tomemos

March 24, 2007

Not how we say cricket

Filed under: Game of Base, General Me, The Gray Lady — tomemos @ 4:58 pm

(Edited March 25, 12:05 p.m.: SI link given, minor fixes made; 1:22 p.m.: link to previous sports post given)

Spring having sprung, I’ve been looking for a way to write about baseball again. Thanks to Shashi Tharoor, and the New York Times Letter Editor, I now have an excuse.

Tharoor is a departing UN under-secretary, and he decided to advance his mission of international goodwill by publishing an Op-Ed in the New York Times that essentially calls Americans stupid suburban drones because we don’t enjoy cricket. Here are some salient highlights:

“Ever since the development of baseball, the ubiquitous and simplified version of the sport, Americans have been lost to the more demanding challenges — and pleasures — of cricket. Because baseball is to cricket as simple addition is to calculus — the basic moves may be similar, but the former is easier, quicker, more straightforward than the latter, and requires a much shorter attention span. And so baseball has captured the American imagination in a way that leaves no room for its adult cousin.”

“…nothing about cricket seems suited to the American national character: its rich complexity, the infinite possibilities that could occur with each delivery of the ball, the dozen different ways of getting out, are all patterned for a society of endless forms and varieties, not of a homogenized McWorld.”

“Cricket is better suited to a country like India, where a majority of the population still consults astrologers and believes in the capricious influence of the planets — so they can well appreciate a sport in which, even more than in baseball, an ill-timed cloudburst, a badly prepared pitch, a lost toss of the coin at the start of a match or the sun in the eyes of a fielder can transform the outcome of a game.”

And finally, his even-handed, diplomatic conclusion:

“So here’s the message, America: don’t pay any attention to us, and we won’t pay any to you. If you wonder, over the coming weeks, why your Indian co-worker is stealing distracted glances at his computer screen every few minutes or why the South African in the next cubicle is taking frequent and furtive bathroom breaks during the working day, don’t even try to understand. You probably wouldn’t get it. You may as well learn to accept that there are some things too special for the rest of us to want to waste them on you.”

Okay.

First of all, even if I accept at face value the claim that a sport that doesn’t feature the split-fingered fastball, the squeeze play, and double play depth is more complex than the one that does, WHO CARES? This cult of complexity drives me crazy–Hold ‘Em is a better poker game than Stud, because more complex; postmodern writing is smarter than New Critical writing, because more difficult, etc. Obviously as an academic I understand the value of complexity as a means to an end, but the valorization of complexity for its own sake is, ironically enough, simplistic. The sort of complexity that requires a match to go on for 30 hours before a winner is chosen does not necessarily serve the goal of a sport, which is to entertain and excite. Why not 130 hours?

Second, there are certain phrases that I usually hate, but which sometimes are the only way to refer to something. “Politically correct” is one example. “America-bashing” is another, and this piece is the poster child for America-bashing. Tharoor does not give any evidence that he knows anything about baseball (hey, Tharoor, NAME FIVE BASEBALL TEAMS), let alone enough to compare its merits with those of his favorite sport. Instead, he just figures that it’s American, ergo stupid; cricket is not American, ergo smart. Does it occur to him that baseball has been popular here for almost 150 years? Were we a “homogenized McWorld” before McDonalds existed?

That’s but an excerpt of my full rant. But when writing to the New York Times, one has to be pithier:

To the Editor:

If, as it seems, Shashi Tharoor’s goal was to make me feel stupid for preferring baseball to cricket, he would have been better served had he not included the following: “Cricket is better suited to a country like India, where a majority of the population still consults astrologers.”

(As some of you may know, this is the second letter I’ve had published in the New York Times. The first one is located here. A comment calling that letter “simplistic in the extreme” and “BS” is here.)

