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COLUMN: Kentucky baseball’s dugout antics are good for the game

Sydney Yonker
Kentucky Baseball team dances while Kentucky outfielder Ryan Waldschmidt goes up the bat during the Kentucky vs Western Kentucky baseball game on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 5-0. Photo by Sydney Yonker | Staff

Kentucky baseball has had an historic season on the field this past season, but one part opponents have been most critical of has nothing to do with the actual play, rather it’s been the players in the dugout.

Kentucky Wildcats head coach Nick Mingione talks to reporters after the No. 18 Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky baseball game on Tuesday, March 28, 2023, at Nick Denes Field in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Kentucky won 10-8. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff (Jack Weaver)

Earlier in the season, the Bat Cats dropped two of three to Kennesaw State in surprising fashion and head coach Nick Mingione was not happy with the energy from his players in the dugout.

After the challenge was laid out by Mingione following the Kennesaw State series, the team took upon themselves to adopt a new philosophy and thus the moniker of “get weird” was born. 

Since that moment, the dugout has become a staple of the Wildcats season and must-see tv and, since that series, Kentucky has set the record for the most SEC wins in school history and captured a share of its first regular season SEC Championship since 2006, with the dugout “getting weird” having played a huge part in the success.

To begin with, on every run the Bat Cats score, every foul ball, hit-by-pitch, walk, hit and home run is celebrated in the dugout loudly and proudly.

“I just love the engagement of our dugout,” Mingione said. “I love the way they celebrate each other’s successes, it’s like no other.”

One of the more popular antics the team has done is mocking Mingione’s coaching mannerisms at third base.

Something else that has become popular amongst the team is the phrase “we don’t move,” which refers to getting hit by a pitch in the batter’s box, though the term has transitioned over to the coaches as well.

Pitcher Carson Applegate coached first base and he took a foul ball off the shoulder because he did not move, which sent the dugout into a frenzy.

Kentucky Wildcats first baseman Nick Lopez celebrates with head coach Nick Mingione after hitting a home run during the Kentucky vs. Eastern Kentucky baseball game on Tuesday, Mar. 5, 2024, at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 10-0. Photo by Isaiah Pinto | Staff (Isaiah Pinto)

In the Bat Cats’ series finale against Vanderbilt, Mingione took a fly ball off the ankle and he pointed at the batter Nick Lopez and back to his dugout, which again was celebrating.

Another common occurrence in the dugout is the rally cap, which occurs when everyone in the dugout gives their hat to one player, who alternates forward and backwards until he is wearing everyone’s hats.

Another element of “getting weird” has promoted fan interaction, which has made the ballpark a more fun experience.

One of these came from Sunday starter Mason Moore in the form of a pink bucket hat that he wears when he is not pitching. Now, the pink hats can be seen all throughout Kentucky Proud Park as fans join in on the fun.

The Bats Cats have also used bucket hats to celebrate holidays, donning a green one for Saint Patrick’s Day. The Wildcats have also sported yellow bucket hats as of late to raise awareness for childhood cancer in Kentucky.

The dugout has also led to fans becoming a part of the players’ walk ups songs, whether that’s waving their hands up and down for Ryan Waldschmidt or clapping their hands above their heads for Grant Smith.

While all of this is fun, it has a much deeper meaning for the players on the field. 

“They’re the ones that are keeping it loose and they’re keeping it to where they’re just having a ball,” Mingoine said.

Like most things in sports and life, you can’t please everyone and Kentucky’s dugout antics have rubbed some the wrong way. 

“Just all their nonsense that they do, I mean it’s all what they’re known for… they’re going to try and get in your head,” Florida superstar Jac Caglianone told Nick Marcinko of Gator Country shortly after the Florida-Kentucky series. “They’re going to try chanting, doing all that nonsense. The fact that it’s allowed blows my mind.”

Kentucky outfielder Ryan Waldschmidt celebrates at second during the Kentucky vs Lipscomb baseball game on Friday, Mar. 1, 2024, at Kentucky Proud Park in Lexington, Kentucky, Kentucky won 7-4. Photo by Sydney Yonker | Staff (Sydney Yonker)

The Wildcats’ dugout antics have even gotten the attention of opposing coaches.

“Cheering on the team is one thing, but we’re not the cheerleading team, with all due respect to them,” Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello told Tennessee Volunteers on 247Sports.

To put it frankly, these opinions or thoughts on the Wildcats are soft and reflect a very shallow way of thinking about the game as a whole.

Every team has things that make them who they are whether its in play on the field or ways of acting off of it, and for the Wildcats, the dugout is one of the most important elements to the team’s DNA.

Lopez himself has credited the dugout with “bringing the energy to keep us alive.”

None of that is to mention that these types of things keep the game fun and interactive, and that’s good for the growth of the game of baseball as a whole. Anytime there’s a chance to make the fans a part of the game and make the experience at the ballpark more enjoyable, teams absolutely should. 

All in all, the Kentucky baseball dugout is must watch and has not only proved to be essential in the team’s success, but also a great step forward in fan interaction and growing the game.

Everyone who dislikes it will just have to deal with it.

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Jonathon Bruner, Assistant Sports Editor

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    James E StiverJun 15, 2024 at 1:48 pm

    I think for an opposing team it might get a little irritating. I think for the cats it’s in their dna and they enjoy it. So let them have their fun!