Baseball!

Baseball!

For some reason, baseball is most of what I can think of to post about these days. I posted a lot about baseball down the stretch as the Mariners fell one game short of the playoffs, made doubly more frustrating by the fact that the AL Wild Card team (who could easily have been them had the A’s lost game 162) won 8 straight games to get to the World Series. As the Seattle Times just put it, the “Royals’ run should make Mariners fans take notice and dream”. It’s definitely doing that, as well as making me think about Kevin.

So, I feel compelled to write some loose end notes that don’t really conform to a typical streamlined post but still culminate what I’ve been considering during a season when I’ve thought about baseball far more often than my usual (which is already a lot).

You don’t have to take my word for how exciting the Mariners’ season was this year. Grantland has quantitatively measured that they had the most exciting regular season. Granted that some excitement should be reserved for the process of actually, y’know, making the playoffs, but as the article opens, “uncertainty equals excitement.” In their statistical analysis, the M’s were listed as having at least a 10% more exciting season that the next-most-exciting team, which, incidentally, also missed the playoffs (Atlanta). Kansas City was 5th, but I think they pretty clearly take #1 or #2 in terms of post-season… it’s hard to tell whether constantly coming back to win at the last minute is more exciting or just winning all of your games is. I guess, technically, KC has done both.

Speaking of the Royals, the very first box score I ever read in my life depicted a Boston-Kansas City game. We moved to Oregon in summer 1988, but I think it had to be in 1989, the year I truly discovered baseball. The box score was in the traditional format where the linescore was at the top with the city names, then the detailed information about the teams was below with the team names. I assumed, given everything I knew about Boston and Kansas City, that the teams were the Boston Royals and the Kansas City Red Sox. After all, Royals sounded just like what the Bostonians would dub themselves, while Red Sox sounded pedestrian and midwestern, especially with that spelling. This is how little I knew about baseball at the time.

That’s not even the least I ever knew about baseball. That summer, I insisted my parents take me to Little League tryouts. They were very supportive of my youth baseball career, but when I first asked, my parents gave me this kind of sidelong glance that said “Sports? Really? Did we do something wrong?” My Dad definitely prompted me more than once about whether this was something I really wanted to do. My father decided not to invest in a mitt right away, but to first see how tryouts went. They had a bucket of spare gloves for boys just like me. (Incidentally, “tryouts” at this stage was a misnomer – no one was denied their birthright to play Little League baseball.) I went up to the guy manning the bucket and asked for a glove to borrow. He asked if I was a righty or lefty. I said I was right-handed and he promptly handed me a glove. I then tried cramming it on… my right hand. It didn’t fit. I complained to my father and then to bucket-man. Bucket-man rolled his eyes, sighed, and wordlessly switched the glove’s hand. Voila! “But I’m right-handed!” I protested. He pointed out that I throw with the hand I use – admittedly I had tried at least once to throw with the gloved hand with surprisingly poor results.

I had been an A’s fan before either of the above two encounters, and would be until about the time I was leaving Oregon. As mentioned in the prior post, I had spotted a green team (favorite color) with an elephant mascot (one of five favorite animals) and that was kind of a no-brainer. This was actually during the 1988 World Series, of which I saw about two innings, in the hotel lobby on our trip to retrieve our stuff in storage from central California in October 1988. The World Series was probably on in a lot of places, but it was really on everywhere in California, given that it pitted the north against the south in a pivotal matchup. I was enthralled with the mechanics of baseball as I had been in the parks of Washington DC the year before, watching pickup and adult league softball games and plopped right down in front of the TV. The desk clerk asked me who I was rooting for. It took me about three seconds to say “the green team.” And just like that, I was an Oakland fan for the next four years.

