Sunday, February 5, 2012

Growing Into Baseball

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen me pass on my regrets this past week for having missed out on my regular weekend blogging duties. I had every intention of getting some of my rambling thoughts into cyberspace, until I got a text from a friend with an extra ticket to the NHL All-Star Game being held in Ottawa last Sunday. So yes, dear readers, I chose to attend a half-hearted and fairly lazy display of hockey over talking baseball with you.

The thing is, a younger me wouldn’t have thought twice about going to the hockey game. I might have been angling to get there on my own, not just dropping in as a matter of happenstance.

But now, I actually had to give it some careful consideration. My hesitation was not, as you might assume, because of my overwhelming sense of obligation to the Tao to get a weekend post up. (Bastard bounced my last paycheque.) It was because even though I’d never been to an All-Star Game of any kind before, I just had a hard time getting interested. I didn’t know many of the players on the teams; hell, I barely could understand how they got chosen. Fifteen years ago, that wouldn’t have been the case.

Something about getting older has simply made me a bigger baseball fan. Over the past decade or so, I’ve become a more engaged, passionate baseball fan than I’ve ever been of other sports – even the ones, like hockey and football, about which I used to be most passionate, and even played as a younger man.

Baseball attracts and further engages me in part because of the mountains of baseball knowledge that exist. I’ve personally been let in on the game in a way that hockey and football never allowed, at least based on what I had read and consumed. At the same time, all of this knowledge is growing exponentially by the day, and easier to find than ever.

That’s not to say that there aren’t the same resources out there for other sports. But they don’t bring you inside the game the same way. Football thrives, for instance, on its image as a battlefield, populated by superhuman warriors who bring home three-inch-thick playbooks to study, and mere mortals can only watch and wonder. Baseball seems much more human.

The books, websites, blogs, and other media that are out there can help a person know more about just about any aspect of the game, in an interesting and entertaining way. If you want to understand its statistics and how they paint a picture of the game in different ways for different people, you can start with Moneyball and work your way through to Bill James and beyond. If you want to read about baseball’s history, its unique character and charms, its brightest and blackest days, there have been generations of smart and talented chroniclers of the game to whom you can turn.

Tonight, I have the Super Bowl on TV.

(Side note: I started watching an hour late and was PVRing the broadcast, which allowed me to fast-forward through the commercials during the first half. I didn’t catch up to the live broadcast until Madonna’s withered carcass was about halfway through her spectacle. Three things about that: one, there really is no better way to get through the stop-and-start bullshit of a football broadcast. Two, this is another reason why baseball is more compelling to me, because they just play the damn game, and yes, it takes a while, but at least I don’t have someone trying to sell me Dr. Pepper every six minutes. I only have to put up with that when the inning ends or they change the pitcher. Three, the Super Bowl halftime show could run Up With People out there again and I’d be more interested in it than Madonna.)

The fact that I was willing to turn away from the largest North American sporting event of the year, and spent an hour scribbling some thoughts about baseball, tells you pretty much all you need to know about which sport has its hooks in me for good.

Pitchers and catchers report in two weeks.


Matt - HBB said...

The accessibility is definitely key and really the reason that I have gotten in to Baseball so much this past season. Sites like FanGraphs and then all the easily accessible blogs were very inviting to a fan like myself and made it very easy to learn the further nuances of the game.

The Verdict: Baseball is Awesome

Anonymous said...

This sums up my feelings almost exactly. I played baseball at a higher level than I ever did hockey, and always considered it my favourite sport (especially to play).

But as a fan, hockey -- and particularly the Leafs -- were always my first love.

In recent years, that trend reversed itself entirely. Today, I could give you chapter and verse on the Jays minor league system, but probably couldn't name more than 10 Leafs players from the NHL roster.

The Org Guy has it right -- baseball is a more accessible game, and blogs like this make it all the more enjoyable to follow.

Steve Gower said...

I always have a home in my heart for baseball. I might try to catch a few more Jays games this year now that I have HD. Gotta get the most out of SN when hockey season is out.

Anonymous said...

Boy, do I relate. Hockey was my game as a kid, but I was a better ball player.Football was my favourite cause I loved the violence the rules allowed, but it was a fringe game in my hometown back then.
I am old enough to have seen Sparky manage at the old MLF Stadiam across the Lakeshore from the Molson's Brewery... which gave the best visitor plant tours back in the day, as a young man, I was a production guy at GMC, the supervisors council always booked us tours during layoffs and strikes.
Back to Toronto AAA ball, Lonborg, Fred Lynn for 1 season, maybe Fisk, Cogliano for sure, I think Rice too, Dick Williams as the manager, I think that Sox AAA team could finish at least .500 in the NL these days. They were scary good. The Yaz before, I think I saw him too, but it's so long ago. I did see him in 77 at the EX.
Then again, MLG and the Leafs were always head and shoulders above everyone else. Funny, my NHL memory highlight was as an MTHL kid going to the Tam for a Saturday noon game, passing Bobby Hull carrying his bag out as I carried mine in (the Hawks did their Saturday pre-game there, best ice in the city). I was 12 and maybe 5'3" and 110, the Jet growled "Hi Kid!" and flashed me that 1000 watt smile. He had to see I was overwhelmed to see him. And I am here to say that he wasn't all that much taller than me, much shorter than my dad, but he was as wide as high, and all muscle. One of those people who had so much vitality that it shined out of him, like he was more than human, which he was.
As a young man, I did get the NFL disease. Stabler and Bradshaw, the Steelers and the Raiders, the glory years in my opinion. Course my best friend's dad was a primo TO bookie, so that goosed my interest.
These days I can't stomach the NFL, last team worth watching for me were Jim Kelley's Bills. The Leafs are looking better, but I can't remember the last time I watched a game the whole way through. I've turned down tickets twice this season.
But baseball I'll watch every time. I'll be at the ballpark several times this season, though I am now living as close to Detroit as Toronto.
Maybe it's my age, I think it's the rhythm of the game. It doesn't have a clock because it doesn't need one. The players tell you to suspend time and just watch, while they play.