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Tues, Sep 25, 2001

MLB Bunt Race Heating Up

by Willy P. Ondabich

 KANSAS CITY, MO Tonight when the Kansas City Royals and the Detoit Tigers take the field, the best story of the 2001 season will be watched by millions of Americans in calm, patient delight. The major league sacrifice bunt leader will be closer to being crowned.

     All season this electrifying race has been heating up, and it has now come down to this series.  A.J. Hinch, a catcher for the Royals, has 6, while Wendell Magee, a Tigers outfielder, has 3.

     "It's going to be exciting, no doubt," said Magee, who has been on a surge lately, hitting 3 bunts in his last three games.  "I can't wait to smack one out of the batter's box."

     Hinch, on the other hand is the more modest of the two on the idea of a race. "You know, it's not about the bunts, it's whether the Royals can be successful as team."  "Yep," Hinch added, sighing heavily and staring off into the distance.

Above:  A "bunt".

     A bunt, for those unfamiliar, is a hitting strategy invented in 2001 in which a batter "lays" the bat out over the plate and makes contact with the baseball in hopes of a) Advancing a runner who is already on base (called a "sacrifice bunt") by forcing the play at first; or b) Getting on base himself.  Bunting is being discovered to be an extraordinarily useful tool for getting runners closer to home plate, which, incidently, is the main goal of baseball.

     Barry Bonds, major league's home run leader (67) and strike-out leader (256), can agree.  He got his first bunt ever on Sunday and now is the all-time Giants bunts leader.  "It felt great!" exuberated Bonds after being congratulated by his teammates.  "Knowing that I can help the team win in other ways besides hitting, just feels great."

     While the Tigers and Royals yet again have a pig's-fart chance in hell at making the playoffs, the bunt race has kept the teams focused on the future and believing they are moving in the right direction.

     "Who knows, maybe someday players will be hitting 9, 10, 11 bunts per season." Hinch said. "But for now, I'm just happy moving the guy over."

     And America is loving every basic, fundamental minute of it.

Willy P. Ondabich, a proponent of bunting, speaks loudly and carries a small stick.

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