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…