This was originally written for and posted at Cee Angi’s site Baseball Prose.com. Since having been deleted from that site, I have decided to re-post it here because well, I just really enjoyed writing it:
I don’t like baseball. Don’t get me wrong — I enjoy baseball. I choose to watch games
of my own free will and am entertained. But I don’t like baseball. There is nothing
special to me about the game above anything else in this world. The beauty of
the game does not transcend description to me. Red Smith quipped, “Ninety feet
between bases is the nearest thing to perfection that man has yet to achieve.” To me,
ninety feet is just a dimension. I don’t “stare out the window and wait for spring”
like Rogers Hornsby when there’s no baseball. Ernie Harwell wrote, “Baseball is a
ballet without music. Drama without words.” I see it as just a game. I enjoy baseball,
but I don’t like baseball.
I grew up in a family that didn’t have any interest in sports, yet after a neighbor
provided my brothers and me with a massive amount of trading cards, baseball
became my obsession. I treated these cards as if they were precious metals. I would
spend hours reading and sorting them while Bob Uecker — the voice of the Brewers-
– indoctrinated me with the religion of baseball. Eventually I began playing in youth
leagues, where I still have a vivid recollection of many of the plays I made. When I
look back on my childhood, baseball is the first place my mind goes. Even hearing
Uecker’s voice brings me back to those countless days spent on my bedroom floor
while the Brewers game poured into my ears like a perfect rendition of Beethoven’s
9th symphony. I like the memories I have of baseball, but I don’t like baseball.
I was drawn to sports at a young age. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the athleticism
required. Maybe it’s the competition. Maybe it’s just that it provides me with an
escape from my daily life. But I can’t shake the feeling that if I were born in Canada,
I would follow hockey. Anguilla? Yacht racing. Afghanistan? Buzkashi. Almost any
other country in the world? Soccer. I like sports, but I don’t like baseball.
I’m an extremely analytical person. If a list or spreadsheet can be made, it will be.
I’ve created ranking systems for hockey radio stations, my music collection and
every fantasy sport I’ve ever played, including baseball, hockey, basketball and
football. I created a system that attempts to calculate daily results of individual
baseball players. I like it when things go the way they should. A season of baseball
is worth much more to me than a season in any other sport. There aren’t 16 or 82
games in a season — there are 162. Terrible teams may get lucky sometimes, but
the teams that stand out in the end are good. They have to be. A terrible player may
reach base nine times in 10 plate appearances, but he won’t finish a full season
with a .900 on-base percentage. In baseball, most things just…smooth out. It is the
most statistically modeled sport I know and I like that. I like the analytical nature of
baseball, but I don’t like baseball.
I spend a lot of time with baseball. I blog, I analyze, I tweet, all about baseball. My
mind is always investigating new intricacies of the game. I study statistics and seek
the subtleties. If news happens, I’m usually one of the first to know, simply because
I’m always following it. I’m obsessed with baseball, but I don’t like baseball.
But then there are four simultaneous games, the results of which will decide who
goes to the playoffs. Two of the teams are nearing historic collapses. One team is a
strike away from elimination until a home run sends the game into extra innings.
Another team is struggling to force a playoff until they give up an RBI single in the
9th and complete their collapse. Still yet another team is on the verge of making the
playoffs outright until, in the span of a few minutes, they allow their opponent to
score twice in the bottom of the 9th while their rivals win their game with a walk
off home run in the bottom of the 12th. My heart is pounding and my mind is racing.
And it’s in those moments of emotion and suspense, of the impossible calculation
becoming the actual result, where all that I know to be true about baseball is cast
aside for a brief second…those are the moments when I love baseball.
The baseball statistic “at-bat” drives me crazy. It is often used to describe any time a batter goes to the plate; however, that is not how it is calculated. Allow Joe Posnanski to elaborate:
Now, subtract the walks. No, seriously, just subtract those. We don’t care about those.
Now, subtract the hit-by-pitches. Get rid of them.
Now, subtract the times that the player hit a fly ball that allowed a runner to tag up and score from third base.
Now, subtract the times the batter bunted a runner from first to second base, or second to third, or third to home but still made an out. Do not subtract the plate appearance if the batter successfully made it to first base. Do not subtract it if he hit a hard smash that accomplished PRECISELY THE SAME THING as a bunt. Do not subtract it if he hit a check-swing dribbler that was KIND OF like a bunt but did not seem from the press box to be a purposeful bunt.
