Baseball, Where Anything Can Happen
A couple of housekeeping notes. One, emails have been sent out to the winners of our Father’s Day Baseball 100 giveaway! Congratulations to all the winners; be sure to check that email so you can send in your info and get your book and inscription by Father’s Day.
Which leads directly into the second thing: I’m going to be in Kansas City next Friday, June 10, to sign the books. So since I’m already going to be there, Rainy Day Books is again offering a chance to buy the book and have it signed and inscribed as you like it. I mean, look, it’s your life, but this seems like a pretty good Father’s Day gift to me. Buy a book, have it inscribed, and your Father’s Day shopping is done! How can you beat that?
And, I don’t want to say the book is famous or anything but … check out the bookshelf in last Sunday’s “Shoe” comic strip.
Yep. Right there between The Boys of Summer and Wait Till Next Year. Pretty sweet.
Bonus: Check out the bottom lefthand corner of the bookshelf: That’s right, it’s The Soul of Baseball. I have two books in the Treetops Books bookshelf!
Anyway, let’s get back to the writing, but one more time, here’s the link to buy an autographed and personally inscribed Baseball 100 from our good friends at Rainy Day Books.
It’s quite a thing to be writing a book called WHY WE LOVE BASEBALL. In many ways, I became a writer so that I would have a professional excuse to do things that I would otherwise be too scared or shy or busy to do.
For example, over the last 30-plus years, I’ve approached, well, most of the great American athletes and coaches (and many others from around the world). I’ve asked them questions. I’ve engaged them in conversations. I’ve talked with them, laughed with them, had meals with them, sometimes even argued with them.
I’ve done all this even though I am in many ways painfully timid and introverted. It’s not so bad now, but it used to be almost crippling. The chances of me going up to a stranger and starting a conversation unless I have to (meaning, unless it’s part of my job) remain exactly nil.
Here’s a quick story: I went to the premiere of “Moneyball” in Oakland back in 2011. And I was walking in the hotel lobby when I saw Chris Pratt just sitting there, nobody around him.
Now, understand Chris Pratt wasn’t a big star yet. This was more than a decade ago, before “Guardians of the Galaxy,” before the “Jurassic Park”s, before any of that. It’s very likely that nobody else in the hotel even recognized him. Back then his whole thing was playing Andy on “Parks and Recreation.”
And it just so happens — you might have heard something about this — one of my best friends was the showrunner of “Parks and Recreation.” So it would have been the most natural thing in the world for me to walk over to Pratt, introduce myself, talk about our common friend, have a conversation about the movie or baseball or anything. I mean it wasn’t like he was doing anything; he was just sitting in the lobby of the hotel waiting like I was.
I didn’t come CLOSE to doing it. I wanted to. But I’m telling you, I didn’t even come close. The idea of approaching a stranger without a professional reason paralyzed me. I was 44 years old. I’m 55 now, and I can tell you that I wouldn’t approach Chris Pratt now either, not without a reason.
But writing has not only given me the nerve to talk to people. It has granted me the freedom to get closer to things I’m interested in. That’s what the Houdini book was all about. I liked magic, sure, but it was only through the book that I would do things I never otherwise could have dreamed of doing: Walk through David Copperfield’s private museum, see Joshua Jay perform sleight of hand up close, become friends with the world’s leading Houdini authority, John Cox, hang out with the pioneering female magician Dorothy Dietrich, chat with Nice Peter of Epic Rap Battles, on and on and on.
What a gift.
Now I’m completely wrapped up in WHY WE LOVE BASEBALL and, absurdly, I get to spend all day thinking about, well, why we love baseball. It’s incredible. I get to spend days in Cooperstown digging into the greatest moments in the game’s history. I get to reach out to all sorts of baseball heroes, some of whom most people have never heard of. I get to re-read Roger Angell and Roger Kahn and Donald Hall and Tom Verducci and Red Smith and Peter Gammons and David Maraniss and Bill James and Jane Leavy and W.P. Kinsella and so many others and to try to extract the joys of this game from their words.