With two published opinions about sports (remember this?), I believe I am officially a sports pundit (does sports have pundits?), and so here’s another opinion. Fire Joe Morgan has already noted Ozzie Guillen’s descent into small-ball madness, but this item from Sports Illustrated’s baseball preview cries out for further mockery:

Forget that only two teams in the majors outscored the White Sox last season. Or that no club was more productive than Chicago with runners in scoring position. … Manager Ozzie Guillen arrived at training camp still peeved over his team’s offensive performance last season. “We were s—, pathetic,” Guillen growled early in spring training. “We hit too many home runs. Our situational hitting was horrible. This year we’re going back to small ball.”

If you spit out your coffee at the sentence “We hit too many home runs,” give yourself ten points! Hitting home runs is the best thing one can ever do offensively. There is no better offensive result to an at-bat than a home run. “We hit too many home runs” can never, ever, make literal sense. Now, I understand what Guillen is trying to say – as when he says “our situational hitting was horrible,” he means that the team didn’t get enough hits with runners in scoring position. However, as the reporter instructs us (probably ironically) to “forget,” the White Sox were the most productive team with RISP last season. In other words, what the hell are you talking about, Ozzie Guillen?

Also, in the same SI issue, the following praise for Royals 3B prospect Alex Gordon:

“He’s a total stud, a five-tool guy,” says one AL West scout. “And he’s a gamer. I saw him last year, and he dived headfirst into first base to try to beat the throw. In Double A ball!”

Well, diving into first, as opposed to just running through the bag, 1) slows you down, making it harder to beat the throw, and 2) exposes you to injury. So what this scout is saying is, “He already has a bad habit, and I want to encourage him in it.” How long will players keep doing this thing that everyone knows is a bad idea? Probably at least as long as they keep getting meaningless compliments for it.

December 2, 2006

It’s back, it’s way back, it hit a guy in the back

Filed under: Blogs Themselves, Game of Base, Laws and Sausages, The Old Dirty War — tomemos @ 5:08 am

Happy December! I have a post in mind about my wacky travel adventures, but it’s really late right now. So instead I will link to two blog posts I read recently that I think are absolute home runs. One of them, funnily enough, is about baseball.

To begin with the non-baseball one: please, go read this post by Glenn Greenwald on New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. Read it, read it, read it. You should particularly read it if, like me:

1) you opposed the war from the beginning,
2) you felt, during the lead-up to war, betrayed by the supposedly liberal media’s failure to report calmly and objectively about the merits of the administration’s plans and claims,
3) you have felt, over the last two years, increasingly frustrated that no one will acknowledge that being anti-war was the sensible position from the beginning, and that therefore those who opposed the war have more credibility than those who supported it.

Greenwald shows that the media establishment has worked like gangbusters to suggest that, even though the war had gone to hell—who knew that Bush would screw it up?—they were right to support it, and that no matter what it’s still unrealistic to leave. The whole thing is great, but here’s a part that felt particularly true to me:

It is not merely the case that having been pro-war doesn’t count as a strike against anyone. That is accurate. But far worse, the opposite is also true. It is still the case in Establishment Washington that having been pro-war in the first place is a pre-requisite to being considered a “responsible, serious” foreign policy analyst. And having been anti-war from the start is the hallmark of someone unserious. The pro-war Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden are serious national security Democrats but Russ Feingold, Nancy Pelosi and Jack Murtha are the kind of laughable losers whom Democrats need to repudiate.

This is not just about me and other war opponents getting in our “I told you so” (though it’s that, too; given that it was only a year after 9/11, we were sticking our neck out; I particularly remember taking the Metrolink into New York and hearing two firemen talking about how protesters had a “short memory”). It’s about who in the government and in the media we trust to lead our country, and how. What’s driven me crazy, as the war has become not just a disaster but an acknowledged disaster, is that the myth of universal support for the war, perpetuated by the Bush administration (“Everyone thought there were weapons!”) has not only been blithely accepted; it’s been actively encouraged, by those who supported the war and don’t want to admit they were wrong. Those of us who did oppose it—well, whatever, we were a bunch of hippies and intifada-lovers who would have opposed any war.

