Chris Coghlan's slide, Brock Stassi's first home run anchor the April Fun Report

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Noah Syndergaard exits start in second inning with apparent arm injury
Monday May 1st, 2017

On May 9, 2014, Yasiel Puig did something so heinous, so insulting, so unforgivable, it would haunt Madison Bumgarner's mind for more than two years:

He discarded his bat slightly more forcefully than usual after hitting a home run.

As Puig rounded third and headed for home, the Giants ace walked toward the third-base line and started barking at the Dodgers outfielder for daring to be excited after a long home run against one of the best pitchers on Earth. Later that season, Bumgarner faced Puig again and hit him with a pitch. Because what better way to express your displeasure with a batter enjoying himself than to throw a 95-mph baseball at him and potentially injuring the guy.

Bumgarner wasn’t done. On Sept. 19, 2016, more than 28 months after the initial home run, Bumgarner fielded Puig’s comebacker, fired to first base, then exclaimed, “F--- yeah!” When a confused Puig looked in the pitcher’s direction, Bumgarner fired back, “Don’t look at me!”  

When it comes to players having a good time on the field, no sport has a bigger stick up its butt than does baseball. And few traditions are more ingrained in players’ psyches than attempting to belittle, frighten or even injure an opponent for breaking one of the game’s precious unwritten rules. If a player does anything more than frown solemnly, put his head down and run around the bases at the exact speed that a pitcher wants, there’s a good chance he’ll become target practice. If it’s an especially thin-skinned pitcher, the resulting grudge could last until the day the sun explodes.

Home-run admirers, bat flippers and flair wearers: Welcome to The Fun Report! Once a month throughout the season, we’ll celebrate the most entertaining moments on the diamond. Some of those moments will fall under the rare category of non-offensive, even for Bumgarner and his fellow enforcers of laws that don’t actually exist. But many others will be flamboyant displays of in-your-face fun, the kind frowned upon by some rigid traditionalists, but embraced here at Fun Report HQ. We promise not to fire fastballs at your ribcage, but to celebrate all the joy you bring to the game.

Dear readers, come celebrate that joy with us.

Dreams do come true . . .

The Phillies drafted Brock Stassi in the 33rd round of the 2011 draft, 1021st overall. That was actually an improvement over a year earlier, when the Indians drafted him in the 44th round. Either way, Stassi entered the world of professional baseball as an extreme long shot to ever sniff the big leagues. He toiled for six seasons and 580 games in the minors, plus stretches in the Venezuelan and Puerto Rican winter leagues. His future in baseball was so precarious, Stassi even spent some off-season time as a substitute teacher.

Then in 2015 at Double A Reading, things started to turn for the better; Stassi batted a robust .300/.394/.470 that season. He tailed off a bit in 2016 but still managed a playable .267/.369/.437. Those numbers, combined with a strong spring training and a thin Phillies roster in the midst of a rebuild, created a golden opportunity: At age 27, Stassi was going to the Show.

The reaction by teammates and well-wishers was wonderful. Stassi’s own teary-eyed camera turn even better. The best moment of all came April 10. Playing in his fifth major league game, Stassi crushed a fastbal from the Mets' Addison Reed deep to right in the ninth. His first big league hit was also a home run.

At month’s end, Stassi remains a part-time player. His major league future is unknown, and the odds don’t look great for a long career. But whatever happens from this moment on, one thing is clear: His dream came true. And for at least one big moment, he made the most of it.

. . . for blue-chippers too

Kyle Freeland’s path to the majors was much more conventional than Stassi’s. The eighth overall pick in the 2014 draft by the Rockies, Freeland earned top-100 grades from every major prospect-ranking publication the next year. After two and a half seasons in the minors, he made Colorado's major league roster to start the year.

This wasn’t just any big league dream fulfilled, though. Freeland was born and raised in Denver, and grew up a Rockies fan. His first major league start? The home opener at Coors Field, an unofficial holiday in Denver, with downtown basically shut down for the day. Freeland’s numbers in his debut? Six innings, four hits, two walks, one run, six strikeouts and his first major league win.

Pretty good, kid.

This, on the other hand . . .

...is the opposite of fun:

Team promotions are getting better

I was never a big believer in the “in my day” form of sports nostalgia. I have a hard time showing reverence for players who played before integration. I downgrade the accomplishments of players who played before the days of advanced scouting reports and training methods.