I get to listen to announcers — Scully, Costas, Buck, Harwell, Miller, Uecker, Caray, Allen, McCarver, Sciambi, Benetti, Kuiper and so many others — and try to extract the joys of this game from their words, too.
I get to watch highlights, so many highlights, of Clemente throwing, of Ozzie diving, of Griffey swinging, of Willie going back on a fly ball, of the Babe showing kids how to throw a curveball, of Thomson and Carter and Fisk and Maz rounding the bases, of the ball conking off Canseco’s head, of Bartolo swatting his homer, of Shohei doing Shohei things … and I can say to my wife that, no, I’m not goofing off, this is MY JOB.
What a gift.
And doing all of this has made me think differently, helped me gain a different and deeper appreciation for baseball.
For example — the not-too-good Pirates just swept the World Series-favorite Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Think, for a moment, how unlikely that would be in any other sport. Think how unlikely it would be for the Jacksonville Jaguars to win three straight games in Kansas City or for the Orlando Magic to take three straight in Phoenix or for the Arizona Coyotes to beat the Rangers three straight at Madison Square Garden.
Any of that could happen, I suppose. But if it did, the sports world would stop, at least for a moment.
In baseball, the Pirates sweeping the Dodgers is just a part of the season. It’s unlikely, sure, but it’s not news. I mean that literally. It is not mentioned anywhere on ESPN’s homepage. It’s not mentioned on the Yahoo sports page. Sports Illustrated doesn’t mention it, either (the only baseball story in their news stack is of Josh Donaldson saying he was “hurt” that his teammates didn’t have his back on the whole Tim Anderson kerfuffle). Nothing in The New York Times.
Heck, the Pirates sweeping the Dodgers is the NUMBER FOUR baseball story on MLB.com.
Why do we love baseball? This is one of the reasons: The Pirates can sweep the Dodgers in Los Angeles … and we all nod and say, “Yeah, it’s baseball, that can happen.”
On Monday, the Pirates trailed by a run going into the ninth and somehow scored two, thanks to a walk, a wild pitch, a single and an error on a ground ball.
Baseball. That can happen.
On Tuesday, the Pirates scored four runs early off Julio Urias — homers by Michael Chavis and Tucupita Marcano were the key — and then Mitch Keller and four relievers held off the Dodgers the rest of the way.
Baseball. That can happen.
On Wednesday, the Pirates trailed by a run going into the eighth and then scored five runs in the last two innings, led by Rodolfo Castro.
Rodolfo Castro! Tucupita Marcano! Baseball names!
And yes, once again, in baseball that can happen.
The other day I wrote about how we already, more or less, know how this regular season will go, and I think it came off as much more depressing and dispiriting than I intended. That wasn’t my point at all, and I am not in any way depressed or dispirited about the state of baseball. I love it as much as ever.
No, my point was that in my view, too many teams make the playoffs and that has altered the beautiful rhythm of the baseball season. There is simply not very much at stake for the best 10 teams, and there’s not very much hope for the worst 10 teams, and so the baseball people have focused the season’s attention on the middle 10 teams and which two of those squeeze into the playoffs. I don’t think that’s where the eye should go. I don’t think that’s anywhere close to where the drama of baseball lives.
No, the drama of baseball is that the Pirates can sweep the Dodgers, and we all can marvel for a moment, and then we move on. Why do we love baseball? I’ll give you one reason: Tomorrow.
Costello: You don’t want to tell me today?
Abbott: I’m telling you now.
Costello: Then go ahead. The pitcher’s name?
Costello: What time?
Abbott: What time what?
Costello: What time tomorrow are you gonna tell me who’s pitching?
Abbott: Now listen. Who is not pitching.
Costello: I’ll break your arm, you say who’s on first. I want to know what is the pitcher’s name?
Abbott: What’s on second.
Costello: I don’t know.
Abbott and Costello: Third base!
No, I’ll tell you now — one of the reasons we love baseball is tomorrow. Because tomorrow anything can happen — surprises, upsets, triples, cycles, a no-hitter, an unlikely hero, a jaw-dropping catch, a hilarious twist, a joyous turn, a 500-foot homer and who knows, maybe a kid will catch a foul ball.