There is a new player joining Shoeless Joe on the field of dreams tonight. I was saddened to learn of Yogi Berra’s passing when I woke up this morning. He is one of those few people that I feel like I’ve been aware of my whole life. I feel almost as if I was born knowing the name Yogi Berra. I can recall seeing him in commercials in the 1970s. He seemed ubiquitous in baseball, a Hall-of-Famer who clearly loved the game.
I have been lax in my efforts to break in the Little Man’s baseball glove, and that has made things more difficult on the field for him than they should be. So this weekend, I decided I would figure out the right way to do it quickly. A Google search led me to the Glove Guru, and a video where he shows the way the pros break in gloves. It uses nothing more than hot water, and a hammer.
I tried this on the Little Man’s glove yesterday morning using a regular hammer in place of the special tool that the Glove Guru used (the hammer was dull so it wouldn’t tear the leather) and after about 10 minutes, the Little Man could easily open and close the glove–something he was unable to do before I started.
On Saturday, I took the Little Man to an exhibition game between the New York Yankees and the Washington Nationals. We took the Metro over to Nationals Park, and found our way to our seats, where my friend, and fellow writer Michael J. Sullivan was waiting for us. I think that Michael told me this was the third baseball game he’d ever attended. As it happens, it was the Little Man’s third game, too. He attended a Nationals game when he was a little baby. Then, when he’d just turned two years old, he attended a minor league game up in Troy, NY, between the Tri-City Valley Cats and the Vermont Lake Monsters. But the game on Saturday is likely to be the first that he remembers as he gets older, if for no other reason than he plays Little League baseball, and has more of a sense of the game than he did when he was two.
Perhaps the most exciting part of the game for the Little Man was the thought of getting Cracker Jacks. He knew about Cracker Jacks from the song, of course, and also because Caillou has them in an episode of that cartoon. But the Little Man had never had them before. So when we arrived at the stadium the very first thing that we did, even before going to our seats, was seek out Cracker Jacks. Eventually, we located a bag (they are no longer sold in boxes, at least not at Nationals Park) of Cracker Jacks. We added to this, two hot dogs, a small soda, and a beer. Then we sought out our seats. We were high up, but had a good view of the playing field, which is what I wanted so that I could explains things about the game to the Little Man. We both wore our Yankees hats, and while we sat among many Nationals fans, there were plenty of Yankees fans to be seen around the park.
The Little Man picked up the rhythm of the game quickly, and even learned to follow the scoreboard for balls, strikes, and outs. When the Nationals would make a good play on the Yankees, he’d say, “Aw, man!” When the Yankees made a good play, he became wildly excited. He saw his first home run that game, and that brought the score to 3-2 (the Yanks had been trailing.)
When A-Rod came to the plate, and the stadium booed, the Little Man wondered why. I explained that A-Rod had cheated, and had not been allowed to play baseball for a year, and that a lot of people (myself included) were upset that he cheated.
We stayed for five full innings before the Little Man got too restless and wanted to head home. We left with the Nationals leading 3-2, and that means that we missed the Yankees comeback home run in the 8th inning. But it was still fun. I mean a lot of fun. At one point, entirely on his own volition the Little Man turned to me and said, “Thanks for bringing me to the game, Daddy.” Really, it was perfect.
It made me wonder who really had more fun, him, for me, watching him. I thought about my Dad taking me to baseball games when I was very young, and had a sudden realization that it must have been fun for him in the same way that it was fun for me on Saturday. The Little Man got to see the game, and got to eat a bag of Cracker Jacks, and I got to sit there and watch him do it. I imagine we will be doing it again, before long.
I recently finished reading Sports Illustrated collection Great Baseball Writing, which gathers about 60 articles from over the last 60 years, all on baseball. It was a fantastic book, and I loved every minute of it. Of course, with nearly 60 articles, some stand out more than others. Here are a list of my favorites, along with the header description included with each article.
“Spring Has Sprung” by Frank Deford (April 10, 1978)
It’s Opening Day, so buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack, remember to hold the label up, and please, please tell me Who’s on First.
