EVERETT — Let’s face it, baseball games can be long. Especially for pitchers in the bullpen who are waiting for their turn to summit the mound.
Some pass the time by stretching their arms. Others blow bubblegum or twiddle their fingers.
And some, well, some just stand there.
During Friday’s Northwest League game between the Eugene Emeralds and the Everett AquaSox at Funko Field — with a potential no-hitter unfolding on the field — Everett pitcher Travis Kuhn participated in a national-anthem standoff with Emeralds pitcher Ryan Jensen.
The anthem standoff is a reoccurring gag in baseball, but rarely does it last past the opening pitch, especially in the big leagues, where the anthems traditionally take place on the field.
On Friday, the two continued to hold their hats over their hearts well after the pregame anthem had been completed. For seven-plus innings they persevered — Kuhn in the AquaSox’s bullpen down the left-field line and Jensen in the Emeralds’ pen in right field. A winner would be declared if one of the players removed his hat from his heart.
The standoff eventually ended when Kuhn was informed by Everett pitching coach Ari Ronick that he needed to start warming up.
— Matt Feld (@mattyfeld612) August 24, 2019
“We were pretty deep,” Kuhn said of the competition. “I was starting to stretch a little bit in case I needed to come into that game. Ari came down and let me know I probably need to tip the cap and move on with the day.”
The standoff is something Kuhn said he attempts almost every game after the completion of the national anthem, but Friday marked the first time this season an opponent has followed suit for any length of time.
“It’s a pretty rare bite,” Kuhn said. “We had Spokane pick it up in the last game of the series last time. It lasted until about the first pitch was thrown, and then they quit. This one was a bit longer.”
Endurance is required to thrive in such shenanigans.
Kuhn, who leads the AquaSox with four saves, was at a disadvantage solely because of his role. A reliever, he could have been called upon to pitch at any moment. Jensen, the Chicago Cubs’ first-round pick in this year’s draft, is strictly a starting pitcher who wasn’t scheduled to throw Friday.
Kuhn didn’t make any excuses. “Fair and square, he took the win tonight,” Kuhn said.
The fact the AquaSox won the game 4-3 in dramatic fashion — on a walk-off single by Cesar Izturis Jr. in the bottom of the ninth — helped ease the pain of the loss outside the lines.
The competition resumed Sunday night with two new participants: pitchers Garrett Westberg of Everett and Chris Allen of Eugene. The two held their anthem standoff until 8:24 p.m., approximately four hours and 24 minutes after the anthem was performed for the 4:05 p.m. first pitch.
They passed the time learning facts about each other: Allen learned Westberg is from just south of Everett (Federal Way) and drives a Ford Ranger (he thinks). Westberg learned Allen was a junior college draft pick (Marin Community College in California) and he’d been shut down from throwing because of an injury.
They even followed each other on Instagram afterward.
After Everett won the game 6-3, the two hurlers were carried like statues into center field by their teammates and placed just feet apart. Teammates encircled them for about 30 minutes, with each side trying to break the opponent’s concentration, including putting ice cubes down the competitors’ backs. For the last 30-plus minutes of Sunday’s standoff, the two were completely alone in the outfield.
Eventually a truce was called and the two agreed to resume their competition during Monday’s game at Funko Field.
But the umpires put the kibosh on the mischief in the second inning, informing both teams there would be ejections or fines handed out if the standoff continued. There is a league rule that prohibits anthem standoffs to prevent delays in the game.
There’s been instances of anthem standoffs in the recent past, prompting the implementation and enforcement of the rule, the most famous perhaps being Scott Van Slyke and Joe Kelly squaring off before Game 6 of the National League Championship Series in 2013.
All good things have to come to an end at some point. Unfortunately, this one was anticlimactic.
Josh Horton covers the AquaSox for the Herald. Follow him on Twitter, @JoshHortonEDH