Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Surviving The Baseball Off Season

I am not sure how it happened, but I went from being a baseball fan to a baseball obsessive.  This off season it has been particularly difficult to do without my daily friend for seven months of the year.  I've tried to get into other sports to compensate, but nothing seems to work.  Part of my problem is that I don't really root for a specific NBA team, which makes following pro basketball difficult.  The moral issues with big time college sports make it super difficult to care about it.  I love soccer, but EPL games are in the morning on the weekends, when I am spending most of my time with my kids.

This means spending the off season giving myself regular injections of baseball through any means I have, lest I get the shakes and be unable function.  Here are the things I've been using this off season.

Sully Baseball Podcast
I've mentioned this podcast, and think it's a great one for baseball fans.  I like it because Sully is about the least indulgent podcaster out there.  He keeps the episodes to about 20 minutes (perfect for a long walk with my dog), and has a great, conversational style. It might sound insane that someone, on his own, is doing a baseball podcast every day of the year, including the off season, but his off season episodes are some of my favorites.  Those episodes are not reactions to the games the day before, but musings on the nature of baseball itself, which is exactly what I need in the cold winter months.

Will Leitch, Are We Winning?
Leitch is a sports journalist and one of the founders of Deadspin, the one sports site I check on a daily basis.  I just finished this book, which I really enjoyed.  Much of this has to do with the fact that Leitch is my age and he grew up in central Illinois, a place I lived for several years and where I spent the best years of my pre-married life.  The book tells the tale of him going to a Cubs-Cardinals game at Wrigley Field with his father and a close friend.  Leitch and his dad are Cards fans, his friend is a Cubs fan, and it happens to be the game in 2008 when the Cubs clinched the division.  The book is funny in how it lays out the turf war between the Cubs and Cardinals in central Illinois, but is mostly about the father-son relationship and baseball.  While there's a little too much Dad Hagiography for my tastes, it's still a good and enjoyable book.  Especially recommended for baseball fans in the Midwest.

As a sidenote, this book brought back a very specific baseball memory for me.  I found out from the book that I had attended the same game as Leitch one time, since he mentioned a 15 inning Cubs victory against the Cardinals during their 2003 run to the playoffs late in the season.  I went to this game with two friends, one of them a rabid Cubs fan.  (As a White Sox fan I was not super invested, but secretly wanted a Cubs victory.)  When Sammy Sosa smacked the homer to win the marathon game, I immediately felt my friends' arms wrapping around me in a tight hug.  I felt so happy for him in that moment, but alas, things in 2003 wouldn't end well.

Joe Pepitone, Joe, You Coulda Made Us Proud
A few weeks ago my local library had a book sale, and it did not disappoint.  I've managed to make some great finds over the years at library book sales, especially when it comes to out of print sports books.  At one in my Illinois days I managed to get a hardcover first edition copy of Veeck as in Wreck for a pittance.  This time around I picked up Stolen Season (which I have yet to read) and Joe Pepitone's (in)famous memoir (which has just been put out in a new edition.)  My copy is a little pocket paperback with some pretty racy stuff inside.  I was surprised at how little the book had to do with baseball.  The theme (which you can glean from the title) is that Pepitone squandered his talent, spending his efforts on boozing and womanizing.  His descriptions of growing up in Brooklyn with an abusive father in the 1950s are both harrowing and fascinating.  It came out in the mid-70s, and is thus an interesting document of how the social movements of the 60s lifted and broke the halo over athletes.

Games and Clips on Youtube
When I was a wee lad I would still buy baseball card magazines in the off season.  I still remember one article with advice on how to cope with a world without baseball, which recommended taping a few games during the season to keep and watch in the off season.  With baseball finally getting enlightened and smart about its online content, you can watch whole games from the past.  Here are a few I enjoy.

1979 All Star Game
An amazing document of the late 1970s and a time when baseball uniforms weren't afraid to be outlandish.  This game has an amazing array of players to boot, but my favorite might be a balding Gaylord Perry in the classic brown-yellow Padres Taco Bell uniforms.

Bill Murray Calling a Cubs Game
Bill Murray has seemed more like a sad, depressed loner in his public persona recently (but hey I loved his Christmas special.)  In the 80s he was more of a funny goofball, and I watching games regularly on WGN, I always loved it when he would come on and have a little fun.  This stuff brings forth the looseness of watching a baseball game, much more preferable to the fake solemnity often attached to football games.

Game 5, 2006 World Series
Sometimes, however, it is good to remind oneself of baseball's cruelty.  The Tigers and Cardinals faced off in the 2006 World Series, which took place shortly after I moved to Michigan.  I was moved metaphorically by the passion of Tigers fans there, and pulled hard for them.  I still remember being with a couple of friends on a weekend trip to Ann Arbor, at a bar where this game was playing.  When the Cardinals won (in a situation where the Tigers could have gone ahead) I swear I heard a collective cry of anguish from Traverse City to Grosse Pointe.

Game 4, 2005 World Series
As a White Sox fan, it's sad to see the South Siders in such sorry shape these days.  When I get morose over their fate, I at least know that I can go back and watch this game, when they clinched in the 2005 World Series.  They may not win another one in my lifetime, but I will always hold close a team that a lot of people underestimated, who then made mincemeat out of their opponents in the playoffs.

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