After a lifetime in baseball, a dugout is like a second home to Steve Bushnell, the Seaman (Topeka, Kan.) High School baseball coach. And like any home, he insists on certain rules of decorum inside its walls.
Some of them might seem obvious: no food, no horseplay, no parents and no friends allowed. Others cover knottier issues that could potentially threaten a team’s image and morale. Bushnell and Londonderry High School coach Brent Demas, New Hampshire’s 2013 Coach of the Year, shared some of their rules for dugout decorum:
Talking on the Bench
Baseball is famous for its unwritten rules — informal but universal guidelines that dictate how the game should be played. One of them: “Don’t hurt, embarrass or show up the other team.”
That includes dugout trash talk, said Bushnell, whose Seaman teams have won seven Class 5A Kansas state baseball tournaments, advanced to the state tournament 12 consecutive years and been ranked in the top 50 in Baseball America’s high school poll.
“We don’t trash talk,” he said. “The way we treat people away from the field is how we treat the other team on the field.”
Demas also frowns on trash talk. But not loud talk.
“Being loud, stealing signals — some people frown on it now,” he said. “But I disagree. It’s part of the game. It’s a slow game; you want kids to be into the game and involved. What do you want them to do, sit there and golf clap?”
There are limits, though.
“Never make personal comments, degrading comments, never go too far,” Demas said. “Focus on your team — and loudly focus on your team. That’s my basic rule.”
What happens when a player ridicules a teammate in his dugout?
“That’s a conversation you have on the side, instead of in front of everybody,” Demas said. “If it continues, now it’s different. Now you’re ignoring me, and we’re going to have the conversation in front of everybody. It has to be addressed. The team knows the kid has gone too far.”
A year ago, Toronto Blue Jays rookie outfielder Kevin Pillar threw his bat down the dugout steps when he was pulled for a pinch hitter. The Blue Jays shipped him back to the minors the next day.
Violent temper tantrums shouldn’t be tolerated on any level, especially high school, Bushnell said.
“Baseball is a failure game,” he said. “If you can’t handle striking out or making an error, if you feel you have to put on a show of your anger or frustration in an outward way — to me that’s a sign of weakness.
“We understand you’re not trying to strike out. But we’ll respect you more if you can address the situation like a man. If you’re a guy who’s constantly having outbursts or bringing negative attention to yourself, no one is going to want to associate with you.”
Another concern is a player sitting in a corner of the dugout with a hangdog expression, or one who rolls his eyes at a coach’s instructions.
“We call it palms up,” Bushnell said. “When I tell you something and you shrug your shoulders and give the palms up, I’ll say, ‘You need to turn your hands over right now.’ That palms-up gesture is an excuse to me. Its negative language, like that slow ‘I feel sorry for myself’ walk back to the dugout.
“Opponents see that. You have to play through it; it’s a failure game. Guys who handle failure best are the ones who can succeed.”