3/25/2014 10:03 P.M. ET
Walk-off celebrations help build camaraderie
By Ben Haber / Special to MLB.com
When one of Nick Punto's teammates drills a walk-off hit, that player's uniform does not stand a chance of surviving the postgame celebration.
Punto, the utility player the A's acquired in the offseason, sprints onto the diamond and viciously shreds that night's walk-off hero's jersey into pieces.
The walk-off creates indelible memories, and each team jumps for joy in its own way.
Many clubs smash pie into the face of whoever had the game-winning hit. Others dish out high fives and praise. But for Punto, he's developed something unique. He said the shredder's creation was accidental, and then he decided to do it regularly to others.
"The shredding tradition goes back to like 2010 in Minnesota," Punto said. "People kind of grabbed onto it in 2011, when we won the World Series with the Cardinals. David Freese's jersey is actually shredded in the Hall of Fame."
Punto, 36, signed a one-year, $3 million deal in November. Punto plans on temporarily stopping the shredder while he adjusts to his new team, but he hopes to bring it back soon.
Angels pitcher Hector Santiago witnessed something crazier while on the Chicago White Sox Class A Advanced club, the Winston-Salem Dash.
"In the Minor Leagues, we had a guy hit a home run over center field," Santiago said. "He came into the [clubhouse] and he got a powder shower, Gatorade cooler, a couple cans of soda and some ice-cream pie after that."
Beyond helping in the win column, walk-offs help develop camaraderie. The little boys in each of these grown men come out in the postgame celebration. A's manager Bob Melvin understands how valuable walk-offs can be.
"We have our own shtick as well, whether it's the pies or [dressing up like] Spiderman," Melvin said. "It gets the group together. It's always a nice feeling when you have a walk-off."
The potential downside starts with injury. Kendrys Morales, current free agent and former Angels first baseman, drilled a game-winning grand slam in 2010 and broke his leg with an exaggerated jump onto home plate in celebration. Despite Morales' costly fall, Punto receives the green light from his managers, which places a lot of stress on the equipment managers.
"I think it's more of an equipment manager's problem more than an owner, manager or GM," Punto said. "If you tear a Coco Crisp jersey off for a night game, and then next day you have a day game, it's a tough turn around to get a jersey made."
The ultimate celebration is, of course, winning the World Series. Giants outfielder Hunter Pence seized the grand prize in 2012. Before Pence enjoyed spraying champagne everywhere, he called the feeling "a big relief."
"It's a dream come true," Pence said. "I am glad baseball allows that kind of celebration, because that's the tradition of the game. [The celebration is] a symbol, it's a reward, and makes it very fun and exciting."
Punto believes "there's nothing better" than the walk-off celebrations because of the exhausting 162-game season. From pies to his trademarked shredder, it all means a lot to him.
"Coming in the clubhouse after it's over and everybody is as high as kite from the adrenaline, the energy and fight you were just in," Punto said. "You need to have the [walk-off celebrations] throughout the course of the year."
Ben Haber is a student at Arizona State University. This story is part of a Cactus League partnership between MLB.com and Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.