Wait until next year

Putting off what could be done tomorrow, today

Tag: baseball

The Deadball Era – Monday video special! (My Baseball Winter #4)

No witty insight or well-researched commentary today (“or ever!” the readership cry), but just some fun video footage, of baseball way back in the mists of time. Funny to spot the differences with today’s sport, and to spot the similarities – baseball is more aware of its history and heritage than most sports, after all. Enjoy!

Baseball can be silly, in a good way (My Baseball Winter #3)

My baseball winter hasn’t been as chronicled as closely as I might have initially hoped. Apologies dear readers. I’ve been trying to keep up, but failing miserably to actually record anything. Oh, the woe of a lazy blogger, eh? Still, I’ve been reading, online and off, and as mentioned previously even had a go at scoring a game or two. If I actually get around to scanning the scoresheets I’ll finally write about that soon. But what can I say? I’ve been busy, writing silly posts about hot toddies and in real-life making my annual pantomime appearance. But that’s another story for another time.

So, baseball. That’s what you thought you’d be reading about, right? Rather than all this waffling? Still here? Wow.

One super-duper obvious way of immersing myself in baseball is the myriad sites that pervade this here internet. There’s a wealth of information, insight and commentary. But sometimes, I’d like a little less statistics and seriousness and a little more silliness. Because (and keep this under your hat), I’m a little silly. And a great way into a sport’s soul is to explore its silliness. Like with people, you learn a lot when their guard is down. When it comes to sport, and people, if there’s no fun, it ain’t worth it.

First off, there’s this great video, of Dock Ellis explaining how he pitched a no-hitter, whilst under the influence of LSD, with some wacky accompanying visuals. But remember, don’t try this at home kids! This has been all over the web, but I’ll thank BaseballGB and The Daily Something, in particular, for flagging it up, and being two of my “go to” sites this Winter.

And secondly, something rather special. Compiling statistics may be engrossing, enlightening and all those things, but essentially they can be pretty dry. And rarely silly. Until now, where the Wezen-Ball blog has combined two of my favourite things, baseball and the Peanuts cartoons, to calculate Charlie Brown’s wins, losses and other stats. Now that is my kind of statistical analysis. A real treat.

I shall continue my exploration of the absurd, the comical and the strange in baseball, and may well even keep you abreast of developments. I should be a little more reliable, right? Anyway, what silly stuff have you come across (baseball or not) recently?

Ten little things that helped make 2009 a good year

We think in generalities, but we live in detail.

Alfred North Whitehead
English mathematician & philosopher (1861 – 1947)

The web and the wider world are full of ‘best of’ lists, looking back at the past year and indeed the last decade. However, I thought I didn’t have a whole lot worth adding to the more general debates, such as best albums, best films, best sportsmen and women. Does the world really need another end of year/decade review?

So…instead I’ve decided to compile a list of some ‘little’ things I’ve enjoyed this year. Maybe this will offer a tiny insight into my world, and hopefully prompt some thought on those little things in life that make the world a more enjoyable place. Life is all in the details.

1. The seaside

This year I’ve been to the seaside several times with my Significant Other, and had a wonderful time on every occasion. In the UK we’re really lucky in that you are never that far from the sea. Maybe there is some primal pull, but more likely it’s great to regress to being a kid again, with ice creams, crazy golf, dashing around the arcades, skimming stones and fish and chips on the beach. We realised that we can jump on a train and in an hour or so effectively be on holiday, if only for the day. A great way to ‘get away from it all’, and cheap too!

2. Actually going to the football

I used to go to games all the time years ago, but I think following a team week-in, week-out is probably a young man’s game. Saying that, there’s nothing to stop me going to see a match from time to time, and I’ve got back into that this year, again accompanied by my ever-supportive Significant Other. We live close to Charlton Athletic, who late last season started giving tickets away as they hurtled towards relegation. This season has been far better for them, and popping down the other week on a whim and catching a game was a lot of fun.

3. Piccolo coffee

I was never a big coffee drinker. But this year I’ve fallen for the trendy coffee brigade’s fancy drinks. A piccolo is kind of like a very strong, yet miniature, latte, essentially an espresso topped up with a little milk. I’ll often grab one from a little coffee stall near work, generally at lunchtime, to kickstart my afternoon. It is absolutely delicious, and a welcome change from the luke-warm, sugary, whipped cream abominations from the big chains. I’m on course to become a coffee snob!

