This is a three-part series on how I’ve come to recapture my love for America’s favorite pastime.
So it’s been nearly two decades since I paid careful attention to baseball. When I was working in financials before the 2008 crisis, I would get the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post daily. I’d save the sports sections for my lunch break and read some highlights and box scores over coffee and cigarettes. That’s the most I would do and I was certainly more engrossed in football (college, pro, and the sport that’s called football by the rest of the world), even to the exclusion of other sports.
Some of you may have already done the math and realized that I was hardly paying attention to baseball during an important time. The creation of the “Evil Empire” of the Yankees dominating the late 90s and early 00s that led to, for me, a heartbreaking moment of witnessing the end to the Curse of the Bambino. The Yankees letting the Boston (sorry, I’m still enough of a Yankees fan that I’m not going to type their entire name) Red $%# make history by being the first team to ever come back from a 3 game deficit to win the ALCS. I also remember bits and pieces of the Subway Series, mostly because I saved a magazine issue that ran a story about it. 33% of the championships for a 15 year span for the Yankees. I wasn’t alive the last time another team in baseball could make a boast like this. Instead, I was spending most of those years studying, watching football, and guzzling beer.
The market crash taught me an interesting lesson about the notion of value. It’s an idea that’s tossed around often. Frequently interchangeable with words like price, cost, worth…but ultimately misunderstood. I started questioning what I valued. When the Yankees won the World Series again in 2009, I wasn’t paying much attention to sports at all but I watched some of the games. I always loved watching Mariano Rivera close games and he will probably forever remain my favorite Yankee of all time. But this time around, it was different. The thrill was gone…I had misplaced my values.
I’ve worked in education where I’ve taught children of all ages. I’ve taught the self-discipline and techniques of martial arts to kids as young as four and had the pleasure to watch them become fine teenagers and young adults. I’ve helped kids talk to their parents about problems and helped parents figure out how to give their kids the needed direction to straighten them out. I still have a little paper helicopter figurine an ingenious little 4th grader made me one day because he was so excited that I, an Asian man, was his substitute teacher. On the last day of a five month teaching assignment for an elementary school music teacher, the entire third grade class marched through the halls with handmade cards, placed them in a basket by my door, and gave me a hug.
I worked in the financial industry as a mortgage trader working with non-securitized whole loan packages. The sort of toxic assets that weren’t supposed to be packaged in those CDOs (Collateralized Debt Obligation) that spooked the market and brought it crashing down in 2008. Don’t blame me, I know guys that were willing to buy those things off the big banks who wouldn’t admit to the losses they needed to take. Forget supply and demand, the sky was falling. Sellers felt like what they had was worth more than the price they were hearing from the buyers – worthless.
I pretty much lost my shirt over the financial crisis and the rate I was paid to be a substitute teacher was nice while I was working except, when spread out over the year, I wasn’t making enough to get out of my mom’s house. We live in a social world, full of human interactions. Some of these interactions are emotionally fulfilling relationships that may be called friendship. Others involve exchanges in goods and labor and the relationship is labeled as business. They usually mix as well as bleach and ammonia.
There’s a really great book about human behavior called Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. If you read the excerpt I linked to, you’ll see how baseball has this element where social norms clash with market transactions in a variety of ways. If the Nationals really consider me part of their “family” and care about me, why do they charge so much (or at all) for their games and concessions? Anyway, it made me think about the human element to sports, the language we use to describe the game, the minor league system, and so much more. I’ve come to find that baseball is a fantastic analogue for life. You may want to argue that all sports are analogues to the struggle that is life. If sports are a reflection our lives and society, then I would argue that we should try to live a baseball life over any other.
Baseball has been quite reluctant to adopt instant replay to correct calls. The human element of umpiring is part and parcel of the game. We may not agree with an umpire’s strike zone but we often forget that baseball players come in various heights. So imagine…
- Wilson Ramos (6’0”) crouching behind the plate and…
- Jake Marisnick (6’4”) having just been struck out by…
- Doug Fister (6’8”) who took him up the ladder but is now going to pitch to…
- Jose Altuve (5’6”)
Is Fister really adjusting to a different strike zone? When Ramos frames the pitch down is it less believable because Altuve’s chest is about half a foot lower than Marisnick’s? Even though the ump is supposed to consider a number of things, don’t we just care about consistency? That’s the human element, the X-factor that requires the personal touch making every game just a little different.
George Carlin had an amazing part to his act where he compared baseball to football. Although I think he may have been more of a football fan than a baseball fan, I think the comparison still holds today. It also makes you think about what we value and how we place value on things. Kid acts out in class. Is it an error? Or a penalty? I suppose what I want to everyone to ask themselves is that if life is such a battle, how do we win? Is tearing down another a worthwhile act to win? What if we helped each other avoid making errors? Would this world be a better place?
Baseball is a celebration of quirks and history. If it weren’t for baseball fanatics creating the Rotisserie League, would we even have fantasy sports leagues? Fantasy is one of those ways that I’ve come back into following players and teams. A way to keep my interest going and fill out my knowledge of the game the way I used to trying to memorize the stats on baseball cards. I came back to this sport because we can all use a bit more celebration in our lives. I hope you’ve enjoyed reminiscing with me and exploring the ways that life applies to baseball. Let me know what you think and let’s discuss this beautiful game.