What I love about Greenwald’s article is that he absolutely nails something I had never been able to put my finger on before: why discussions of how the Democrats need to be (or at least appear) “serious about national security” drive me absolutely bonkers. As used in these debates, “serious” means “hawkish” (or “subservient to the ruling party”): the implication is that those who don’t want war are pie-in-the-sky idealists who while those who do want it don’t really want it, they just know what has to be done and by gum they are going to roll up their sleeves and do it. (Hence the hawk’s eternal riposte: “Well, what’s your solution?”) Now, it has transpired that the real delusional ones, the ones who believed that Iraq could be turned into Luxembourg with moxie and a small invasion force, were leading America into a catastrophe—which millions of people already knew—and yet there is still this idea that the pundits were right to be wrong, and that whether politicians voted to send America to its worst foreign policy blunder ever is irrelevant to whether they should still be trusted with American money and lives. When we wonder why we always forget the lessons of history, we usually chalk it up to a simple failure of memory. That’s part of it, but there’s always an active aspect of it: in order to learn a lesson, someone has to admit they were wrong, and power and influence is always much more interested in covering its ass.

* * *

Now, to baseball: I’ve been waiting for the right time to link to Fire Joe Morgan, and though it might seem strange that that time would come in the dead of the offseason, the bad sports journalism that the site skewers is always around. Unlike most of the “Fire Public Figure” sites, FJM has a more general mission (actually, they say they don’t really care about getting Joe Morgan fired): to insist on the reasonable use of statistics and empiricism to assess baseball players, rather than mumbo-jumbo about heart, character, hustle, and all of that. Any sports fan is familiar with the proliferation of cliches in sports writing—hey, it’s hard to write about 162 games in a unique and interesting way—but even I have been amazed at some of the soft and hokey (and, in other cases, derisive and mean) writing that they find, and invariably destroy. Here’s my favorite quote from the post that finally got me to give the link, a roast of Wallace Matthews’s “Meditations on Jeter” (Matthews’s text in bold:

I know, the MVP is not supposed to be a lifetime achievement award, but it’s not supposed to be a stats competition, either.

Amen. Stats can’t capture Jeter’s essence. He’s more than a ballplayer. If you wanted to describe the most beautiful songbird in the world singing a Mozart sonata to an innocent child, would you use numbers to do so?

Go back and look through the archives, if it’s your kind of thing. It’s like MST3K for sports nerds.

April 20, 2005

I ain’t trying to bunt, I’m trying to go out the park

Filed under: Game of Base — tomemos @ 11:46 pm

I’ve used “Casey at the Bat” more than enough in my titles. This one comes courtesy of E-40.

The Giants are going through a truly depressing, Bonds-less drought that I’d rather not think about, but there is joy in Mudville (dammit, there I go), since I’ve got baseball-related semi-news about myself.

First, some background. The nearest baseball team to me right now is the Angels, in Anaheim. Now, they’re not my favorite team, having beaten the Giants in the 2002 World Series (Julie and I drove by Angels Stadium recently, and when we passed World Champions Way I almost lost my shit), and they’re also the main rivals of the A’s, whom I wish the best. Nevertheless, I’ve developed a certain amount of an Orange County identity–don’t worry, Kerry-Edwards is still on my bumper–and so when the otherwise cool new owner of the Angels, Arte Moreno, announced that he was changing the team name from the Anaheim Angels to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, in order to get some of that fat LA advertising money, I was agin’ it. Orange County is not LA, and if Oakland wanted to be the San Francisco Athletics I’d oppose that too. Let the town have its team. Plus it sounds stupid.

Anyway. John Donovan, baseball writer for Sports Illustrated, noted in a column that, between the Dodgers and the Angels, LA drew more fans last year than New York did. That struck me as specious, so I wrote him an e-mail saying so…he responded! (It’s the last message on the page.) And then the next week, some other guy responds to the response,, taking my side! (Again, last one on the page.) I’ve started an internet controversy! Albeit an irrelevant one, of interest to only a small group.

I mean, in the end, I think Donovan’s right. Dismissing my hyperbole is fair enough, and it’s nothing new to have teams in the suburbs; in the NFL, the “New York Giants” are in East Rutherford, NJ. But still, I’m proud of my contribution–this is the closest I’ve ever come to breaking into sports journalism.

