So this is pretty much my first post, and I doubt it'll stir any heated debates, as I won't be asking you to take a side on such a controversial issue such as "Stats: WTF? YES!" or "Stats: OMG! NO!". In fact I'm not really asking you to take a side on anything. I assume that since you are reading this site and/or posting here, you share a common love with everyone that resides in this corner of the interweb: baseball. Just the word itself inspires a childlike giddiness in me, and here is my attempt to list the top ten things that I cannot wait for, in reference to baseball. (I honestly don't know at this point if I can even get ten or if I'll go overboard by 50. I just chose an arbitrarily round number.)
1. Batting Practice With Friends.
I can't even describe in words how much I love the physical act of hitting a baseball. I know in revealing this that some of you may be judging me as you read, but I also know that most of you are like me and are imagining a nice summer day when you are seeing that 60mph "fastball" that your friend serves up right into your "wheelhouse." The terms "fastball" and "wheelhouse" are in quotes as they are somewhat relative, and if anyone reading this has a real "fastball" or "wheelhouse," I assume you're actually using your talent somewhere and getting paid for it. But getting back to my point, making good, solid contact with a baseball is one of those feelings that puts a smile on my face. Like hitting a golf ball solidly off a tee, hitting a baseball squarely and punching it to a gap or over a fence (thank you Little League parks) just makes me like to sit back and watch. The feeling that you've just effortlessly swung through a pitch and deposited it in an outfield somewhere is one of my all time favorites. It's right up there with seeing Star Wars or Jurassic Park for the first time as a kid. It's just that I get to repeat this one over and over as long as my "mechanics" comply.
2. Testing My "Stuff" As A Batting Practice Pitcher
Ok, so this one isn't all that great, and the whole point of pitching in the batting practices my friends and I so fondly love is to serve them meat (see item #1), but I really love testing out a new breaking ball and having it actually work. By testing out a new breaking ball, I mean anything from accidentally messing up your regular pitch to trying out some wacky "new" grip and/or throwing motion. The chances (for myself, although Mike has a fun curveball at times) that the pitch will actually break across the plate and not break my friend are actually somewhat slim, but it is exhilarating when it happens.
3. Afternoon Ballgames
I don't know what it is, but I find the best games to watch are the day games. It may be the fact that there are less people at them, and I feel less crowded. It may be the fact that when the game is over, it's at most 4pm. It may have more to do with the fact that I'm skipping out of work because I'm "sick" or something. Whatever it is, day games are great. Grabbing or bringing lunch to the game makes it feel like a really long lunch hour while being entertained by your very own personal ballclub.
4. Scoring Games
This has become one of my new favorite things to do. Thank you Mike for showing me how it's done, as it is one of those things that the average fan has no idea what any of it means. I'm still confused at times and I attribute it to the extra inning games that I invariably end up scoring. I think something like 30% of the games I score end up going into extra innings or some position gets replaced 7 times in the game or it's Bullpen Day at the Dome or whatever. But that appears to be half the fun. I feel like a 5 year old again, admiring my latest masterpiece as a pure work of genius only I can comprehend.
5. Rally Malt Cups
I enjoy rally time in any sport, as it is usually the most exciting time during the game. Close sided affairs just bring out the true competitive nature and usually best plays of the game (although I love when the Twins/Wild/Gophers/US Women's Curling Team destroy their opponents). And come rally time, when your team is down, every true fan has some sort of ritual that they go through. Be it the ever popular Rally Cap, Rally Monkey, Rally Sausage, Rally Killer Mariano Rivera, praying to your deity (or deities) of choice; I offer up my ritual: the Rally Malt Cup. I realized a couple of years ago that the malt cups sold at the dome (and now your local grocer) hold a special aura of rally time within their being. There's a few rules to be aware of, however. First, you cannot break out the malt cup too early in a game. It must be at least the 5th inning (although studies have proven that the ideal innings are the 6th-8th). Second, malt cups can occasionally be consumed when your team is winning the game, but you must be careful not to invoke the spirits to help the opposing team. Third, the act of eating the majority of the malt cup has to take place when your team is at bat. This may result in a soggy mess of malt after an inning or two. You can sneak bites in when the opposing team is up to bat, but you must be thinking defensive/pitching thoughts. Last, if it turns into an extra inning affair, the rally time aura can be extended into additional malt cups. The normal rule is only one per game (Because the gods can only help baseball so much. There are more important matters to attend to like global warming and the stock market. But the main reason is because of the ridiculous prices of malt cups these days... $2.75?!? It's malt! In a cup! I'm eating it with wood!). Once the game hits extra innings however, my wallet along with the rally time aura gets extended.
