BALTIMORE — There is a strip of base line dirt, perhaps two feet wide, that sits exposed between the pair of tarps protecting the infield grass during batting practice at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. That dirt is Manny Machado’s pregame sweet spot. As he takes dozens of grounders at third base under the late afternoon sun, some three hours before game time, he lobs the ball back, just so, to the fungo-wielding coach who is hitting to him.
If Machado’s toss is too short, hitting the forward tarp, the ball deadens and bounces three or four times, requiring the coach to stoop to pick it up. Throw it too long and it hits the rear tarp, skips and short-hops the coach’s bare hand. Only when Machado’s long lob has the perfect height and distance and lands on that strip of dirt, a microscopic target from a distance of some 100 feet, does the ball take a single healthy bounce and land gently in the coach’s hand.