The way Andy Lane reacted it looked as if he just came up short in the biggest at-bat of his life.
He slammed the barrel of the bat into the ground, breaking it at the handle as he shook his head and walked past the first base foul line.
In reality, the former Desert Vista student and Ahwatukee Foothills resident was on a backfield at Hohokam Stadium participating in a spring training challenge Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum came up to help with the doldrums of the team’s two-month stay in Mesa while working on a essential part of the game at the same time.
Lane, 31, had just been eliminated on Monday in the Sweet Sixteen of the team’s 64-man bunting tournament. Cubs minor leaguer Edwin Maysonet had one bunt left in his 24 attempts (three rounds of eight) and it was enough to eliminate Lane, a former minor league player and evidently a quality bunter.
“It is the only way I can compete anymore, really,” Lane said sheepishly.
It meant more to Lane simply because he is so close to the game he still longs for as the team’s bullpen catcher. Everyday he dresses in a major league uniform, works maybe the hardest — at least has the most duties — out of just about anyone on field, and yet knows his playing career is over.
This was a chance, as silly as it might sound, to show what Lane, who was drafted in the 27th round of the 2005 draft by Washington, could do with a bat in his hands six years after his career ended with a .199 batting average.
That and the fact that he was playing in place of Sveum.
“I took Dale’s spot so he put a lot of confidence in me,” said Lane, who was not a catcher by trade. “It’s been fun, but disappointing because I wanted to win his money back.”
Sveum, who started the bunting tournament (which is done on a field that has varying point values painted on the grass based on where the ball comes to a rest) when he took over the club last year, knew what he was doing in picking Lane to replace him.
“He’s always practicing and going out there every day,” Sveum said. “He had a shot. He is a decent bunter. He was definitely a darkhorse to win it. He’s practiced enough.”
In the end he was probably done in when one of his bunts hit the lip of the grass in front of home plate and instead of bouncing forward for some points, the ball came backward into foul territory.
Minuted later he was back to his normal routine of being part of a fraternity of 30.
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“A lot of what they do is behind the scenes, and they are always doing something,” Sveum said. “It’s not just catching. They are needed when someone wants to long toss or whatever else is needed and they are always available. They go unnoticed by everyone other than those who are here every single day. Andy does a great job.”
Lane, who lives in Scottsdale when not in Chicago, has seen his role increase as he becomes a veteran of the position after getting the chance in the finals days of spring training of 2011 when the previous guy got into legal trouble.
“I am working with video stuff and getting a better feel for that,” he said. “I hit fungoes and throw some batting practice. Dale sees my role with helping the ball club as more than just catching.”
During spring training Lane is usually at the ballpark from 6:30 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. During the regular season he’s there from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for day games, while night games mean a 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift.
He cherishes the fact that he is only one of 30 guys who do this in the major league.
“I want to be around the game for as long as I can, but if there is a better opportunity in baseball I’d take it,” Lane said. “It’s hard to turn down wearing a major league uniform every day and come to the ballpark. There’s not a lot of people who get to do that.”
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