Let there be light! After weeks and weeks of anticipation, the 2007 Major League Baseball season got underway yesterday, and I thought I’d take advantage of the occasion to share a few thoughts on how to best get through the season – that is, if you watch on TV or otherwise follow the game over its monumentally time-intensive season:
1. Put in the time:
When I first started watching the Red Sox regularly (end of 2003/beginning of 2004 season), I had absolutely no idea what was going on. I mean, I understood the basic rules of the game from my disastrously short-lived little league career, but in terms of the history, the players, and most importantly the whole narrative and statistical apparatus that surrounds the game for the viewer, I was lost. While some baseball games really are exciting and relatively fast-paced (if you can believe it), most are long hard slogs, punctuated by brief moments of drama (well-turned double plays, home runs, outs at home plate, etc.). A working knowledge of what surrounds the game makes those long afternoon and evening viewing sessions much more bearable.
In the end this is a problem that solves itself, since the more games you watch, the more you learn. Obviously you can’t watch them all, and most people can’t watch even close to them all. We’re talking 3+ hours per day for 5-6 days a week for the better part of the year! But if you’re lucky enough to have a local sports network (like NESN in New England, or WGN in Chicago), you can manage to watch a decent chunk of the season. If you have flexible work hours, even better. Even thought about working seasonally? That helps, too. That said…
2. Give up on being a “real fan.”
No one is a “real fan.” Everyone is a “real fan.” Hardcore vs. fair-weather fandom is entirely relative. Remember, no matter how long you’ve rooted for a team or watched baseball in general, how closely you follow off-season trades, how much you read on the subject, how sophisticated your statistical modeling techniques are, how nasty-looking your team cap is, you will seldom be more knowledgeable or generally harder-core than “that guy.”
Who am I talking about? “That guy” represents the average joe hanging out at any local bar. Without really thinking about it, this guy – whoever he is, and he is legion – has accumulated more knowledge than you will ever possess about your chosen team. Somehow he’s seen every single game over the last 70 or so years (even if he’s only 40) and despite the fact that he works 9-5. Moreover, he has a mysterious talent for getting tickets to sold-out games from his “buddy,” and if he’s the aggressive type, he will school you “hahdcoah” if you start running your mouth on trivia. You’ll leave feeling like a total fair-weather fan, and in the end, it’s not worth it. If you sense asshole intent, don’t engage with these guys. As with so many other topics (movies, music trivia, Latin American intellectual history, etc.) talking baseball with cool people who genuinely love the game and want to share their opinions can be a real pleasure, but arguing obscure points with dicks is far from fun. So be selective, and remember that every “that guy” has his own “that guy” who knows even more than he does.
3. Love the melting pot:
Now for the liberal propaganda: baseball is America’s most racially/nationally/linguistically diverse sport, with players from all over the U.S. and Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean, East Asia, and so on. One of the great ironies of Boston’s glorious 2004 Red Sox season was that on a team with such a checkered past in terms of race, and so closely identified with Irish-American fandom, two dark-skinned Dominican guys – David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez – would emerge as the city’s greatest heroes. That crowds of drunken white guys in green Red Sox hats (with the “B” placed atop a shamrock) could profess their undying love to these two from the stands in Fenway is proof, I think, that the world isn’t entirely going to hell.
4. Savor the lyrical/dramatic/literary/whatever flavor
Baseball, at least for those fans and commentators who don’t fall into the “statistics geek” category, regularly becomes a grand Metaphor for Life. Listen to any broadcast long enough and you’ll hear all sorts of flowery rhetoric about epic journeys, tests of faith, skippers at the helm, great rivalries, deep-seeded fears, paternal/filial tension and unwavering yet tortured devotion to tradition and memory. You may occasionally mistake the game for something out of Greek mythology, Hamlet, or a particularly fire-and-brimstone Christian parable, but that’s the point! Despite the cringe-worthy narratives spewed by b-level commentators, baseball does occasionally rise to the occasion and effectively represent the human condition in all of its beauty, lunacy, and tension. I’m serious. Don’t laugh.
4. Drink a beer
Beer tastes better while watching baseball. It’s a fact.