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Baseball: The Reality, the Fantasy and the Great Escape

Exhausted by political rhetoric and posturing, saddened by the violent nature of our world, and stressed over the course of day-to-day living, I am seeking the soothing, calm anticipation of the coming baseball season.

This time of year, one used to look out a window at the snowy landscape and know that with pitchers and catchers reporting to training camps in Florida and Arizona, Spring would soon be rounding the corner.

Of course, now that we no longer have the season known as Winter and with February temperatures not dissimilar to what they are in Florida- it’s even easier to imagine how soon we will be hearing the crack of the bat, the sound of the ball pounding the catcher’s mitt, the splendor of the manicured, green grass fields, the echoes of the hot dog vendors and the feel of an ice cold beer going down smooth as the first pitch flies toward the plate.  Yes, I do take perverse pride in knowing I have just set the modern standard for baseball clichés in one paragraph.

Baseball Distraction #1- the Real Thing

My own, personal baseball anticipation process has manifested in two ways.  I read everything there is to read about the Washington Nationals.  Here in the nation’s capital where a baseball team has not won a World Series since 1924, it so happens that some savvy trades and signings along with great misfortune and many pathetic losing seasons- have bestowed upon our little team, a wealth of young draft choices and talent that have made for possibly the best pitching staff in the whole sport.

Oh, there’s optimism in every town in the Spring, but deep down, fans of, say, the Baltimore Orioles, for example, know that while there will be games played soon in their beautiful ballpark, it will just be a matter of a few weeks before the inevitable reality sets in that winning is not much part of the equation, even if Boog Powell’s barbeque ribs will be.  It’s a bitch to have to go up against the New York Yankees.

Baseball Distraction #2- the Fantasy Thing

The second way my baseball anticipation has been fed, is through a mere $12 investment in an imaginary baseball team as part of a sports fantasy website called What If Sports.  I was given $80 million of fake money to invest in any 25 players from the entire history of the sport, from last year all the way back to just a couple of decades after the American Civil War.

The prices of the players matched against the budget you are given, are cleverly constructed so that you can’t load a team with only superstars.  There is value and an art in choosing the right kind of mediocrity and averageness with which to meld with some of the great players you can actually afford.

What draws me to the game- is what draws many people to the real sport of baseball itself- its timelessness.  My team reflects just about all the phases of my life.  From my childhood, a small contingent of my team that used to play for the Washington Senators of old; pitchers like Joe Coleman and Dick Bosman.  I have added a few new Washington players like Ryan and Jordan Zimmerman, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard.

But the real fun is watching the epic old-timers perform.  I have an outfield of a young Detroit Tiger, Kirk Gibson, the 1961 Mickey Mantle and an aging but still productive, Fred Lynn.   I have a few Orioles sprinkling the infield diamond in Eddie Murray at 1st, Davey Johnson (the 43-homer Davey Johnson) at 2nd and Rick Dempsey behind the plate; the Bird’s catcher who used to entertain the crowds during rain delays at old Memorial Stadium by splashing belly-first over home plate in a pretend mad scramble from 3rd base.

The games are simulated and you get box scores and play-by-play of the results and they’re as fresh and interesting as it used to be picking up the morning newspaper to comb through the box scores (newspapers: a form of communication from the past in which words were printed on parchment and delivered to your front door).

I am Earl Weaver- Who Knew?

As a manager and team-designer, it turns out that I am Earl Weaver, the plucky, cigarette-smoking, former skipper of the Baltimore Orioles who led the Birds to several American League pennants and World Series titles with a philosophy of decent pitching and the three-run homer.

My team strikes out a lot.  They hardly ever steal bases. But they do pound the crap out of the ball and currently lead our little pretend league in homeruns and slugging percentage.  Algorithms and speedy calculations contribute to the computer-generated results so there are no umpires to argue with, sadly.  That was the other claim to fame of the great Earl Weaver.  Always led the league in getting kicked out of games.

But there are no arguments in this league, just the temporary satisfaction of being tied for the lead in my division in a season that is young and as full of promise as the real one the big leaguers are preparing for in Florida and Arizona right now.

Thank you, baseball, for taking my mind off other, less pleasant things.

  1. Sean Breslin
    February 23, 2012 at 11:24 pm

    Man, what a great post! So happy baseball is about to return.

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