Bird-Brained

A story about the time Dallas Braden yelled at Alex Rodriguez triggers the memory of a life lesson. (via Keith Allison, Todd Fong, Brian Repa & Michelle Jay)

Below you will find a comparative study showcasing two exhibits. The exhibits are interlaced with each other for the purpose of detecting repeated behavior, understanding the connections between the two, and drawing connections.

Exhibit A, which is displayed in italics, is transcribed from an interview given by Dallas Braden and conducted by Big Cat and PFT Commenter on the Pardon My Take podcast on Aug. 9, 2017. Exhibit B, which is the non-italic text, contains a personal story similar to the one related by Braden.

Big Cat: Please tell us your beta moment to A-Rod’s alpha, and let the award-winning listeners decide if you are, in fact, the ultimate beta.

Dallas Braden: W-w-I mean how do you want me to lay this out?

Big Cat: Lay it out however you want.

Dallas Braden: Do you want me to explain everything that happened? I mean it’s just, you know it’s, it’s something I’ve put in my rearview mirror, frankly, but we can, we can, uh, we can revisit. They understand he ran across the mound, and as a competitor, that’s your f***ing safe haven, you know? That’s the only spot I got that’s mine that day.

So, he he he comes, he’s on first base, we get a foul ball. He runs over to third; he’s bustin’, going first to third, but he comes back and on his way back, you know I maintain his GPS was probably on the fritz that day because he walked right over the f***ing mound, and I’m standing on the mound, and that’s an issue, for me.

In 2001, I was 12 years old, and my family lived in a small Montana town at the foot of Columbia Mountain. Our house was situated in a Pleasantville-style subdivision. However, only a clearing the size of a football field separated our slice of civilization from the rapid currents and undertow of the Flathead River. In Montana, humans co-habitate with the wildlife populations and might even be a minority relative to the deer population.

One afternoon I opened the sliding glass door and stepped out of our pastel-colored house for a stroll across our back yard. Except the word stroll makes it sound more peaceful than it was. For the past week, whenever we let our dog (a Samoyed/Chocolate Lab mix who looked a little like a grizzly bear cub and blended well with the local wildlife) into the back yard, she was greeted by one or more birds, each roughly the size of a fist, flinging their entire winged bodies at her full force.

As an old dog, only out there to relieve her old dog bladder, I’m sure she was taken aback by this new development. After some investigation, we discovered several barn swallows had established nests in the eaves of our house. Our safe haven had become their safe haven, and they were bound to defend it.

According to the Audobon Society, this group of swallows acted completely in their nature. The mating and nesting habits of barn swallows are as follows:

Courtship involves aerial chases. On perch, mated pairs sit close together, touch bills, preen each other’s feathers. Several pairs may nest in same immediate area, but do not form dense colonies like some swallows. Nest: Original natural sites were in sheltered crevices in cliffs or shallow caves. Sites used today are mostly in open buildings, under eaves, under bridges or docks, or similar places. Nest (built by both sexes) is a cup of mud and dried grass, lined with feathers.

Their territorial nature is also documented, more specifically, “If the nest is approached by a predator or human, the entire colony will mob the intruder using aerial acrobatics.”

Emboldened by their perceived victories against an elderly dog, our new neighbors took to divebombing humans as well. The swallows had gotten both my parents and my 16-year-old brother, but not me, so naturally, I thought I was special. After shooting my mouth off to that end, my brother demanded I prove it and dared me that I couldn’t make it to the far corner of the yard and back without incident.

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I accepted the challenge with so much confidence that I took to the yard barefoot and with an open can of orange Shasta soda in hand. I barely cleared the concrete pad when a ball of feathers collided with my wrist, the one attached to the hand lackadaisically holding the beverage. Startled, my body gave a jolt, vertically emanating sticky, wet liquid from the can, much in the same way water gargles from the garden hose in the first instant after the spigot is turned on. With the bet lost and not wanting to procure any further orange stains to my white tank top, I peeled off back through the sliding door.

DB: And so, as [A-Rod] continues to run through, I yell at him, I say something, and you can look the video up, he stops, and kinda like looks around, and then continues on to first. Apparently, he asked, uh, our first baseman. “Yo, is he talking to me?” Daric Barton and Barton had told him, “No, he’s a weirdo. He talks to himself. Don’t worry about him, whatever.”

