Posted on 04. Jun, 2009 by in All, Dayton Dragons Baseball, General Baseball.


060409-bullpen-signalsThere are many glaring differences between the 30 Major League stadiums, and the hundreds of Minor League ones throughout professional baseball. The capacities are nowhere near the same, the video boards are smaller, and the play on the field usually is not as advanced. But one major difference goes unnoticed by most fans throughout baseball, but it’s very important to the teams during the game.

In minor league baseball stadiums, like Fifth Third Field here in Dayton, most bullpens are located down the foul lines, and rarely beyond the outfield walls, like most major league stadiums. They are usually not covered or cozy and are so close to the stands that players could share popcorn and a conversation with the fans. This can become troublesome because there are no bathrooms in the bullpens and more importantly, no phone to reach the dugout. This is very important when trying to get a pitcher warmed up to enter the game on any given night.

Getting one or even two relievers ready in a major league game is easy. They pick up the “red phone” and someone in the bullpen answers receiving instructions on who should get ready and how quickly. In minor league baseball, players and coaches must rely on hand signals to get the message across.

The method of using hand signals to the bullpen can get quite interesting when trying to get a certain reliever up throwing, while also letting them know how quickly they need to get ready. There are unwritten hand signals that are universal in baseball to help accomplish some of this.

For example, a simple “throwing motion” can mean to get a pitcher up and lose immediately, while making a “high arc throwing motion” can mean for the pitcher to get up and start tossing lightly. A simple tip of the cap usually signifies the pitcher is lose and ready to come into the game whenever called upon or “pushing down” with the hand means whoever is up and throwing can stop and have a seat.

For a team to get the correct reliever up and loose is another difficult challenge. A team may have seven pitchers in the bullpen, with three being lefties and four being righties. So for a coach to signal down for the right pitcher to get up takes some creativity. Usually special signals are made up for each pitcher so that the coach can get the correct one up at a given time. An example could be a tall pitcher could be signaled by raising their hand high in the air, or a sidearm throwing pitcher could be signaled by making a sidearm motion. Also, a lot of coaches use a “play on words” to get the pitcher up, like a “Lance” could be signaled by making a bicycle riding motion like Lance Armstrong or a “Jordan” could be signaled by dribbling an “air basketball” like Michael Jordan.

Here in Dayton, pitching coach Tony Fossas has his own signals for players. He told me that as long as his relievers are watching and paying attention, it’s easy to accomplish.

Although this is much planned out and appears to be quite scientific and amusing, all could be made easier with a simple “call to the ‘pen,” on the “red phone.” Next time you attend a Dragons game, watch for some of these signals between the coaches and the bullpen.

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