December 6, 2004

And the echo answered fraud

Filed under: Game of Base — tomemos @ 6:07 pm

I know not many of you go for the baseball stuff, but the Barry Bonds story is weighing heavily on my mind, and I have to get it out…

Babe Ruth was caught using a trick bat in 1923, after which the American League outlawed that practice. Sixty years later, some of the Seattle Mariners were looking at one of his bats that was part of a travelling display, when one of them noticed that it was corked–that is, it was hollowed out, filled with cork, and plugged up with wood, in order to make it easier to swing without losing power. So the first great home-run hitter benefitted, more than once, from cheating. “Nothing could be more typical of Ruth,” wrote Bill James in his Historical Baseball Abstract, “than to use a corked bat if he could get by with it. Ruth tested the limits of the rules constantly; this was what made him who he was. He refused to be ordinary; he refused to accept that the rules applied to him, until it was clear that they did. Constantly testing the limits of the rules, as I see him, was Babe Ruth’s defining characteristic.”

The pitcher Gaylord Perry, more recently, founded a career on the spitball, both by throwing it and by making people believe he was throwing it. He was never caught defacing a ball in a game, but it was common knowledge that he did it–he even wrote a book after he retired, Me and the Spitter. He’s in the Hall of Fame, and part of his high reputation, it seems to me, is based on the public’s admiration for a man who could cheat so brazenly and cleverly (he would glue sandpaper to his finger to scuff up the ball, e.g.) and get away with it.

Go down the list of the great players and you’ll find plenty who bent or broke the rules to give themselves an advantage. The most dramatic baseball game ever, the playoff for the 1951 National League pennant between the Giants and the Dodgers, was won by stealing signs. The great athletes, like Ruth, are defined by wanting to be better than everyone else, and they took this advantage however they could.

Now, it is finally clear that Barry Bonds did indeed use steroids over the last few years, years in which he established himself as one of the very best players in baseball history. Why is this worse than what Ruth did with his bat, or Perry with the ball?

First, let’s be clear: it is worse. I’m not some wounded Giants fan defending Bonds by saying, “Well, everyone’s a cheater.” There is a difference between what Perry did and what Bonds (and, it must be said, a probably startling percentage of current major-leaguers; but then, none of them is in the top 10 of all-time players, where Bonds is) did, and to my mind it comes down to this: Perry messed with the equipment, Bonds messed with his body.

The rules about the equipment are arbitrary; they’re limits in place to maintain the balance between offense and defense and to make today’s records coherent next to yesterday’s. It’s not like we’re using the best equipment for the job; if baseball suddenly switched to aluminum bats, you would probably see a player hit ninety or a hundred home runs in a year. We’re not using aluminum because we’ve decided we don’t want to see that. A player who messes with the equipment is giving himself an unfair edge, but he’s doing it by tinkering with an arbitrary rule.

But tinkering with your body is different. The foundation for sports is physical ability. That’s the primary reason–for some, the entire reason–to be interested in the enterprise: watching people who have developed their bodies and skills so far that they are better than almost anyone in the world. The worship of an athlete and the worship of, say, Bruce Lee comes from the same place: the audience’s amazement that a fellow human being can naturally become so physically perfect. As an athlete, you’re supposed to make yourself into the best player you can–but the whole reason it’s exciting is that you’ve gotten there through single-minded dedication, through understanding your body and the game you play. If those of you who’ve watched a game with me wondered where that far-off look came from when Barry Bonds was at bat, now you know.

Steroids puts paid to all that. If you use steroids, you’re letting science, some chemist, do the work for you. You’re getting somewhere you don’t deserve to be. I’m not saying that steroids can turn a nobody into a great athlete; by that logic, I could take steroids and hit .260 in the majors. But who knows where the line is? Have steroids given Bonds an extra 10 home runs? 20? Have they increased his batting average by 20, 30, 50 points? Have they lengthened his career? Would he be challenging Hank Aaron without them? We don’t know. The product is of uncertain value.