4. Scoring baseball

More to come on this soon, folks, I promise. But generally speaking, I had real fun following this year’s MLB season. Even though the Mets were beyond rubbish.

5. Staying in on a Saturday night

I used to get rather jittery staying in on a Saturday night, worried I was at home while everyone else was out having fun. No more. I think I’ve finally hit full-fledged Grumpy Old Man mode, and so can’t abide jostling crowds and overpriced drinks in trendy bars, or nightbuses home from dingy nightclubs. Also, I’ve loved spending some time with my Significant Other, a takeaway and some crap telly. Strictly Come Dancing, X Factor, Match of the Day, bed. I never thought this would be my idea of bliss!

6. Spicy chilli peanuts

My snack food of the year. I’ve bought a big tub of them for Christmas, and can’t see it lasting long. Plus, I can kid myself that peanuts are a healthier option.

7. Cain’s Mild

My drink of the year. A classic beer from a Liverpudlian brewery. Full of flavour, but low in alcohol, so I can drink plenty of it without falling over. Coveting a can of mild, again, suggests I am now truly an old man, in heart, mind and increasingly in body. This is not a bad thing. I think I’m actually growing into myself.

8. The New York Review of Books

On the surface, this is a periodical with a load of book reviews. But really, they are just a launchpad for articles on much wider issues, so an issue might throw up some interesting perspectives on all manner of things – the fall of the Berlin Wall, Theodore Roosevelt’s environmentalism, the new ballparks in New York, prison reform, schooling…you name it. It is refreshing to see such a wide range of issues covered, and for writers to be given the room to cover them in sufficient depth. Plus, it makes me feel a bit cleverer for reading it.

9. QI

It’s bloody brilliant, isn’t it? And like number 8 above, I feel a bit cleverer for watching it. You can never have enough trivia stuffed in your brain, as far as I’m concerned.

10. Listening to Christmas songs

I love Christmas songs. Big Rock Candy Mountain feeds my addiction with some weird and wonderful efforts, but I’m just as happy with the more mainstream fare. Phil Spector’s Christmas album is probably one of the best (not just Christmas) albums ever. Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You is my number one guilty pleasure. To me, that song is perfect. It’s a shame that in just a few days I won’t be listening to these songs for another year…

So, what little things made your 2009 a good one? I’d love to hear about whatever helped make your year.

Photo from kevindooley, via Flickr

The perfect game (My Baseball Winter #2)

So, following on from my intro to My Baseball Winter I thought I’d actually start chronicling my Wintertime baseball experiences. This is not in chronological order, so unfortunately my ‘journey’ may end up a rather fragmented one. I think I may end up offering these snapshots and hope that they add up to, well…something beyond the sum of their parts. Before I begin, a tiny bit of context. I recently tried scoring my first game (thoughts and scans to come in the near future, all being well). I’ve also been perusing last season’s stats. Generally with a confused expression on my face. OK, well, let us finally get this blog post started…

Sport doesn’t really matter. We could function as human beings without it. I hear that some people even do. Just as some people function without music, literature, art or any of that other useless stuff.

But boy, life would be empty without all those things. Especially sport.

While ‘art’ can, and does, engineer moments that transcend the everyday, sport doesn’t. But it still happens, from time to time. By chance, and as a wonderful by-product of the technique of those involved and of the contest itself. And that’s what makes sport magical.

That sometimes it can make us feel alive, without even trying.

On July 23 this year Mark Buehrle of the Chicago White Sox threw only the eighteenth perfect game in Major League Baseball history, and only the sixteenth since 1900. This is perhaps the ultimate act in the sport of baseball. To throw a perfect game a pitcher must, over the course of a nine inning game, allow no opposing player on to base.

This might not sound that impressive to someone new to baseball, but let’s think about this a second. This has happened on only eighteen occasions, in thousands and thousands of games. Bear in mind there are just short of 2,500 games played a year. So, in well over a quarter of a million games (if my shaky, hurried Maths is right), each starting with two pitchers (one a side), a perfect game has only been pitched those few times. July 23 really was a historic day.

So, as part of my ongoing baseballing education, I decided to sit through Buehrle’s famous innings. And I was struck by how much sport, this wonderful, useless pastime, can mean. Genuinely, there was a beauty in Buehrle’s performance, as it unfolded. Even though I knew the outcome, I was still overcome with tension and emotion on each pitch.

I think this was because the ‘perfect game’ isn’t entirely perfect. Bear with me here. Each pitch isn’t a strike, with the batter missing the ball. Some batters hit the ball, only for the ball to drop into foul territory. A matter of a couple of inches keeps the game ‘perfect’.