This means that I have had a team that was my favorite win a World Series. In the very first full year in which I followed baseball (1989, the earthquake series, when they swept the Giants). That is ridiculously unfair. You could argue I became a Mariners fan as penance. But I didn’t. I became a Mariners fan because I was so obsessed with baseball that I listened to about 140 games/season on the Mariners Radio Network in 1989, 1990, 1991, and 1992, that being the team that was broadcast on the north coast of Oregon. I would root for the A’s when they played the M’s, and this matchup was the first major league game I attended at the Kingdome in Seattle. (The Mariners won; I was sad.) Somewhere around ’92 or ’93, I realized that my loyalties had shifted… I knew a lot more about the Mariners, cared a lot more about their day-to-day, and felt a close kinship with Dave Niehaus, Rick Rizzs, and the team they raised their voice for in the play-by-play. Mark McGwire was still my favorite player, but Ken Griffey Jr. was just behind. I found myself being torn in the A’s/M’s showdowns. By the time I moved to Albuquerque in 1993, my allegiance had changed.

This process was further confused by the fact that my parents bought me a beautiful Baltimore Orioles jacket in 1993 from the Cooperstown collection after we essentially lived in Baltimore during summer 1993. I was attending CTY out there and we had just moved all our stuff down to Albuquerque and then flew to Hawaii and then Baltimore. My Dad spent the summer making pogs of the DC/Baltimore area and trying to bring the new fad to the east coast. I have fond memories of hawking these to people on the steps of Union Station in DC, one of the buildings depicted on his commemorative tourist discs. Like pretty much all of my Dad’s businesses, he was a little ahead of the curve and we basically broke even as I understand it and it was fun. But we also went to a game at the new palace of baseball, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and my parents, who I’d been dragging into a love of sports and especially baseball, were incredibly impressed. When I showed up to the Academy, it was in an Orioles jacket (well, I guess it wasn’t till October, since the Academy started in August and everyone is in shorts in New Mexico in August). Which made one of my homeroom teachers, Mr. “Bucky” Buck, incredibly excited, because he was an Orioles fan. It was a little hard to explain that the O’s were my second or third favorite team and that I just really liked the jacket and the ballpark from whence it came. But he was an 8th grade teacher who actually came to some of our ballgames when baseball season rolled around, so I was hardly in the mood to correct him.

I think the confusion (natural and understandable, since I wore the O’s jacket about every day of 8th grade it was cold) was part of what prompted me to wear subsequent Mariners jackets so obsessively. I’d already been doing that for some time by the summer of 1995, then the fall of 1995 when the M’s made their historic run to save their first chance at the playoffs (they’d been two games out of the division lead, despite a horrible record, when the strike hit the year before) and even to save baseball in Seattle. All the rumors were that they were strongly considering moving to Tampa Bay in 1996 or 1997, which was promptly silenced forever after the M’s made the ALCS in 1995 and reminded the city that it loved baseball. I was in a huge quandary about how I would feel about the Tampa Bay Mariners and where they would rank in my shifting hierarchy of teams, but fortunately didn’t ever have to worry about that question.

I remember daydreaming in my very early youth about being a major league ballplayer, like pretty much every Little Leaguer who loves the game does, not that I was ever close to the talent necessary to seriously pursue this dream. In more sober moments, I thought about how much I loved the A’s at the time and wondered how I would ever be in a position to regularly attend Oakland games. The irony I felt in remembering this feeling when attending lots of Oakland A’s games when I lived in Oakland and Berkeley from 2002-2009 was pretty serious. Especially in those M’s/A’s series when, once again, it was hostile environment. I think I’ve attended about 20 A’s vs. Mariners games in my life and always been rooting for the road team.

Sports, and rooting for teams, remain totally irrational, as they’ve always been. But they add a ton of vibrance and color to one’s life, not to mention fulfilling a certain competitive drive. It is kind of overwhelming to consider how much mental energy and emotional exuberance (and torment) I’ve put into baseball in my life. Some days, it’s hard not to think about that in terms of opportunity cost. But I guess, as the economists really ought to know, we can’t all be rational, self-interested utility-maximizers. Some of us have to applaud.