Swinging For The Fences
KANSAS CITY – Kenny Williams isn’t much of a baseball player, he openly admits. But America’s national pastime has found a place within North Carolina’s pre-game repertoire at home and away from Chapel Hill.
How, you ask?
When the starting lineups are introduced, each Tar Heel has a routine of how he goes from seated when his name is called to making his way toward the other starters convening near the middle of the court. For Williams, his regular thing is to act like he’s swinging a baseball bat and apparently hitting a home run.
Following the flight pointing or watching with a hand on their brows, as if to shade the sun, are the rest of his teammates. This is a bunch of kids having fun just moments before the start of a game.
“One of the staff (members) on the baseball team actually asked me to do it and I told them…” Williams said, Thursday afternoon at Sprint Center, site of UNC’s Midwest Region semifinal versus Auburn on Friday.
“It was only going to be a one-game thing, and all of my teammates said, ‘Man, that’s tough, you gotta keep doing that.’ So, that’s where it comes from.”
The thing is, Williams’ Hank Aaron impersonation isn’t just for him, it’s become a team-wide deal. Each of the Tar Heels not already introduced as starters take part.
Over time, more and more players have become a part of the act, with most pointing to the apparent flight of the ball as if it’s a Ruthian shot sailing over an imaginary fence.
But as for who mimics tossing the ball in the air for Williams to hit, only one man has that job.
“I don’t know who was the first to look at the ball, I think it was kind of a group thing, but it’s always BRob (Brandon Robinson) throwing it up,” Williams said. “We do a little hand shaking and he throws it up and I knock it out of the park.”
Now, remember, Williams isn’t exactly a baseball guy, but he is sort of a fan of the reigning world champs. And he also knew Thursday was formally Opening Day in Major League Baseball.
“I used to say I was a (Boston) Red Sox fan, but I kind of backed away from baseball,” he said. “But it was good to see them win the World Series, hopefully they can get it again.”
As much fun as this is for the players, it’s important they are allowed to do pretty much whatever they want. UNC Coach Roy Williams wants them to have to freedom to be who they are.
That’s how you end up with a mock home run being hit during starting lineup introductions.
“That’s who we are and coach (Roy Williams) allows us to do that,” the guard from Virginia said. “I think that’s the best part about being here is coach doesn’t say ‘Hey, don’t do that,’ he’ll let us do whatever we want to do – he’ll let us be ourselves and express ourselves. That’s one of the best parts about playing here.”
Of course, none of this would make any sense without the ball soaring over the fence for a homer each time Williams takes a swing.
Yet, that was recently challenged, so he set things straight.
After a game earlier this season, one of the team’s student managers told him someone caught the ball, to which Williams immediately replied, “I was like, ‘Don’t do that again, it’s a home run.’”
And Harmon Killebrew, Frank Robinson, Willie McCovey and Eddie Murray would be proud.