Baseball traditionalists just love spring training and the Cactus League season. It's that special magic of hearing the first crack of the bat, the first smell of the outfield grass, and the first time hearing an umpire yell, "play ball!"
And also, the first time seeing a pitcher intentionally throw a baseball 90 miles an hour at a guy's head in retaliation for some perceived slight that happened six months ago.
Giants pitcher Barry Zito nailed Milwaukee's Prince Fielder on the very first pitch of Fielder's first spring training at-bat in Thursday's 5-3 Cactus League win over the Milwaukee Brewers. This is being unanimously perceived as a completely intentional plunking of the batter, and a classy move at that. "Give the Giants and Barry Zito credit," Bruce Jenkins wrote approvingly of the beaning incident in the Chronicle.
Wait, Zito hit Fielder? I thought he hit the batter. Who's on first?
The move is seen as blatant retaliation for a choreographed dance incident last September, when Fielder followed a game-winning home run off Merkin Valdez with a group celebration wherein Brewers players impersonated bowling pins. The Giants saw it as excessive showmanship, and clearly made a little mental note to throw something at Fielder in the future.
Zito, for his part, claims with a straight face that it was an accident. "It just got away from me," Zito told USA Today.
Fielder played off the beaning like it didn't even hurt. He playfully tossed the ball to Zito, took his base, and proceeded to clap his hands and jaw conspicuously at Zito while standing at first. "They gotta do what they gotta do," Fielder told the Mercury News after the game. "You're damn right it was worth it."
The teams don't meet again until the Monday following Independence Day weekend. Expect fireworks.
Joe Kukura is a freelance writer whose Prince Fielder jokes are not as funny as those found in The Onion.