I remember going to a Carolina Mudcats game back in the day when Michael Pineda hit triple digits on the Five County Stadium radar gun. His first warmup pitch - he was with the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx in those days - hit the catcher's mitt with a sound like shotgun being fired. People stopped what they were doing, all around that chatty, friendly little ballpark. People turned. People listened as much as they watched. And the numbers from the radar gun showed 100, 102, 99, 100, 101.
The Mudcats, who were not what you'd call an offensive juggernaut at the best of times during that 2010 season, were helpless. And I walked away from that game thinking I'd seen a future star.
Fast forward to today, and Pineda is simultaneously injured and suspended, which is a neat trick. And let's be clear here: what he was suspended for was not having pine tar on his neck. I mean, yeah, sure, that's officially what he was suspended for, but what he really got popped over was being dumb.
He'd already been caught with pine tar once, and the nation reacted with a mighty shrug. Everyone does it, the Red Sox didn't call it out because their guys do it to, pitchers need it in the cold to get a grip on the ball, etc. In short, it was no big deal.
Except that everyone now knew that Pineda used pine tar. And the unwritten rules - of baseball, of life - suggest that if you get off with a warning, you don't immediately turn around and do the same dumb thing again. A cop lets you off with a warning instead of a speeding ticket for doing 75 in a 65 zone, you don't pull out in front of him and immediately punch it up to 90. If Dad catches you looking at porn online, you have the decency to wait until he leaves the room before you go looking for more. And if you get popped for pine tar, you wait a decent interval before you take it back out to the mound with you. You show the proper respect for the unspoken "we'll let you get away with this one, but don't let us catch you doing it again" and you DON'T DO IT AGAIN.
At least, not for a little while.
But that's not Michael Pineda. He went back out there with pine tar on his neck, so obvious even the gamesmen extraordinaire from Fenway had to say something about it. And so there was no choice but to suspend him because he'd already been caught once, and from there came the injury, and, well, yeah.
Hopefully Pineda's learned something from all this - how to be subtle with the pine tar from here on in, if nothing else. The scuffball/puffball/spitball/greaseball is a time-honored tradition in baseball, with the transgression winked at as long as the purveyor doesn't make it impossible to ignore. That's the real rule Pineda broke, and hopefully the one he'll remember going forward.
Because honestly, between pine tar and that electric POP, I'll take the latter every time.