Sunday, April 3, 2016

Baseball, my favorite "subject" in school

Today is Opening Day of the major league baseball season. I used to be an avid baseball fan before I became an avid football fan. I think the changing of the guard came when the Brewers’ first and only true “franchise” player, Robin Yount, retired, and Brett Favre arrived on the scene to help revive a moribund Packers. But before that as a youth I was fascinated by baseball statistics; during the season, I’d go straight to the school library every morning to get to the daily newspaper first to peruse box scores, and Sunday was a favorite day because the sports section had its weekly list of team and individual hitting and pitching stats, which I would spend hours going over and over. 

I was naturally most interested in how “my” team was shaping up compared to the rest of the league, if not necessarily in the standings but as individuals. Baseball was always a game where a player was truly measured by the quantity of his statistics, not necessarily by the quality of them. Many players have had one or two great years, but then subsequently fell off the map, some for seemingly inexplicable reasons, like the Tigers’ pitcher Mark Fidrych (who I think was the real inspiration for George Plimpton’s fictional Sidd Finch). Yet a few players, like the Brewers long-time second baseman Jimmy Gantner, lasted 17 years in the majors without ever having what one would call a “great” season, just putting up just-getting-by numbers every year. These and other fascinating tidbits are to be gleaned from my copy of the Total Baseball reference book which I purchased for one dollar at a library book sale, which at the time contained the statistics of every player who ever played even on day on a MLB roster. 

I must confess that in high school I was an indifferent student in everything save for “studying” my rotisserie baseball league. Instead of writing notes pertinent to a class topic, I was doodling at-bats, runs, hits, doubles, triples, homeruns, RBIs and batting averages. I was terrible at algebra, but I could figure out batting averages, slugging percentages and earned run averages in my head (ERAs are easy—just multiply earned runs by nine, and divide that number by innings pitched). 

After a seven-year interlude in the Army, college found me once again passing dull time in baseball figuring. I recall one episode when there was a guest speaker in a class and I became bored and started scribbling in my notebook. I was the only one writing while she was speaking, and I could tell that she was pleased by this—that is until she saw the student sitting next me looking at what I was doing and starting to laugh to himself. 

But football began to take hold of me, particularly when Favre started to pile-up the big numbers. The end probably came when I signed up for weekend work in a parking lot, in trying to pass the interminable hours I pulled out a notebook and started doodling baseball stats. Apparently someone thought I was walking around writing down license plate numbers, and told the supervisor, who showed up and told me that a customer had reported my strange doings. I told him what I was doing and even showed him; needless-to-say, he thought I was crazy, and I received a call afterwards not to come back.

While I have grown to take a slight interest in the Mariners, I am still a Brewer fan at heart. According to the Associated Press, the team's “outlook” this season isn’t too good, if another “rebuilding” season means anything. The only player of any real interest to me is Ryan Braun, and the question about him is if he is going to prove he is for real, or just a figment of PED imagination.

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