Stathead’s lament – Top 10 things about baseball I can’t appreciate

Statheads live in their mother’s basements. Everybody knows that. They firmly believe that games are played exclusively on paper and while they happily discuss the stadium issues, they are a little puzzled that a “stadium” is needed in the first place. For them, the game is a new math* contest between robots. To sum it up, if one can calculate well, he most definitely doesn’t know the first thing about real baseball. Example in case? Brian Bannister.

* What is “new math”, anyway? Is it something like the New Europe thing?

Sometimes, I wish I couldn’t add or subtract. I think of all the beautiful baseball things that other mention and that I can not appreciate due to the fact that I am a nerd. If I weren’t a stathead (imagine this to a tune of “if I were a rich man”) I am sure I might enjoy so many things a normal person likes about baseball – all of them more than statistics. I might even have a list of my favorite ones that would look pretty much like this…

1. Playing

If I had a penny for every time when I stood in the centerfield or the batter’s box and thought to myself “there is no place I’d rather be now”, I would have enough to build the A’s new stadium by myself, just to show off. Then I would buy the Athletics altogether and sign all the good players to over the market extensions. Then I would tender a contract to myself just to be with the team, take part in batting practice and shagging the balls in the outfield. If A’s ever faced Jamie Moyer in a blowout, I’d even put myself in the game.

2. Watching a game in the stands*

The sun, the breeze, the crack of the bat, beer and food. And sharing it with friends. Most of all, sharing it with friends. One of my surrealistic wishes is having a pro team in Stuttgart, having the season tickets, and just going there to watch some baseball and chit-chat.

* When I say stands, I am using the term loosely, as it often means the folding chair I brought with me. We are a bit behind in Europe, you know.

3. Traveling for away games, especially to a foreign country

This is a true story – I once traveled 46 hours to a game. The amazing part of that is – we traveled with a bus and we didn’t stop even once! It was some European Cup in Sweden and we got the Hajduk Split’s (a hot shot soccer team from Croatia) bus and three drivers to take us there. The bus was really cool. The three drivers’ music choices not so much.

I remember talking about this stuff with Mike Piazza and how we agreed the camaraderie and being on the road with the team is one of the things we miss the most. Now, there can not be two baseball careers more different than ours and I am only partly writing this to show off. I guess if it’s something guys cherish on such different levels of playing baseball – it’s a real thing.

4. Reading a good baseball book

Had it not been for baseball, I would have never appreciated the brilliance of many a book, both fact and fiction.

5. Watching a game in a bar

Admittedly, I have only done this a few times. My favorite bar is the only one I ever watched the game at — Philly’s Sports Bar close to the A’s home in spring training — and if you do go there, they just might remember us. If nothing else, for a $320 tab we had the last night. Four of us. During happy hour.

6. Teaching kids play

Another true story – the very first thing I did when asked to help out with the juniors practice was to break a kid’s nose. OK, I didn’t really break it, but it was all bloody and messy and the kid was such a good sport about it because I was his favorite player and he was fighting off the tears and it just broke my heart.

The thing is I was asked to assist the kids’ coach by hitting some grounders to a group of infielders. You have to know that our field was in horrible shape and that I never swung a fungo bat before and the ball jumped off it just a bit faster than it should have and it took a just a bit bigger hop than it should have – and well, that was a start to my coaching career. The kid recovered, so did I and – eventually – so did his mother, and I was able to enjoy some of the nicest, most heartwarming moments around the little ones in years to come.

I’ve seen a kid get hit by the pitch, pick up the ball, carry it over to the pitcher and go back to hit again. Another one strike out, walk to the bench, realize nobody is going up to bat, then quickly grab another bat and run to the batter’s box again. A rightfielder drop his glove and go chase a giant butterfly. But most of all, I’ve seen them play and laugh, swinging and missing, wearing those oversized helmets with the pure joy they will never experience again in their lives and I felt privileged.

7. Umpiring a well pitched game

You have the best seat in the house and you even get paid for it.

8. Playing fantasy baseball

OK, that should actually say “Winning fantasy baseball”. Head to head leagues with people you know and see often are the best, as rubbing it in is the best thing about winning. Hiding when you lose is accepted behavior.

9. Playing baseball on PS/Nintendo, Wii…

I’m not big on video games. I have a PS2 that I mostly use as a DVD player. No, I don’t have a DVD player, either. And I have two baseball games – a PC version of Triple Play ’99 (it features Alex Rodriguez in a Mariners uniform on a cover, just so you get a feel of how old it is) and MLB ’06 (features some sort of oversized-head-Chone Figgins when loading. It’s supposed to be Vlad Guerrero. They didn’t really invest in illustrators, I guess). I don’t really know where the first one is, but I played the second one again couple of days ago.

There are two great things about that game. First, I always play on a Rookie level, so that the A’s can drub the Yankees real bad. “It looks like you have mastered this level of competition. Would you like to try the next level?” No, I wouldn’t, thank you very much. I strike out often enough in real life.

And second? The commentators almost always accompany Chavez coming up to bat with “And in steps dangerous Eric Chavez”. I somehow really, really like that.

10. Watching a game at home

Goes without saying that it involves the AN game thread. No explanation necessary.

Hors catégorie – Getting laid on a baseball field
Or so I’ve heard.

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