If each baseball season is its own narrative arc, Spring Training is a preface that can feel agonizingly long—so close to what we want, but not quite. There is plenty of excitement in what Spring Training symbolizes and signals, sure, but symbols can sustain one through only so many games of lineups laden with non-roster invitees. By this point in March, the excitement has dulled; we are so ready for baseball that counts for something, it is difficult to care about baseball that doesn't. By this point in March, we are all Yoenis Cespedes, watching a ball nestle itself against the fence, letting it lie there, halfheartedly debating with the umpire for all of ten seconds before shrugging, resigned.
Yeah, it's a weird play. Very Spring Training. But it's also, in a strange sense, kind of the quintessential inside-the-park home run: unexpected, kind of odd, born more from the outfielder's mistake than the batter's success. The inside-the-park home run is something of a singular cosmic art form in the specific alignment of factors it demands—a well-hit ball that's somehow difficult to field, a savvy baserunner (though not always necessarily a fast one), a fielder who trips over his own feet or discovers too late that he has judged the path of the ball all wrong or, like Cespedes here, is simply confused.
It's not too common for these factors to meet just so; last year, 11 inside-the-park shots constituted only 0.2 percent of all home runs (though that represented a veritable abundance for ITP fans, after just eight in 2014 and six in 2013).
So, with the absurdity of Cespedes's blunder still fresh in our minds, let's take a look at some other gems of the inside-the-park variety:
Alcides Escobar, October 27th, 2015
This is the last example to include Cespedes in center field, really. But it would be impossible to make any meaningful selection of inside-the-park home runs without including this one. In and of itself, the homer is not particularly notable as far as inside-the-park shots go. There's no particularly egregious bad play in the outfield, and while Escobar's certainly fast, there's no insane baserunning on display. Put in context, though—put in context, it feels just as crazy as it did five months ago and probably will for quite a while. A World Series inside-the-park home run at all is rather unprecedented. As the television crew notes in the video, this was the 12th inside-the-parker in World Series history, but it was just the first since 1929—the only one in all the decades since inside-the-park shots have faded from prominence. On that level alone, it's astounding, and to add in that it's not just the first play of the first game but the first pitch? Almost too much to handle, especially if you're Noah Syndergaard.
Jhonny Peralta, July 18th, 2010
Jhonny Peralta is a pretty slow guy, as far as ballplayers go. You probably know this. It likely wouldn't be possible for him to hit an inside-the-park home run without the help of, say, Ryan Raburn crashing through the bullpen door (which, for whatever it's worth, seems like it should have a stronger latch). But what's remarkable here is just how slow Peralta was—he takes 16.74 seconds to run the bases. That's not just slow for an inside-the-parker, it's slower than some actual home run trots. Yes, Jhonny Peralta trying his best to turn a triple into a home run is slower than some guys celebrating their already-guaranteed home runs.
Prince Fielder, June 17th, 2007
We continue here in the vein of players whose speed seems a dramatic mismatch for an inside-the-parker. But sometimes opposites attract, and sometimes guys like Jhonny Peralta and Prince Fielder do things like this. Here, though, it's not a bothersome outfield gate that's the catalyst—it's an impressively poor misjudgment of the ball by the Twins' Lew Ford, presumably courtesy of the ceiling of the old Metrodome.
Sammy Sosa and Tony Womack (May 26th, 1997)
An inning with one inside-the-park home run? Great. Two? Better. The television crew isn't quite right in guessing that it might never have been seen before, but they're close—it appears to be the only time in the modern era where each team hit an inside-the-parker shot in the same inning, but it's not the only instance of multiple ITPs in one inning. In 1977, Toby Harrah and Bump Wills went back-to-back for the Rangers. Regardless, though, anything that involves peak-era Sammy Sosa, a play at the plate, and an encore a half-inning later is pretty nice to watch.
Deion Sanders, July 17th, 1990
That anyone has this sort of freak-of-nature athleticism is kind of astounding. That anyone can combine that raw athleticism with the immense skill needed to play both football and baseball at the highest level is more so. That multiple such people have existed and that we were lucky enough to watch two of them compete at the same time is just sort of unfathomable. This is exactly what you'd imagine from Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders in one highlight clip, and it's perfect: the fact that Jackson attempts that diving catch at all, the crazy play at the plate, all of it. You don't know Bo, but Prime Time did (on this day, at least. To be fair, here's a clip of Jackson stiffarming Sanders in college).
Bill Buckner, April 25th, 1990
Diving into the stands is generally a pretty solid ticket to oohs and ahhs, a SportsCenter Top 10 showing—when you make the catch, that is. When you land yourself in the seats while the ball rolls away to the edge of the warning track, not so much.
And, to close it out, what might be the greatest of them all, though it's sadly lacking online video: Roberto Clemente's inside-the-park walk-off grand slam from 1956, captured here by Chris Jaffe at the Hardball Times in 2011 and from a broader perspective in this Martin Espada essay from last year. It was, in Espada's words, "the ultimate refutation of the argument that baseball is boring"—which, to a lesser extent, can be said of any of these weirdly wonderful plays.
. . .
Emma Baccellieri is a contributor to Beyond the Box Score. You can follow her on Twitter at @emmabaccellieri.