All of that goes double for marketing and promotions. As a kid, the best stadium giveaway we’d get might be a shoddy team pennant made of glorified papier mache.

Today, teams have upped the ante significantly. None more so than the Diamondbacks. One of the leaders in crazy ballpark food, the D-Backs are making moves on the promotions front too. Every other team, you’ve been challenged: The Jake Lamb bobblehead is the promo to beat.

In other Noah Syndergaard news

The Mets' ace ended the month by having to leave a start against the Nationals with an injury that landed him on the disabled list, but before that he was making mascots’ lives hell. First, he tormented Mr. Met. Then, he went after the Phillie Phanatic.

If Youppi! ever makes his way back to baseball, look out.

MLB
Syndergaard injury just the latest example of one of baseball’s biggest problems

The baseball-hockey crossover . . .

. . . might be here sooner than you think, at least if Blue Jays games are any indication. First, Predators defenseman/ex-Hab/apple of my eye/bane of Mike Milbury’s existence PK Subban arrived at a Blue Jays game dressed in an A++ red jacket, where he was greeted by Montreal native Russell Martin.

Then Maple Leafs phenom Auston Matthews crashed a Jays game in a deep disguise that fooled exactly no one.

Add this to John Wall trash-talking Julio Jones at a Hawks-Wizards playoff game, and I am 100% here for this golden age of cross-sport fandom.

The Baby Bombers are huge

There’s a Russian novel to be written on the sudden greatness of Aaron Judge, who went from being a strikeout machine in his first taste of the big leagues last year to this season’s AL home-run leader. There’ll be plenty for in-depth analysis on Judge and the rest of the Yankees in the next edition of The 30, coming next Monday. For now, though, I’ll simply submit my early candidate for Photo of the Year:

The 6’ 7”, 282-pound Judge and 6’ 8”, 265-pound relief ace Dellin Betances sandwiching 5’ 8”, 151-pound infielder Ronald Torreyes.

Do not run on Yasiel Puig

The Dodgers outfielder will make you pay.

Do not try to sneak a pitch by Taz Tulowitzki

The three-year-old son of the Blue Jays shortstop will make you pay.

Bat Flip of the Month

With all due respect to Puig, Luis Valbuena, and other bat-flip enthusiasts currently toiling in MLB, they take a back seat when compared to one of the world’s best flippers: Wang Po-Jung. The combination of distance and nonchalance on this recent flip is truly breathtaking.

Despite that display of flipping excellence, we have another winner in our Bat Flip of the Month battle. April honors go to Cubs catcher Willson Contreras. Other hitters have flipped much higher, and farther. But Contreras celebrating an Addison Russell walkoff was truly inspired. It takes an innovative mind to invent the on-deck bat flip.

Chris Sale, smiting hitters and winning new fans

The Red Sox lefthander may have been the best pitcher in baseball through the first month of the season. His numbers are absolutely filthy: 37 ⅔ innings, 52 strikeouts, six walks, one home run allowed and a 1.19 ERA.

Still, my favorite Sale moment came Saturday at Fenway Park. As writer Sahadev Sharma of theathletic.com documented, a 24-year-old fan claiming to be an independent league pitcher approached Sale and asked the lefty ace about the grip on his slider. So Sale showed him.

Awesome.

First MLB home runs are the coolest

Saturday night at Dodger Stadium, we got two. First, Dodgers phenom Cody Bellinger went yard in the bottom of the seventh, earning the silent treatment from his teammates.

The very next inning, Phillies catcher Andrew Knapp returned the favor. His teammates did the same.

Oh and our friend Brock Stassi smashed his second major league homer in the same game. Fun night at Chavez Ravine.

It’s been a rough year for Yadier Molina

Whether the result of illicit substances on the baseball, or an impossibly unlikely fluke caused by . . . something, the Cardinals catcher didn’t look too great when a ball got mysteriously glued to his chest protector during an April 6 game against the Cubs.

Those were the good ol’ days compared to what Chris Coghlan did to him Tuesday night. With the score tied 2–2 in the seventh inning, the Jays outfielder rounded third to try and score the go-ahead run. When the throw from rightfielder Stephen Piscotty beat him home, Coghlan improvised.

Maybe Yadi should try a little Stickum on his mask too.

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