Remember to include the times he reached base but only because of a defensive blunder.
OK, you have that number? We call those “at-bats.”
Today, Roger Clemens’ perjury trial was declared a mistrial, due to some evidence added by the prosecution that was already deemed inadmissible. Apparently. That’s what Craig Calcaterra tells me and I trust him. I know basically nothing about courtroom stuff, besides what I learned at Boys State and a fake trial in Social Studies class in 9th grade*. But I do know I have some thoughts about Roger Clemens.
*I was the judge and I don’t remember what the case was about or what the verdict was, but I do remember not allowing a “police officer” to testify about blood spatter because he wasn’t an expert. I’m all about taking advantage of any power I am given.
I grew up in a family of six (now seven) people, none of whom cared one iota about sports. In fact, the closest my family got to sports was when my sister played volleyball in middle school. We didn’t have a television and we didn’t play them as a family. However, there was an old man who lived down the street from us named Tommy Thompson (not the former governor of Wisconsin) who for whatever reason decided to give his entire collection of baseball cards to me and my brothers. Neither of my brothers cared for them as much as I did, though. I would sort and resort the cards, first by player name, then by team, then by year and I would read the back of them. I was astonished at even the thought of placing them in my bike spokes, for fear of ruining them beyond repair. Bret Saberhagen and Tom Brunansky were among my favorites, simply because they kept showing up in the decks.
For many years, baseball cards were my only knowledge of baseball at all, apart from listening to Brewers games on the radio. In fact, when I read “The Red Sox Brunansky” on the back of one of the cards, I literally thought, “Oh, does every team have a player named Tom Brunansky?” Maybe that was a function of my naivety in general and not simply of baseball. In Wisconsin, police officers would hand out decks of Brewers baseball cards, in an effort to create a positive public image. Every summer, I would run up (carefully) to the first one I saw and ask him (politely) for a pack. Since no one else in my family wanted to play sports, I would take a tennis ball and throw it at a basketball backboard in order to play catch with myself. It probably looked ridiculously silly, but I’m pretty good at catching now, at least. The only time I actually played baseball was in a youth softball summer league, which remains as some of my favorite memories from childhood.
I created this on the day that the Royals announced the signing of Jeff Francoeur.
I recently finished reading “Ball Four” by Jim Bouton (I know, I’m 40 years late) and I remember a passage from it that basically read like this: If baseball fans knew what players were really like, they wouldn’t deify them as much. And that, in general, may be true. Fans of any sport are in awe of the physical abilities of the athletes they watch. Throwing a baseball in excess of 90 mph is just a dream for most people. Hitting that fastball is an even greater impossibility. So fans see these men and women do incredible feats with ease and tend to project other features onto them. Professional athletes are held to a higher standard. In one sense, this may be necessary as they – like it or not – are viewed as role models. They can have quite an effect on the lives of those around them simply by their stature as an athlete. But sometimes, fans tend to forget that the players are still people, just like everyone else.
When “Ball Four” was written in 1969, the access to players’ personal lives was extremely limited. Even the reporters who followed the team were shut out, as players were told to rarely speak to them. As I read the book, I was amazed that the outcry was so large. There didn’t seem to be anything shocking to me in it. Baseball players chase girls and drink alcohol? No way! It shows how much has changed in the privacy of professional athletes’ lives. Of course, the best view that the fans now get into a player’s personal life is Twitter. Twitter is awesome. I’ve smacktalked with Derek Holland on how the Anaheim Ducks are better than the Phoenix Coyotes. I’ve personally asked J.P. Arencibia and Manny Machado how to pronounce their names. I’ve asked Heath Bell why he has the number 21 (“That’s the number they gave me. I like it.”). I’ve won a personalized signed baseball from Will Rhymes. I’ve shared my anchovy-eating story with Thomas Neal. And I’ve shared Bible verses with LaTroy Hawkins.
Which brings me to Michael Schlact. Michael Schlact is a 6’8 right-handed pitcher who spent the last 6 years in the Texas Rangers organization. He was drafted in the 3rd round in 2004 and has bounced around the minors, reaching as high as AA Frisco. In 2009, he had shoulder surgery and missed time in 2009 and 2010. His contract with the Rangers ended after 6 years and they declined to re-sign him. Just recently, he signed with the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in the Atlantic League, an independent baseball league, not affiliated with Major League Baseball. Schlact is also a blogger. His blog is here. And he tweets. A lot. As of this moment, he has 14,381 tweets.