“The Ballad of Joe Moock” by Steve Rushin (June 29, 1998)
Sailors have the Bermuda Triangle; the Mets have third base. When the author composed this epic tribute, the New Yorkers had, in 36 years, employed 112 different men at the hot corner, none of them all that hot.
“The Transistor Kid” by Robert Creamer (May 4, 1964)
When Vin Scully came to Los Angeles with the transplanted Brooklyn Dodgers, he was a stranger in alien corn. But he soon became as much a part of Southern California as the freeways.
“The Bird Fell to Earth” by Gary Smith (April 7, 1986)
For one fairy-tale year, Mark Fidrych was king of baseball, but the reign ended far too soon.
“The Left Arm of God” by Tom Verducci (July 12, 1999)
He was a consummate artist on the mound, the most dominant player of his time, yet he shunned fame and always put the team above self. On the field or off, Sandy Koufax was pitcher perfect.
“At the End of the Curse, a Blessing” by Tom Verducci (December 6, 2004)
The 2004 Boston Red Sox staged the most improbable comeback in baseball history and liberated their long-suffering nation of fans.
“Benching of a Legend” by Roger Kahn (September 12, 1960)
The prideful struggle of an aging Stan Musial to prolong his career–a painful experience for everyone involved–was poignantly recounted by one of the most astute observers of the game.
“Still a Grand Old Game” by Roger Kahn (August 16-30, 1976)
Touring the baseball world, the author of The Boys of Summer found that the national pastime retained all of its charms, whether played in suburbia, the Ozarks or at Chavez Ravine.
“It’s Gone! Goodbye!” by Tom Verducci (September 22, 2008)
Before a wrecking ball took its cuts at old Yankee Stadium, the walls of this American monument spoke and shared a few final secrets
I really enjoyed all of the long pieces, but these 9 were outstanding. So much so, that I am now a subscriber to Sports Illustrated. In a bit of serendipity, my niece was raising money for her girl scout troop selling magazine subscription. Sports Illustrated was one of them. So: two birds, one stone.
In a 1976 Roger Kahn piece on Stan Musial that I just finished reading, I was sort of floored by a comment that Musial made on the state of major league hitters at the time. Musial started out by praising Pete Rose, and then went to express embarrassment that many major-league hitters were hitting in the .200s. He said,
There’s no excuse for that. You know why it happens? They keep trying to pull everything they see, even low outside sliders. You can’t do that. Nobody can. If you’re a major league player, you ought to have pride. Learn to stroke outside pitches to the opposite field. That’s part of your job. A major league hitter is supposed to be a professional.
(Emphasis mine.) Jeter became famous for that inside-out swing of his that could put a ball into right field (or occasionally into the right field porch at Yankee stadium). It’s almost as if that set of instructions was written with Derek Jeter in mind, although how could it have been? Jeter was only two years old when Musial made the statement. Still, I think it captures perfectly what Jeter did at the plate for 20 years. It’s almost certainly a big part of why he ended up with 3,465 lifetime hits, and a lifetime batting average of .310.
Kansas City won in an epic duel last night, and I was very happy to see that, because I wanted to see the Royals make it to the playoffs. I remember the 1985 series, George Brett, and the Kansas City glory that year, and it would be fun to see them go all the way this year1. Earlier int he week, I mentioned that I wanted to see Kansas City win on Twitter:
I’d love to see a Kansas City vs. Washington World Series this year. No dig at the O’s, but I think would be great to see KC go all the way.
So here are my picks for the rest of the playoffs. Keep in mind these picks are based on the match-ups that I would most like to see. These are not based on sabermetrics, or even gut instincts.
Kansas City over Oakland
Pittsburgh over San Francisco
As I said, with the Yankees out of it, I’d love to see Kansas City go all the way this year. This isn’t a dig at the Orioles (for whom I held season tickets for five seasons) and I’m sure many people around here would like to see a Beltway Series. But I want to see KC make a run.