I still believe Barry Bonds is a great player; his years before he doped make that clear, and as I said steroids can’t do everything for you. (Jason Giambi took what Bonds took–he hit well for two years, then suffered a bunch of steroid-related injuries [tendonitis, a tumor in his pituitary gland] and his career is pretty much over.) And I still believe that Bonds should and will go to the Hall of Fame. What Bonds did is better than what Pete Rose did–betting on baseball, that is–because Bonds was trying to be a great player and help his team win; Rose is not in because he made us worry that he was trying the opposite.

But the more I think about this, the more disappointed I am. Barry had my respect and admiration sewn up in 1997; I never revered any athlete before him. I wish he hadn’t cheapened himself with drugs he didn’t need. I wish he could have taken a few less home runs, a few less years, in order to stay what he already was: one of the very best. I wish he could have just remained, as he was for me, a hero.

October 14, 2004

Mudville

Filed under: Game of Base — tomemos @ 11:32 pm

Now that the pain has mostly subsided, I can write about this:

Thoughts On Watching the Dodgers Beat the Giants in the Penultimate Game of the Season, Thus Clinching the National League Western Division
Saturday, October 2, 2004
Dodger Stadium

1. The Giants came into LA having to win all three games to force a playoff for the NL west title. Obviously, this was really unlikely. But as all sports fans know, when something is unlikely, a true fan starts seeing it as more likely, as long as it would be really cool for that thing to happen. A dramatic comeback to force one-game playoff between two rivals? What could be more likely than that?

When I went to the park on Saturday, the Giants had already won on Friday. And on Sunday, the staff ace, Jason Schmidt, would be pitching, so the Giants would probably win that one (as indeed they did). So all we (yes, “we”) had to do, I reasoned, was win today. Which we would, because the story was just too good for us to lose.

2. As I expected, I got a lot of heckling from the Dodger fans sitting around me. In the beginning I didn’t really know how (or whether) to respond, so a lot of the barbs I got were about how quiet I was being. I eventually got into it, though, and while I’m not the wittiest heckler in the right-field stands (that would be my dear friend and reader Bret Turner) I made them laugh at a couple points. (They brought up the Giants’ loss to the Angels in the 2002 World Series, and I asked where the Dodgers were at that time. “Playing golf,” one of them acknowledged.)

Trading witty barbs like that, I realized that the relationship between opposing fans is, ideally, a friendly one, almost a working partnership. In order to thrive, a rivalry has to have interaction between rival fans, but if that interaction is unpleasant or violent, it’s not a rivalry, it’s a turf war. At one point, a Dodger fan in a nearby section started swearing at a Giant fan, challenging him to a fight and so on. The Dodger fans and I told him to shut up, to watch his language with kids around. Then we joked with each other about how stupid it was to get angry over this kind of thing. “Yeah, we’re going to follow you back to your car,” one of them said to me sarcastically. It was acknowledgement between us that sports don’t matter; it’s just that they’re most fun when we pretend they matter.

3. As I say, the heckling was usually respectful. The exception was the gay jokes that were occasionally tossed around. I didn’t hear anything too poisonous–one of the guys behind me asked if I had a gay wedding to attend, and someone in the bathroom told me to go back to the “Gay Bay” (because, you know, Los Angeles is free of all homosexual activity)–but even so it wasn’t the kind of joke I felt like laughing at. At the same time, it didn’t bother me all that much; I had seen it coming. But when I was talking with some friends, and someone else (a Dodger fan) mentioned that he had heard comments of that kind, everyone around us was really surprised and angry about it. I started to talk about how, well, this is a sports fan thing and it’s not as outrageous as it sounds, but I had to wonder: am I just less sheltered than other people when it comes to homophobic slurs? Or am I playing down the importance of it out of loyalty to the Guy League? As in, well, I don’t make comments like that, but I don’t let it get me mad because we’re all guys here? I mean, if someone made the same jokes in a class, I don’t think I’d let it slide–but then I’d have the social context on my side. Social pressure is one of my least favorite things.