But none of that is seemingly worthy of a dedicated post, is it? A pitcher gets drafted, tries to make it to the major leagues, gets injured and tries to prove that he’s healthy. He blogs about his life and tweets. A lot. Besides the fact that without Twitter, I would have never even heard of Michael Schlact, none of this is ground-breaking stuff.
So this is where the story begins to differentiate itself, Schlact’s Twitter bio: “Professional baseball player. Husband. Glorifying God while chasing my dream. Follow me on my journey…” Innocent enough. The only reason I followed him in the first place was that first sentence, “Professional baseball player.” I follow over 500 people on Twitter and a majority of them are either baseball players or baseball writers. So, I figured, “this guy’s a baseball player, I’ll follow him.” I read “Husband” and probably thought nothing. Or at least, “Well, good for him.” Then I read “Glorifying God while chasing my dream” and I thought, “Well, I’m a Christian and this guy is at least Christian enough to put God in his Twitter bio. That’s nice.” Finally, I read “Follow me on my journey…” and figured, “Well, okay!”
The part I really want to focus on is stuck right in the middle there: “Glorifying God while chasing my dream.” Athletes, singers and actors talk about God sometimes, mostly when winning awards or giving interviews. They thank God for the talent He has given them, which I appreciate. But in their normal day-to-day activities, they completely forget about Him. But Michael Schlact is not like that. He has Phillipians 4:13 on his glove. (I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.) He has basically been without a job from last October until this March. That’s 5 months without knowing where he would end up and what he would be doing this baseball season. But instead of lashing out and being publicly depressed (I can’t speak as to how he was in private), he tweets things like this: “Never think that God’s delays are God’s denials. Hold on; hold fast; hold out. Patience is genius.”(George-Louis Leclerc de Buffon) And this: “Trust God with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5)
I greatly appreciate the fact that he references God and trusts in Him, but I’m sure that there are some out there who are turned off by it. I appreciate the courage and the boldness that it takes to be so open about his faith, but I believe that the overall lesson is not just that he has faith. It’s that he is able to put it in action and that he is able to keep a positive attitude throughout a difficult time. This is an area in which anyone can grow, regardless of religious or non-religious preference.
This is his response to the Ranger organization, who declined to re-sign him after 6 years (a string of tweets): “Rangers fans, as of now, I’m not returning back to the Texas org. I am forever thankful for all the opportunities they gave me. The Rangers drafted me and gave me lots of opportunities. I am forever grateful for that. I wish them the best of luck in the future. As you’ve seen, careers come full circle though. (Colby Lewis) So, there are DEFINITELY no hard feelings. Thoroughly enjoyed my time there.” He’s obviously a classy guy.
But what really drove me to write about him is that I have been where he has been. No, I was never a professional baseball player. The farthest I got was casual softball leagues (let me know if you need the best defensive centerfielder you have ever seen play). But I’ve been in the place where I had no clue where I was going to end up. I went through my senior year in college with a higher cumulative GPA than Schlact’s Rookie ball ERA. I interviewed with company after company, only to get that wonderful e-mail that always begins with “Dear Candidate: While we are impressed with your skills and qualifications, we have chosen another candidate for this position….” And it hurt. And I can’t say I handled every missed opportunity with as much class as Schlact did. I was not on Twitter at the time, but if I had been, my feed would be as depressing as a teenage girl whose parents just grounded her before a Justin Bieber concert. I ended up graduating college with a degree in Chemical Engineering…and moving back into my parents’ house. Eventually, I was able to get a job and I’m thankful for that opportunity. But I severely dislike the feeling of the unknown. I don’t like to be in limbo. And when I am, I freak out. But just by following Michael Schlact on Twitter, I have seen a glimpse into the life of someone who did not let his surroundings define him.
Maybe Jim Bouton was partially right in “Ball Four.” Maybe there are some players who are great athletes but not very nice people. Maybe they have extremely skewed views. Maybe they kick puppies. But I refuse to believe that all athletes are this way, and I believe that I have found at least one of the exceptions to the rule in Michael Schlact, the insanely tall former AA pitcher who just really likes to tweet.
I’ve never met Michael Schlact and I may never meet him in my life. If I’m ever in Waldorf, Maryland and he’s still pitching for the Blue Crabs, I’ll go to a game. But even though I may never physically be in the same place as Michael Schlact, that won’t stop me from looking up to him.