Kansas City over Los Angeles (Angels)
Baltimore over Detroit
I haven’t been able to stand the Angeles (for no good reason, I admit) since 2002. And I really would like to see the O’s win their division battle. Sorry Magnum.
Washington over Pittsburgh
Los Angeles over St. Louis
It’s nothing against St. Louis, but I’ve found that, in the dozen years since leaving Los Angeles, I’ve grown retroactively fond of the Dodgers. Besides, when I think of St. Louis, I always think of Dizzy and Daffy Dean.
Washington, of course, is my current home-town National League team, and I was at their first playoff game (against St. Louis) a few years back.
Kansas City over Baltimore
In 7 grueling games.
Washington over Los Angeles
Also in 7 grueling games. Because in the fall, true baseball fans want the game to linger as long as it possibly can. Frost on the grass and the last hints of summer still in the air. Although, truthfully, if the NLCS is a good series, I’d be happy with either outcome.
World Series 2014
Kansas City over Washington
The Royals, with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, paid a hair over $1 million per win in 2014. It’s the second lowest of the playoff teams still remaining. (Pirates paid $884,000 per win in payroll.) The Dodgers have the highest cost per win ($2.5 million). But the Nationals are just about averages at $1.39 million per win. It would be nice to see two teams with average or below payrolls win, sure. But I just really want to see Kansas City go all the way.
All of this caveated, of course, on the fact that the Yankees are out of it. ↩
I started at my present job in the fall of 1994, at the end of one of the more depressing baseball seasons of my life, thanks to the player’s strike that killed the postseason for that year. Baseball, it seemed, was at an all-time low.
In May of the following season, Derek Jeter made his major league debut with the New York Yankees. Since then, he has gone on to become not only one of the best all around players of his generation, but in all of baseball history. And what is more remarkable: he did it while keeping his ego in check, and being a role model that kids of all ages (including the “kid” of 23 years old that I was back in 1995) could look up to, and rely on to be a good example. For twenty years, Jeter has maintained that high standard.
Yesterday, Gatorade released a new commercial featuring Derek Jeter that has gone viral. I’ve probably watched this commercial a dozen times now.
At first, it was the artistic elements that drew me to the commercial: a choice of music, a good choice of how it was shot (black and white). But there was something else, something I couldn’t quite put a finger on. People have said that watching the video gives them goosebumps. It certainly had that effect on me. But why?
The reason, I think, dawned on me earlier this evening. As I said, I started my present job not long before Jeter started his with the Yankees. That twenty years has gone by in the blink of an eye. I wonder what it must be like for someone like Derek Jeter, who worked hard as a kid to make it to the big leagues, and then lived a dream, becoming one of the best players of all time–and now, he’s retiring and that part of his life is coming to a close. This final season of his has been like the credits at the end of a movie, one that you want to end, but that you wish would go on and on forever. If the last twenty years felt like blink of the eyes to me, what must it feel like to Jeter?
The new video captures some of that, and it comes across. When he nods to the camera at the end, just before he walks out onto the field, it is like an acknowledgement that all good things must come to an end. He’s cool with that, even though it makes us shed a reminiscent tear for halcyon days.
I’ve thought it a little strange that Jeter is getting the kind of send off that he’s been getting all season, but I no longer think so. Everyone, fans, players, owners, wants to say thank you to Jeter. They are thanking him for something that he probably had no idea he was doing when he made his first major league appearance in May 1995, when baseball was reeling from the strike, and was soon to be plagued by a decade of disappointing role models, thanks to steroids and performance-enhancing drugs. Through all of that, there was one player that fans, kids, old-timers, sports writers, managers, owners, and other players could count on not only for excellence on the field, but for excellence in character. The send-off Jeter has gotten this season is a thank you from everyone.
They are thanking him for saving baseball.
Which is exactly what he has done for the last two decades.
Last night, after a wonderful happy hour at Finn McCool’s in Santa Monica, catching up with old friends and coworkers, I walked back to my hotel. Movie crews were working on both sides of Pico between 4th and Main filming something all day long, but by the time I walked through there at 9 pm or so, it looked like things were winding down.