4. When Barry Bonds came up with a base open, he always got walked, as he is every single time in that situation. Giants fans always take that moment to express their displeasure with the lily-livered opposing team. What I didn’t realize before that day, though I should have, was that the fans of the opposing team don’t like it either. Not just that they want to see Bonds play, but that they realize that it’s always dangerous to walk someone. The fans around me were tense that their team had just given ours a free base. That made me feel a lot better about the whole thing–it may be frustrating for me to watch Bonds get walked again and again, but at least he makes opposing fans afraid wherever he goes.

5. Yeah, the Giants lost. They took a 3-0 lead into the ninth, on the strength of a masterful pitching performance by Bret Tomko, and I made the mistake of getting smug, asking things like “Where can we get tickets to Monday’s game?” (that is, the playoff between the Giants and Dodgers). And then the bullpen blew it, blew it spectacularly, letting in three runs, one at a time, and then giving up a grand slam for a 7-3 loss. Seven runs is the HIGHEST POSSIBLE number of runs a team can give up in the bottom of the ninth with a three-run lead, and we did it. We get it. We lose. Okay.

It wasn’t fun to watch. It wasn’t fun watching the lead leak away, thinking “Double play, double play” with every pitch, my knees shaking throughout the inning. It wasn’t fun hearing the excitement mount around me, fueled by all the fans I’d been poking fun at for the last three hours. And it really wasn’t fun walking out of the stadium as soon as the “National League West Champions” sign started flashing–immediately, I was faced with a hundred elated, gloating Dodger fans, grinning and yelling triumphantly, trying to high-five me, and so forth. Lots of other Giants fans were making their escape, too; we passed each other without saying anything, as passing Dodger fans yelled, “Giants suck!”

It wasn’t fun, but it was an experience. It was a total inversion of my usual life as a sports fan: a member of a cheering throng, anonymous in my orange and black cap. I can honestly say I’ve never gotten as much attention at one moment as I did while walking out of the park. And if I bore some abuse on behalf of my team, that just shows the kind of fan I am. (Dedicated, not masochistic.)

6. As for them losing, it was sort of painful, but at the same time I think it was much less so than it would have been if I saw the same thing in San Francisco. There I would have been one of thousands of anguished fans, watching in horror as our team snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. At Dodger Stadium, as the enemy, I was already the underdog. Being in the minority, I already had to keep a stiff upper lip. So when they lost, the fall wasn’t nearly as sharp, and I was much more able to roll with the punches.

7. Okay, God, Kerry has to win the election. You didn’t let the Giants win, you didn’t let the A’s win, you didn’t let the Cubs win, and it doesn’t even look good for the Red Sox. You owe me and you owe me big.

March 18, 2004

That’s what you get out on the edge

Filed under: Game of Base, Literati and Cognoscenti — tomemos @ 1:50 am

I’m sorry I haven’t updated in a few days. It’s gotten to the point that one of you thought he could light a fire under me with a comment telling me to post something. But, you know, what did you expect when you decided to make a grad student’s life a part of your normal internet itinerary? (Netinerary?) I’ve just been wrestling with my papers, my students’ papers, and various other forms of stress that are either uninteresting or taboo. And I went to spring training. But I’ll talk about that later, because I need something to keep you reading while I talk about my classes.

LET’S TALK ABOUT MY CLASSES! I’m so goddamn exhausted. A couple weeks ago I reached the point where my classes were becoming a distraction from what’s really important, namely my seminar papers for those classes. Not that I’m in great shape with those. Last week, I gave my Medieval Romances prof a poorly-thought out, poorly-presented prospectus for my paper. She gave it back saying that it was poorly-thought-out and poorly-presented. Today, in class, I gave a quite impressive presentation on my paper; after class, she complimented on being a “fast learner.” And I am: I learned fast that I’d better get my ass in gear about this paper in time for my presentation. Have I written anything? Well…maybe I’m a fast writer, too, huh?

