Writing > Seven years of baseball

July 27, 2012: even years of baseball

Originally published at TheScore

On this day seven years ago – July 27, 2005 – I went to a baseball game for the first time in my life. I have talked about it before in the book and other places, but mostly talking about it was done in a way that just recounts the events of the day and first impressions.

I will briefly re-cap those events: I was in New York on business, doing some illustration work for an ad agency’s client. I spent two weeks living a relatively normal life in New York (if you consider staying at the W hotel in Times Square normal). I flicked through the channels on the TV a few times in the evenings, and watched baseball for a few minutes here and there. It made little sense. I didn’t understand what the hell the announcers were on about. I mentioned to my colleagues Josh and Mark that I’d quite like to go to a game while I was in New York, and a couple of days later Josh (Yankees), Mark (Mets), and I (unaffiliated) went up to Yankee Stadium and watched the Yankees lose 7-3 to the Twins. Johan Santana was the winning pitcher, Al Leiter the losing pitcher.

Here are the starting line-ups from the Baseball-Reference box score and play-by-play:

Minnesota Twins – Shannon Stewart LF, Nick Punto SS, Lew Ford DH, Joe Mauer C, Torii Hunter CF, Jacque Jones RF, Bret Boone 2B, Justin Morneau 1B, Michael Cuddyer 3B.

New York Yankees – Derek Jeter SS, Robinson Cano 2B, Gary Sheffield RF, Alex Rodriguez 3B, Hideki Matsui LF, Jason Giambi DH, Jorge Posada C, Tino Martinez 1B, Bernie Williams CF.

My memory of the game itself is pretty cloudy. I don’t really recall any plays aside from a throw from the outfield (Matsui-Jeter-Posada) to get someone out at home to end an inning. And I remember the feeling of satisfaction I got when I saw a (Cano-Jeter-Martinez) double play. Apart from that, the main elements I remember was how American it all felt, and how dang fast the pitchers were throwing the ball. And, as I wrote in a blog post at the time, “the batting chap is pretty close, so he doesnŐt have much time to react.”

It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening. I bought a Derek Jeter jersey as a souvenir from one of the stores on River Avenue. My Yankee fandom, really, was down to the timing of the MLB schedule and my work schedule. Had I expressed an interest in going to a baseball game a few days later, the Yankees would’ve been on the road, we would’ve gone to Shea Stadium, and I’d likely be a Mets fan now.

Back in Berlin, where I was living at the time, I subscribed to MLB.tv. I was working late quite a lot anyway, so figured I could watch this baseball thing while I worked into the early hours of the morning. And I did. I got to know some of the players, immediately taking a shine to Gary Sheffield, mostly the way he waved his bat like he wanted to crush the pitcher’s head in. I took a shine to Robinson Cano, too (it was rookie season for both of us). I enjoyed watching Jason Giambi patiently waiting for the pitch he wanted to crush. I watched and watched. I couldn’t really tell the difference between the different pitches I was being told the pitchers were throwing. It took a while to get used to all the rules.

Funny, stupid thing: It wasn’t until 2006, my first full season watching the game, and the year I bought a baseball game for my PSP that I realised runners had to tag up on flyouts. When I played as the Yankees on “MLB 06: The Show,” players kept getting out and I had no idea why, until I actually paid attention to what players in real games did on fly balls.

2006 felt like the season where I took the next step in learning about baseball. I read a book about baseball that a friend recommended called Moneyball (the book, not the friend). I went back to the States for a short vacation, booked to coincide with a few Yankee games. I also visited friends in North Carolina and we saw the Durham Bulls play the Pawtucket Red Sox (shortstops that night: B. J. Upton and Dustin Pedroia).

In 2007, I was starting to feel less like an idiot talking about baseball, even though I still said “innings” (like is said in cricket) instead of “inning.” I started playing softball in Berlin, too, and there were suddenly a bunch of people in the real world who I could talk to about baseball. But 2008 was the year baseball really broke through. I spent a couple of months travelling around the States, and went to fourteen major league ballparks and a couple of minor league parks. I went into some detail about this trip in the book, but I will say that while seeing other ballparks, meeting fans of other teams didn’t diminish being a Yankee fan, it made me way more of a baseball fan than just a fan of one team.

Now, it’s a flawed comparison, simply because of the different mental powers one has at different ages, but let’s say your average North American starts enjoying baseball around the age of six or seven. I was going through the same evolution of a baseball fan in my mid-thirties. Rather than collecting baseball cards, I made infographics. I had questions about baseball, particularly baseball history. Making charts and graphs helped me remember that information. It was genuinely a massive, beautiful surprise that actual real baseball fans liked what I was doing.

Since then, I’ve lived in places with nearby baseball teams (the Pacific Northwest, Toronto, Mexico City). I’ve experienced what it’s like to go to a baseball game and it not feel like a special occasion; for it to be a normal part of my week. And, for me, that’s where a heightened amount of joy has come from. These last two seasons of Liga Mexicana baseball have been wonderful. I love that I can just go along, and not get too up or down about results. I read about baseball every day, I listen to podcasts about baseball, I watch baseball every day, be that in person or on MLB.tv. And I’ve come to accept that there’s a level of knowledge I will never ever reach. That’s the great thing about having the Baseball Prospectuses and FanGraphs of the world out there.

As with a lot of things that happen every day, though, you sometimes aren’t in the mood. Some days you love things more than other days. You still know you love those things, but in the moment, it’s just there, just a part of your day. Recently, I felt myself a little weary of baseball. Not the game itself; when I watched games I still enjoyed them as much as ever. But the constant thinking about baseball, the way I check game times, or the dates of Diablos Rojos home stands before I make social plans. I went on vacation to Belize a few weeks ago, and I was really looking forward to having a two-week break from it. And it was great: the vacation and the break from baseball. Here’s a quick, fairly estimate-y chart looking at my relationship with baseball for the duration of the vacation, and the week or so since I returned (click here for embiggened version):

I was away from baseball for two whole weeks, but really, what did I miss? An All-Star Game, sure, but, y’know, who gives a monkey’s about that? A few hot teams, a few not-so-hot, some great catches, some good pitching, a home run here and there. Baseball was still pretty much the same as it was two weeks before. (Indeed, the positions of teams in the AL was exactly the same on June 30th and July 14th; and in the NL, only the Braves and Mets , Cubs and Astros, Rockies and Padres switched.) That, though, is kind of what I love. Baseball is just there. It’s beautiful if you care to look. Like trees in a park. You can look closely at the trees and marvel at the way nature has constructed them, or you can stand in the distance and just enjoy the shapes and colours.

The imminent playoffs in the Mexican League (this is the last weekend of the regular season), and Ichiro being traded to my favourite team have me excited again. There’s still a shit ton of stuff to see, learn, and do. For one thing, I still don’t really have a grasp on the amount of players in the majors at any one time. I recognise the names, but so many of them I don’t know anything about. I listen to Drew, Dustin and Andrew on the Getting Blanked podcast, and they talk about all these players, and sometimes, I’m just, “err, is that guy a pitcher? Who does he play for?”

And, embarrassing confession: it wasn’t until the dog days of the 2011 season that I realised that one of the Phillies pitchers wasn’t actually called Van Swirly.