Eric Thames’ cleats produce sparks running into fence at Camden Yards (Video)

David Brown
Big League Stew

Eric Thames must have lightning in his feet. Thames, an outfielder for the Seattle Mariners, literally made sparks fly at Camden Yards in the third inning Wednesday night when his cleats touched a garage fence in foul territory down the right-field line. Thames didn't seem to notice the St. Elmo's Fire started with his shoes, because the light show was over almost as quickly as it started. He was chasing a fly ball by Chris Davis, but could not reach it before it hit the ground.

The Orioles don't store anything flammable behind that garage door, do they? Earl Weaver didn't manage at Camden Yards, so a secret stash of 10,000 cigarette cartons isn't likely. And neither is nitrate-rich fertilizer for his legendary tomato plants — though it looks like a good spot for the Camden grounds crew to keep supplies. Boog Powell's barbecue sauce is usually stable, even in the hot and humid Maryland summers, in case there are any drums of it in storage.

Let's check out Thames' shoes for any clues.

Nah, just regular ol' New Balance cleats. Good support for your feet and apparently helpful when stranded in the woods and you need to start a camp fire. In case you're wondering, NO, the electrical happening didn't spark the Mariners to victory. The Orioles won 9-2 and Thames went 0 for 3 with a walk.

This is the second time in recent memory a baseball player has spontaneously combusted part of his uniform. The previous incident happened in September 2011, when Tigers catcher Alex Avila took a foul ball off his mask that caused sparks to fly. Avila didn't notice the sparks, either, even though they were at the end of his nose.

So, what's with this wizardry? Should we be charging Avila and Thames with witchcraft? Sounds reasonable, but the simplest explanation would seem to be: metal + friction = sparks. Could happen to anybody. And when it does, it's pretty cool. Or, hot.

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