The other source of anxiety is my teaching. Not just the work involved–I’ll have twenty-one papers to grade come Friday, plus my first-ever Final Grades to dispatch–but also the fact that they just today filled out their evaluations of me, covering everything from my comments on their papers to, I imagine, my personal hygiene and choice of shirts. I’m very nervous about how they like me, I don’t feel like I have a good read on how I did this quarter. If you’re wondering how this could be, imagine that you’re expecting a grade in a class, and that all of the papers you wrote for that class had been handed back to you with no written comments and a blank stare. Would you feel that you knew what grade you were going to get?

However, with spring comes rebirth, and a new set of classes. I’ll be taking a class on Henry James–master of the hundred-clause sentence–and one on postcolonialism in the Americas. I’ll also have a lot more free time, since I won’t be working on a paper for a conference in the midst of all this. Man, am I looking forward to the first weeks of the quarter, when my friends and I can get together and watch TV or play video games without joking about how guilty we feel, or talking about how this was “just what we needed.”

But yeah, I went to spring training a couple weeks ago. (That’s baseball’s spring training for the uninitiated. It’s in Arizona.) I went with Sean Bartmasser, Berkeley High ’99 and recent graduate of UC San Diego, and a few of his friends. The trip was a bad idea, work-wise, and I knew it, and I’ve been paying for it ever since. But I sure as hell don’t regret it. It helped me satisfy the baseball jones I’d been having. More than just the baseball, though, it was the college road trip I never took. (Well, I took a couple to Washington DC, but they were for anti-war protests, and I got there in vans with fifteen people in them so it wasn’t really the same.) We went to bars, we chatted with the locals (including a foreign-born taxi driver who told us dirty jokes), we stopped to get Date Shakes on the way home. It was just the thing.

But yeah, the baseball was great. What’s funny about spring training is that it’s for the hardcore fans–who else would go to Arizona to sit outside?–and yet it’s also so much more familiar than most baseball games. The stadiums only hold 10,000 people or less, so no matter where you are you’re right next to the players. For example, at the Giants-Cubs game, our seats were located on a grassy embankment just behind the outfield wall. You can also get autographs if you’re willing to wait and wait for them. I only got one, but it was a good one: former A’s star pitcher Dave Stewart, now busily helping Eric Chavez extend his contract with the team. That ball’s sitting on my desk right now, actually.

Mostly, I was just thrilled to be there while these guys got ready to do what they do. We got to the A’s-Angels game (which the A’s won 26 to 3) at 10:30, in time to watch a B game between the A’s and Giants’ minor league squads. These were guys hungry to make the big-league teams–the most famous player there was probably Ryan Jensen–and the crowd wasn’t watching too closely. We sat down forty feet away from the players, right behind the visitors dugout. The A’s batter went to 0-2, and we were close enough to hear the third-base coach clap his hands and encourage him: “Only takes one to get a knock, baby. Come on.”

And if a missionary had been there at that moment, I probably would have converted to whatever religion he was pitching.

February 8, 2004

There’s a long fly, it’s gonna be, I believe…

Filed under: Game of Base — tomemos @ 1:50 am

I really, really can’t wait for baseball to start.

I guess this happens to me to some extent every year, but it feels much, much stronger this year, and happening much earlier. Spring Training hasn’t even started yet (one week!), and yet I’m checking ESPN.com every day and talking with other grad students about trades and Vladimir Guerrero and salary arbitration. I don’t know if it’s that I have digital cable and can finally watch games whenever I want, or if it’s that there’s less to do around here, or what, but I’m having spring fever in February and it’s freaking me out.

I just started watching the PBS Baseball documentary, and I grin like a kid through the whole thing. (Side note: did you know that the curve ball was initially banned in official baseball games?) Ken Burns notwithstanding, I don’t know if there’s something ineffable about baseball that makes it more special than all other sports, or if this is just a normal psychological/physiological reaction to sports fandom. Whatever, I just keep picturing coming out through the tunnel, and there’s the field, with a dirt quarter-circle and bases ninety feet apart.

More of this later. Especially in April.

“Here come the Giants, in the bottom of the first inning…”

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