6. Hormel Row Of Fame
I love sports arena promotion/rally/get the crowd involved/sell me something jingles. They are often so ridiculous that when taken out of context they make little to no sense. The "Hormel Row of Fame" jingle takes the cake. You're promoting your ballpark's hotdog vendor by handing out free hotdogs to a row of unsuspecting fans who now have their mugs on the jumbotron. And you have a fantastic little tune to back it up. Brilliant. I don't know if I have more fun actually singing along to the jingle, or seeing the reactions of the fans around me when my friends and I bellow the tune as loud as we can and break into four part harmony in the end.
7. Arguing Calls From My Seat (whether it's 700 feet or 1200 miles away)
The inner ump in all of us has gotten upset over a call more than once or twice a week (or up to seven times a game if it's being umped by the one crew that hates the Twins. I don't remember names, but I swear there's one crew that always makes horrible mistakes against the Twins. They're part Satan. Same category as Yankees fans.) I love the thrill of arguing the call whether it be from a seat in the dome or from a barstool in Dinkytown. Of course we have no say in the call whatsoever, and whether we're right or wrong it's just fun to argue against one person's split second point of view. I find myself arguing plays that were I on the field at that time and not seeing seven thousand slow motion replays of every angle of the play, I'd probably be even more horribly wrong. (I'd probably be staring at the hotties in the second row rather than watching the game unfold before me.) But nonetheless, it is still fun to argue your point at someone from the upper deck.
8. Seeing Our Projections Play Out
I enjoy all of the planning and postulating going on during the offseason. Who's going to make the rotation? What's going to happen to so-and-so's contract? Will comeback player [insert name here, last year it was Frank Thomas] actually perform up to standards, or just flop like [insert failed Twins acquisitions here, last year it was Tony Batista]? And the biggest question, who will win the World Series? I like the sort of calm before the storm that we're at right now. Everyone is formulating and predicting who's going to do what based on previous stats, and if they mean anything at all (and as I've found out from previous posts this is a very big love/hate topic). But whoever you are, we all have mapped the Twins season in our mind, with or without stats. Santana will get 25 wins as he becomes the first pitcher ever to post a negative ERA, Joe Mauer and Justin Mourneau compete for the batting crown while Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez cry in the corner, and Little Nicky Punto is renamed Mr. Web Gem. Whatever it is we expect them to do, I still get a kick out of seeing who's living up to our expectations and who is under performing. And if it turns out that one of our predictions is right, we get a little rush and end up gloating in front of our friends, telling them how we should be doing Baseball Tonight.
9. Top Plays
No matter what the sport, but for baseball in particular, I love the highlight reel. Web gems, walk offs, outstanding double plays, rbi doubles, you name it, I freaking love watching daily recaps. Hockey comes a close second, but baseball is still number one in my book. It may have something to do with the fact that I can hold a bat and throw a ball, and can barely stand on skates, but it's still a great feeling. Maybe it's bringing up memories of days past, when I was 10 years old and re-enacted my own highlight reel. "Fedie (that's me) back at the track...A SENSATIONAL CATCH!! OH MY!!" "Dustin is usually somewhat good in this situation, with runners in scoring position and the game on the line. 3 and 2, here's the pitch...swung on and a DEEP fly ball to left center! WAY back! Touch em all!"
10. Local Sports Anchors
I love Dick and Bert. I love Gordon and Gladden. As questionable as their announcing skills may be, I still get a kick out of them. Nothing more says baseball to me than listening to your local sports announcers call the game. Even though I watch a lot of games (usually at work) on mlb.com's fantastic Gameday flash program, baseball isn't baseball without actually listening to it. I love our hometown crew and I'd have to say I equally enjoy listening on the radio or on tv. But I also love the fact that baseball is about the only sport that's remotely possible to follow on the radio, as the specifics are not always that important. Ground ball up the middle. 6-4-3 double play. Mauer pushing it the opposite way. These sentences induced some sort of image in your mind, and maybe the way it played out in your head was more real than what actually happened. Hearing your hometown announcers spaz at certain calls or go berserk over late inning rallies is sort of magical. If you've followed them at all, you know exactly what is happening just by the inflection in the announcer's voice. I've even enjoyed listening to broadcasts done by the opposing team as well. It's always fun to get someone else's take on things. (I'll still never forget the Cleveland radio broadcast that Mike and I listened to that somehow bounced off of Lake Superior and the moon and deposited itself in our radio in Lutsen.) There's also the occasional national anchor that can get it right. The one call to this day that still sends chills down my spine and puts a little tear in my eye was on national tv: "...And we'll see you...tomorrow night!"
So I didn't actually expect this to be this long, (it was really that slow of a day at work) but I hope I've inspired you to perhaps post some of your favorite things about baseball. Spring training game 1 is on Wednesday and I already have my little calendar printed out. Home opener is just over a month away. I'm getting jittery just waiting. I can't wait to over analyze every pitch. I can't wait to say "even I could have done that!"
I can't wait for spring...