.95 ERA, 0.64 WHIP) does one of the puzzles every day.
“It’s something to do with your brain before the game, to keep you engaged and sharp,” said Ottavino, currently on the disabled list with a sore oblique. “I started doing it in High-A (in 2007) and I’ve been doing them ever since.”
And in the smart phone age, traditional printed crosswords laying in stacks on tables around the clubhouse have also been supplemented by other puzzle apps such as Chess Tactics Pro, a situational chess game.
Chad Bettis, an avid chess player at home, uses Tactics to warm up his brain every day, and he can be found playing it at his locker about 90 minutes before his starts.
“Like pitching, the game is about problem solving,” Bettis said. “There’s times where baseball can speed up on you, and you have to essentially figure out what the best pitch is in a specific scenario. Crossword puzzles, Sudoku, chess — whatever it could be, all those games help refine that problem solving so that you can sort through all the ‘blah’ and get to what you want to do.”
Reliever Scott Oberg has been a daily Sudoku user for about three years now, while even some of the Rockies position players are getting in on the puzzle act pregame.
“I had been doing the New York Times mini-crosswords on my phone for about a year and a half,” infielder Ryan McMahon said. “I figured I should step up to the full-size ones now after Ottavino turned me on to them. But he knows a lot more words than me.”
Ottavino’s crossword skills should come as no surprise, considering the speedy rate at which the Jeopardy buff churns through the USA Today edition widely distributed within the Rockies clubhouse — “I mean, it’s kind of weak, but it’s here,” he said — sometimes coming back for a second helping by solving The New York Times puzzle.
“If I noticed someone was doing The New York Times crossword puzzle,” Black said with a grin, “that always peaked my interest. Like, ‘Hey, watch out for that fella.’ ”
Oberg continues his recovery from a lower back strain that sent him to the disabled list on Sunday. He played catch today and yesterday to 90 feet, noting: “Everyday it’s progressing just a little bit better, and I’m waking up with it not as tight as the day before. I’m headed in the right direction.”… Reliever Harrison Musgrave was reinstated before Wednesday’s game from the bereavement list. Musgrave had been in West Virginia because of the passing of his grandfather, and his return meant fellow left-hander Sam Howard was optioned back to Triple-A Albuquerque… Tom Murphy made a second straight start at catcher following his promotion from the Isotopes on Tuesday, and Black noted the 27-year-old is sporting a lower, more effective crouch behind the plate: “We saw that in the spring, and this offseason he worked a lot on the set-up and the stance.”