Well, I end up getting, I ended up getting Cano, uh, to ground into a double play, and A-Rod just peeled off. He didn’t, he wasn’t in position to take anybody out, back in the good old days when you actually could, and so, he peeled off, and I’m yelling at him during this time, you know, “Hey! What the f*** is going on?” and he’s looking at me like with his hands out like “What?” and I’m going, “Get the fuck off my mound!” and he kinda looks at me like “What?” and I, and that’s when I just said, “Stay the f*** off my mound!” and that’s when he, you know, he waved me off very nonchalantly, and, uh, and that’s when I kinda like lost my s***, and started going out there, and, uh, I get grabbed by our manager, and you know, the umpires come out, and whatnot, and that was that. Um…

The swallows sent a strong message. Cross into their territory, and you’d be made to answer for it. They weren’t going to be kicked around. It didn’t matter that they were small, weak birds, and we were big, powerful humans. Later that night, my brother had a friend by the name of Dustin over to play video games, or watch Monday Night Raw, or something of that nature. At one point in the evening, Dustin excuses himself to grab something from his car.

The front door of our home opened directly into the living room where the entire family congregated, so we watched him go, expecting him to return in a minute or so. Mere seconds later the door is flung wide, a blurred shape that mostly looks like Dustin hurtles itself through the doorway, then slams the door behind him and leans up against it breathing like a catcher that just bunted for a base hit. We stared at him for a few seconds before my mom finally asked the question on our collective minds, “What happened?”

“The birds! They attacked me!”

PFT: You think you could have kicked his ass?

DB: Uh, uh, I don’t think the odds are in my favor, but I don’t think that, that’s never something that I’m, I’m factoring into the equation. That’s not, uh, that’s not a matter.

Big Cat: So you’re a tough guy, you’re a fake tough guy.

DB: No, no, I’m just not gonna be kicked around, that’s not…

Big Cat: You would have beaten up A-Rod, if your manager didn’t hold you back, right?

DB: No, that’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m saying we would, I, that we would have gotten a lot closer and the conversation would have been had between him and I and where that goes, who knows?

[…]

DB: Yeah, that s*** pissed me right off. Especially as somebody who’s not a, you know, I’m not a big-name guy. At no point was I a big-name guy, not even close to it, and playing in a small market, the point was, you’re not just gonna roll into Oaktown and start throwing your d*** around and think that people are just be okay with it. S*** don’t roll that way.

PFT: So, did you bean him? Did you bean him after the fact?

DB: Did we beat the Yankees? Yes, I believe we did beat the Yankees that day.

PFT: No, did you throw at A-Rod’s head? Did you put one in his earhole?

DB: Oh, no, no. I’m not the, I’m not the guy that’s gonna be dialing up the beanball. Are you kidding me? My 85’s gonna deflect. I got, uh, we got guys down in the bullpen with 100, that are meant for that.

The time had come for retaliation. I watched from the safety of my bedroom window, located directly under one of the eaves of the house where the swallows took up residence. As a rail-thin, preteen girl, I thought it best to leave our retaliatory show of strength in the hands of the big boys.

Rather than researching a humane way to relocate the birds and settle the territorial dispute, my brother parked his pickup truck on our front lawn, an area the gang of swallows claimed as their own. He stood proudly in the bed of the truck, clearly his domain, swinging a baseball bat at any baseball-sized bird passing within a few feet of him.

Meanwhile, Dustin produced a potato gun, borrowed my can of aerosol hairspray for fuel, and set to sending a stronger message. I don’t recall if any of these efforts were effective, or if the situation simply diffused itself once the birds’ mating season ended and they migrated to a new town.

Other Notes and Concluding Remarks

An adult human brain weighs roughly three pounds. “While the human brain has a structure similar to that of other mammals, what makes it so very different is its size in relation to body size.

Compared to the size of our bodies, human beings have much larger brains than many other mammals.” Meanwhile, the brain of a barn swallow weighs roughly 0.001 pounds and possesses simpler structure than that of a mammal. For both humans and barn swallows, studies show there exists a positive correlation between brain size and intellect. A bigger brain implies more complex, intelligent thought. As proud humans, we fancy ourselves dominant over all other species, both physically and mentally. On the mental side, scientific studies suggest that theoretically, this is true. The question remains, is it true in reality?


Kiri is a professor of mathematics at the Community College of Denver. She also has professional experience in data science and applied analytical research. Visit her website and follow her on Twitter @glitter_corpse.
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Andrew Ott
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Andrew Ott

Clearly not a football guy

Nick Smith
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Nick Smith

It’s terrifying that the only reason Braden didn’t throw at Rodriguez is because he didn’t think his pitch would injure A-Rod enough. Dumb animal.

bly
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bly

I can t find a good video. Does anyone have a favorite? (Either story.)