I was wearing my Yankees shirt, and a guy saw it and said, “Who’s the Yankees shortstop?”
“Jeter,” I said, automatically, thinking, cool, another Yankees fan.
The guy seemed momentarily taken aback, paused, regrouped, and then said, “Well, you wouldn’t believe how many people wear that that shirt and don’t know shit.”
I walked on.
As I got into the elevator, I was still thinking about it. Knowledge of a team in no way defines your enjoyment of that team, unless you are in fourth grade, when knowing the names of the band members in the current popular band, or the starting lineup of the team is a silly badge of schoolyard pride. If I hadn’t come up with the name of the Yankees shortstop, it wouldn’t make me any less a fan. (Perhaps just less fanatic.)
It occurred to me then, that what I might said, when he asked me about the Yankees shortstop was this:
“Jeter. But if you think knowledge of the players makes someone more or less a fan of team, then you tell me, who was the Yankees shortstop before Jeter?” I wonder if he would have come up with the answer. Of course, even if it couldn’t it wouldn’t make him any less a fan.
Rather than inundate you all with posting my scorecards after each game, I’ve gone ahead and created a shared notebook in Evernote that contains scans of all of my scorecards from this season. Feel free to peruse them at your leisure.
Since posting my first few scorecards of the season, I’ve had a few questions about them so I figured I’d answer them here.
1. Why bother keeping score?
The short answer is because I like to. But I think there are two additional reasons. First, keeping score forces me to focus on the game as more than a casual observer. I can learn more about the game by doing this, and that increases my overall enjoyment of the game.
I use Peterson’s Scoremaster scorebooks to keep score of the game. These are relatively cheap scorebooks, but have most of what I look for.
You don’t need to go out an buy a scorebook, however. There are some downloadable scorecards available for free online.
As far as my method, well, everyone keeps score in their own way. As you might guess, I enjoy trying to capture as much information as possible in the most efficient and compact manner. I keep score in pen, using a Bic 4-color pen. Outs are scored in red and hits, walks, and other methods of getting on base are scored in blue, making it easy to distinguish. I track pitch sequence to batters, but not overall pitch counts.
There is a charming little book called The Joy of Keeping Score by Paul Dickson which covers pretty much everything you need to know about keeping score, including some history.
When the game is over, I scan my scorecards into Evernote, and as I said, I’m now keeping them in a shared notebook that anyone who wishes can look at. The full link to the shared notebook is here:
Like they say, it’s early in the season and the championship is never decided in April. Still, you’d like to see at least a glimmer from your team. The Yanks, while much more settled defensively than last night, seem fairly quiet at the plate, and abysmal when it comes to runners in scoring position.
Here’s my scorecard for the Yanks last in last night’s game against Houston:
The had some hits, but only one (Beltran in the 8th) had an extra base hit. And with runners in scoring position? They basically scored when, with a runner on first and third and no one out, Solarte came up and hit into a double play, allowing Brian Roberts to score. It doesn’t even count as an RBI!
On the other hand, Houston didn’t get as many hits, but look at the hits they did get:
Second pitch of their first at-bat and Fowler hit a home run. In his next at-bat, he hits a triple, getting the two most difficult hits for the cycle out of the way in rapid order (he almost singled in the 6th). Then there’s another triple in the 6th and another home run in the 7th. Sigh!
Hopefully the Yanks can pull things together and avoid the sweep tonight before flying up to Toronto.
Last night, the Yankees played their opening day game against the Houston Astros down in Houston. As this is Derek Jeter’s last season, it was his last opening day game. I watched the game, and as I usually do when watching, I kept score. Here are my scorecards, visitor and home, respectively.
The Yankees lost 6-2. 4 of those 6 runs came in a very defensively sloppy first inning by the Yankees. The scorecard doesn’t quite capture the sloppiness, but for a while there, the Yanks looked more like a AA team than a major league club.
