Last week, the Toronto Blue Jays were playing the Tampa Bay Rays. The Jays won 7-2, but that’s not really the part that matters. What made this game particularly noteworthy to fans is who scored and how he did it.
It was the bottom of the eighth, and Alejandro Kirk was on first. Kirk is short and stocky, and known more for his hitting than his base running ability. Yet, when Teoscar Hernandez stepped up to the plate and hit a line drive deep into left-centre field, Kirk took off with a vengeance. He scored from first; no easy feat.
Everyone seemed to love it. Kirk’s hustle made him an icon to anyone who’s ever been chased around the bases by their much faster teammate, a hero to anyone who’s ever uttered the phrase, “Hang on! My legs are shorter than yours!” The cheers from inside the Rogers Centre could be heard on the broadcast, and just about every teammate seemed to jump to their feet to welcome Kirk back into the dugout. The only people who had much of a right to be upset were Rays fans, and even then, they had to admit that it was a pretty impressive run.
There was one person who decided that he needed to throw in his two cents on (where else, but) Twitter. Matthew Ross is a TSN Radio host based in Montreal, and in a tweet that has since been deleted, he said, “It’s cute and all, but it’s also embarrassing for the sport. Giving guys like this prominence feeds negative [baseball] stereotypes.”
Ross was rightfully blasted for the take by the majority of baseball fans on social media, including Blue Jays pitcher, Alek Manoah.
“What’s actually embarrassing for the sport is people that go by the name of Matthew and have never played a day in the big leagues thinking they can control the narrative and stereotypes. Go ahead and tell that 8 year old kid who is 10lbs overweight that he should quit now. Or just step aside from the keyboard and let KIRK inspire those kids to continue to chase their dreams and chase greatness,” wrote Manoah.
When Ross doubled down and said that he was really only “defending” baseball, Manoah, again, pointed out the flaws in his logic.
Kirk is, as Manoah put it, a “big guy.” He’s 5’8” and about 245 pounds. Pointing that out is just a statement of fact that has no bearing on his ability to play baseball. Clearly, he can play baseball; he scored from first, it’s on film, you can watch him do it. He’s been an all-star and is widely regarded as one of the most improved players in baseball this year. His athleticism is not immediately cancelled out by the fact that he doesn’t have what you’d typically consider an “athletic build.”
Clearly, the reaction to Alejandro Kirk wasn’t one of ability, it was one of optics. In this specific situation, Matthew Ross found himself in the minority, but his attitude is certainly not unique to him. There is a specific “look,” associated with playing sports and being athletic and it affects more than just professional athletes. To borrow Alek Manoah’s example, for every sports writer telling Alejandro Kirk that his appearance is “bad for baseball,” there’s a hundred chubby eight year olds being told that they should quit before they even start.
There’s endless variation and diversity when it comes to human body types. What athletes like Kirk can show us is that it doesn’t matter what you look like or how you’re built, sport can be for you. You can be built like a fire hydrant and still score from first.