The fun police were out in force at Game 1 of the NLCS in St. Louis, as the Washington Nationals clashed with the Cardinals.
Cardinals fans took zero time in booing Nats left fielder Juan Soto when he came to bat in the first inning. Soto clearly heard the boos and couldn’t help but smirk as he dug into the box.
Keep in mind that Soto has played just seven regular-season games at Busch Stadium, where he has an offensive stat line of .136/.310/.364. So where’s the beef?
Apparently, Cardinals fans, who have long claimed to be the “best fans in baseball,” are bitter about what has become known as the “Soto Shuffle.”
For anyone who normally listens to Nats games on 106.7 The Fan, you might miss the elaborate routine that Soto has between pitches in which he does not swing, which includes dragging both feet through the batter's box and then grabbing his...equipment.
“That’s his way to get into the next pitch and keeping him engaged,” explained Nats manager Dave Martinez when asked by the media. “That’s all he does. He’s not showing anybody up.”
That may not be the whole truth. Soto talked to MLB.com's Jamal Collier earlier this season about the routine, which he started in the minor leagues.
“I like to get in the mind of pitchers because sometimes they get scared. I just try to get in their minds,” he said earlier this season. “I still do it in the big leagues. A couple of the guys tell me, ‘You can’t keep doing that,” but do it in the right situation and that’s what I’m trying right now.”
Martinez has been working with Soto to simplify the shuffle, but the best fans in baseball weren’t having it in Game 1. Neither, apparently, was opposing starter Miles Mikolas.
The Fan’s Grant Paulsen put it a bit more bluntly:
“We talked to him about it, and to a sense, we also told him, ‘Hey, look, every now and then—I know you get into the moment and you don’t realize you do it, but just back it down a little bit,’” Martinez said.
Unwritten rules of baseball are fun for fans, but they’re also wildly hypocritical. Fans loved David Ortiz’s batting glove routine between every pitch or Gary Sheffield’s bat movement in the box. Yet Soto is “too young” for eccentricities or fun?
The good news is that St. Louis fans don’t need to like Soto. And if he continues his postseason tear, Cardinals fans will soon have good reason to hate his talent.
Brian Tinsman has covered D.C. sports since 2011, both from the team marketing and skeptical fan perspectives. Tweet your criticisms @Brian_Tinsman.