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To Jump Or Not To Jump, That Is The Question

Screenshot: Sportsnet

What you are about to see is a ball hit by Dylan Moore of the Seattle Mariners, taken just a second or two before it crosses over the outfield wall and becomes his fifth dinger of the season. Take a moment to clear your mind and form an image of what this should look like.

Here are some details that may help: The ball was hit to left field, where the seven-foot wall at Seattle's stadium is a drab green and is topped with a bright yellow line; it crossed into the stands at about the midpoint between the foul pole (331 feet from home) and the first bend in the wall, in left-center (378 feet); and the distance on the dinger was measured at 350 feet, which ought to tell you that it barely escaped the yard. What should this look like?

Whatever you are picturing, the scene is not likely to include the ball nestled deep inside the glove of an outfielder, below the level of the top of the wall, several feet inside the field of play. And yet:

There is Blue Jays outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. fielding Moore's deep fly, at about the moment when it should've been caught for an out. Instead, it went for a home run. Gurriel misjudged his distance to the wall and leapt unnecessarily to make the catch, turning what could've been a routine play into an acrobatic mess:

Gurriel, whose team lost 8-3 to the Mariners, was not the only professional outfielder to have trouble Thursday night with spatial awareness in proximity to an unfamiliar outfield wall. Washington Nationals outfielder Juan Soto settled casually under a Didi Gregorius fly ball to right field, with two outs and a runner on base in a tie game, only to have the ball bang off the wall above his glove and carom away from him:

Soto seemed so flustered by the wall's interference that he twice looked back over his shoulder while chasing the live ball, as if to catch the wall darting back into its original position. Unlike Gurriel, who jumped when he should not have, Soto simply failed to jump. Had Soto jumped just a little, he would've had an easy and comfortable catch to end the inning. Instead, Philadelphia's runner came around to score, Gregorius hoofed it around for his fourth triple of the season, and the Phillies had a lead that they would not relinquish in a 5-3 win.

Sometimes life is just like that: One guy jumps when he should not, another should jump but declines. The impulse to leap is not always distributed evenly. Often it strikes at inappropriate moments, like the time in high school that my girlfriend was sobbing to me, as we walked between classes, about a terrible argument she'd gotten into with her mother, and I absentmindedly took a full load-up drop-step to pull off a fake dunk on a door frame. That's probably how Gurriel felt after Moore's homer: I would give anything to have not jumped just now.

Soto, on the other hand, will always wish he had simply jumped. "I just thought I shouldn’t jump, and I didn’t jump," Soto recalled after the loss. "And then when I looked at the ball I [realized] I should have jumped." My simple advice is to always jump, unless it would be a bad idea to jump, in which case you should never jump.

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