CC Sabathia also got off to a rocky start, giving up 6 hits in the first two innings, including 2 home runs, before finally settling down. He gave up only 2 more hits for the remaining 4 innings he pitched. He also struck out 6. And, if you look at Houston’s scorecard, you’ll see an asterisk next to CC’s strikeout of Fowler in the bottom of the 4th inning. The asterisk is to note that this was CC’s 1,000th strikeout in a Yankee uniform.
All eyes were on Jeter, of course, and I winced along with everyone else when he was hit by a pitch in his first at bat. But it was superficial. He ended up 1 for 3 with a run scored. Looking at the pitches the Yankees saw, it looks like they weren’t as patient at the plate as they usually are, but you’ve got to give them some leeway. It’s the first game of the season and they were probably excited to be playing baseball again.
Someone is bound to ask why the paperless guy is still keeping score on paper. I’ve tried other methods. I’ve used apps, and other electronic means of keeping score. The truth is, I like keeping score on paper. Normally, I get a scorebook each year, and indeed, I ordered my scorebook but it hasn’t arrived yet. I like watching the game with a pencil behind my ear and my scorecard in my lap. Of course, when the game is over, the scorecard gets scanned into Evernote.
Just a fair warning that I am likely to be writing more about baseball this season than I have for the last few years. If this isn’t your cup of tea, I get it, and you can ignore the posts. But there are three reasons why I’ll likely be writing more about baseball and I thought I’d delineate them here so that (a) you know why, and (b) I can point people to this post when they ask.
1. It is Derek Jeter’s last season
I’m a lifelong Yankees fan and I come by it honestly, having been born in New York City and lived, in my infancy, in the Bronx. I’m a Yankees fan despite the fact that the rest of my family are Mets fans. My brother, who was a long-time Mets fan, has lived in Seattle long enough to where he might be more of a Mariners fan than a Mets fan. But I was born a Yankees fan and I’ll die a Yankees fan. And for me, this season is the end of an era. Derek Jeter is retiring after the end of the season. I’ve watched him through his entire career, and seeing him from start-to-finish is, I imagine, like watching players of previous generations–Babe Ruth, or Ted Williams, or Mickey Mantle–go through their careers.
I didn’t watch much baseball last season, and I missed it. I found myself yearning for it in the off-season the same way I yearn for spring after a long winter. I plan to follow this season a little more closely, and since I write about things that interest me, this is one reason you’ll probably see me writing more about baseball.
2. I’m back at work on my baseball simulation software
When I teach myself a new programming language, I need a practical way of doing it. I’m still delving deeper into symbolic languages (Mathematica and R) so I’m getting back to work on the baseball simulation software that I started a while back. I don’t have a lot of time to devote to this, but I figure that over the course of the baseball season, I can get in a fair amount of work on this pet project, and come out in October with a much more solid base in these languages, and have the simulator that I’ve always wanted to make.
And yes, I do know that such simulators already exist. But using existing ones does me no good when I am trying to learn a new language. This is one instance where reinventing the wheel can be quite helpful. Besides, my simulations have a slightly different goal than the ones I’ve seen.
3. I’ve got at least one more baseball story to tell
Early this year, I published a new story called “Big Al Shepard Plays Baseball on the Moon” over at InterGalactic Medicine Show. While this is a science fiction story (a retelling of the Apollo missions) it is also, at its heart, a baseball story. I had more fun writing this story than any story I’ve written before, and I’ve written elsewhere on why this is so.
But I have at least one more baseball story in me. For a few months late last year, I worked on a story called “Strays” that I never got quite right to my satisfaction. This story, even more than “Big Al Shepard” is a baseball story, and I am determined to get it right before the baseball season is out.
But these reasons can also be seen as excuses, as if I need permission to write about something that I enjoy. The truth is, I have baseball on my mind. I have it in my blood. Sometime the feelings wax and wane, but this year, I feel them strongly. And since I write about things that I feel strongly, you can expect me to write about baseball a bit more than usual this season.