Some batters make contact with the ball but are out before they reach first base. Some balls are struck into the field, only to be caught. In the most dramatic moment of the game, in the ninth and final inning, the substitute fielder Dewayne Wise somehow juggled the ball from his gloved hand to bare hand as his body hit the outfield wall. His skill kept Buehrle ‘perfect’.

And that’s what makes the perfect game so fascinating. While the pitcher might look lonely on the mound, he is never truly alone. The perfect game only happens if his fielders can support him. Watching the game, each catch and each piece of fielding, to remove an opponent, takes on a real significance in hindsight.

What at first appears to be an individual milestone, proves to be the work of a team in perfect harmony in one particular game. How often do we really see that in sport, or, indeed, in life? Yet, on just a regular, run-of-the-mill day, this happened.

There’s the special thing about sport. It can be memorable, touching, moving, important at any time. This was just another afternoon game in another season, until events unfolded. Every game in every sport has the potential to be historic, or to bring joy to its participants or observers. Whenever we turn up or tune in, something incredible might be on the horizon. This was a great example of this. Perhaps this is why we cling to sport and stick with it no matter what disappointment it may throw at us.

Sport shows us that on any given day something amazing could happen to us.

Photo from The People’s Tribune via Twitter

Baseball and me (My Baseball Winter #1)

I love baseball. But it was never my first love.

I only really took an interest in the sport in 2005, when I spent a summer in New Jersey working on a kid’s summer camp as part of the Camp America programme (or should that be ‘program’?).

Among children and adults alike there seemed to be only two choices. You either supported the New York Yankees or the New York Mets. I was well aware that the Yankees were an all-encompassing monster, the baseball equivalent of Manchester United, and so really there was only one choice.

And a trip to Shea Stadium, the Mets home (until last year, that is, it’s now Citi Field, for those interested in getting me an all-expenses paid trip to see the Mets next summer) sealed it. What a wonderful experience. Much like cricket, this was a sport that you can let wash over you, that you can luxuriate in, that gives you time to think, or just shoot the breeze with friends.

From that day it was clear. I would be a Mets fan.

That that’s not to mention the other wonders of the day, such as the guy who would bring beer and pretzels to us, without us having to leave our seats. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. The Mets scored a run, and the family sat in front of me turned around to give me high-fives. I’d arrived! I was a New York Mets fan, and I realised that baseball was much, much more than the English stereotype of ‘glorified rounders’.

Even though the Mets lost that day. But, hey, I’d get used to that.

In 2007 I went to the United States again, this time to Texas. I spent a week on my own before being joined by friends, in Dallas, and then in Austin. I had plenty of opportunities to watch the baseball, either in my room or, more frequently, as a bit of a barfly. I found one sports bar in Austin that suited me with a world of beers (I remember Fireman’s Four being a particular favourite), huge plates of scorching hot chicken wings and screen upon screen of baseball.

It was the perfect entertainment for me, alone and in a strange town. I could while away a couple of hours, dipping in and out of games, seeing how they all progressed. It didn’t demand my attention, but it certainly kept it. Baseball seems to be a game you just slip into watching, much like cricket, and less like the full-on assault, hype and razzamatazz of football (American and soccer).

But how to follow the game in the UK? Catching the scores in the paper wasn’t really enough, and wasn’t the easiest means of keeping track on a season. Channel 5 showed games, but sadly I was living in one of the few areas left that just couldn’t get Channel 5. Ridiculous. And even so, was two games a week enough? Would there be enough context?

Then I stumbled across mlb.tv, and all was good in my baseball-watching world. Now I had access to each and every game across a season, in full and in highlight form, audio or video, whenever and wherever I wanted. Now I could immerse myself in the sport. I could catch a game live, or catch up later.

And so, here I am. I watch a fair share of baseball, read about it some more, but I want to learn, and preferably in time for the start of next season.

So, what is the plan between now and next April?

Well, I thought I could chronicle my explorations across the next few months in learning more about the sport. I know the basics, I know the big names and fair few of the smaller ones. However, there is always room for improvement.

So, what else can I learn? I tried fantasy baseball and enjoyed it, but how can I improve my team’s chances? Can I find out who is worth tipping for next year? Should I immerse myself in the sport’s statistics? Or its history?

I suppose that is where I hand over to you, dear reader. I’d love any suggestions, or requests, of what I could cover in My Baseball Winter

Photo from Adam Finley via Flickr.