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While he hasn’t motorcycled in the infield dirt at Progressive Field or stashed a pack of smokes in his sleeve, Chicago White Sox rookie Luis Robert on Tuesday night was cast by Cleveland Indians TV and radio announcers as a real-life Kelly Leak, the famous bad-boy ball hog from “The Bad News Bears.”
Robert, a 6-foot-2 center fielder, inspired the comparisons by sprinting across the outfield to pluck a fly ball over 5-8 teammate Leury Garcia, who was waiting to make the catch in straightaway right field.
Everyone announcing the game — whether on radio or TV, in Cleveland or Chicago, where White Sox voices worked remotely — seemed amused by how far Robert went out of his way to retire Jose Ramirez, who was leading off the bottom of fifth in the nightcap of the Indians’ doubleheader sweep.
But curiously, both WTAM-AM’s Rosenhaus and SportsTime Ohio’s Matt Underwood said Robert’s play reminded them of the same fictional character introduced in the 1976 film “The Bad News Bears,” later appearing in sequels and a short-lived TV series as well as a 2005 movie remake.
By far the best player on a team of youth baseball misfits, Leak was ordered by manager Morris Buttermaker to catch anything he could reach.
“He’s Kelly Leak,” Indians TV announcer Underwood said of Robert, then channeled actor Jackie Earle Haley from the original film. “Buttermaker told me to catch everything!”
On Cleveland’s WTAM-AM, Rosenhaus sounded surprised initially, then not at all surprised, when Robert zoomed across to make the play on Ramirez’s high pop fly.
“Did he catch another one? My goodness! Robert reminds you of, remember Kelly Leak from ‘The Bad News Bears’ late in the season?” Rosenhaus said with a laugh. “He was catching balls in front of every one of his teammates, and the guys got mad at him. Luis Robert is Kelly Leak. That was to dead right field, and Robert went and made the catch from center.
“And Leury Garcia — at least he laughed — he was lined up to make the catch in dead right and, da-ba-ba-ba-bump, there was Robert. Luis Robert came over and made the catch. That’s just funny. That’s happened twice today, and it will probably happen more until someone tells him to knock it off.”
“He does it, like, all the time,” Benetti said of Robert’s far-reaching putouts in left and right as well as center field. “He’s always in the picture. He’s like Waldo. You just have to find him.”
Robert is a lot easier to spot than the star of the “Where’s Waldo?” children’s book series, even without wearing red and white.
“What’s the old saying?” Sox radio play-by-play voice Andy Masur said on WGN-AM 720. “That three-quarters of the world is covered by water and the rest is by Luis Robert? ... I think that’s the saying.”
Sox radio analyst Darrin Jackson and Indians TV analyst Rick Manning — both former center fielders —sounded empathetic.
“He didn’t do it to be funny,” Jackson said. “He’s just going to take everything apparently thinking that the other guys they’re not as good. ... I felt that way as a young center fielder. It didn’t take me long to realize how much I did trust my left fielder and right fielder. Once I knew their range and their abilities, I never had a problem just running and backing them up and knowing they were going to make all the plays.”
Said Manning, who noted he heard Robert yelling it was his ball from the moment he started his sprint to make the play: “If you’re a center fielder, you take anything you can get. ... It’s not a bad habit to get into. If you can get there, go catch it. Within reason.”
Steve Stone, the White Sox TV analyst, said it was a size thing as he watched Robert and Garcia talking after the play.
“Well, (Robert is) taller and that’s what Leury is saying,” Stone said. “He goes: ‘Look, you got all that area out there and I got this little spot right here. I didn’t move and this comes right at me.’ Here comes Luis and he says, ‘Little guy, I’ll take this one.’ ”
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