Baseball On My Brain

The Three True Outcomes
November 24, 2008, 10:05 am
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Thanks to Dan Rosenheck of the New York Times for starting my Monday off with a good article.

Hall of Fame merit articles always feel like an obituary to me – they acknowledge the death of a player’s career, and almost harken back to earlier days of religion when people wondered whether someone had enough credits to get into heaven, or weather they’d be stuck in purgatory.

But the point of this isn’t the merits of Mike Mussina getting into the Hall of Fame.

Contained within Mr. Rosenheck’s article is a reference to a statistical analysis tool that I had forgotten about – the Three True Outcomes.

Quick summary – the Three True Outcomes looks at the results of an at-bat that a pitcher can truly control – a strikeout, a walk, or a home run. Everything else is dependent on defense to some extent or another, and thus hard to judge exactly how much importance the pitcher actually played in the result of the at-bat.

Take the Three True Outcomes out of baseball and apply if to daily life – how much of what occurs in your life is directly attributable to you, and how much is dependent on the defense playing behind you? Think about work today – did you issue a walk because you couldn’t find the strike zone or were afraid of serving up a good pitch? Or did you go after the hitter with craft and guile and strike him out? Or did you make a mistake pitch and watch it sail over the fence?

There is a key lesson to be learned here about how each of us approach our lives – we have the oppotunity to take more control of our lives than most of us realize, but at the same time, we are all dependent on our defense to help us out. Sometimes you make a great pitch and get a routine grounder, only to have it flubbed by the second baseman, putting the runner on and giving the offense a free out.

And while not all of us are strikeout pitchers, it pays to be aware how much you rely on other people to make you look good. If you’re one of those folks, take the time to thank your defense profusely every chance you get. Congratulate them on making great plays, don’t beat them up when they flub a ball on occasion, be ready to trade them or kick them off your team if they’re costing you runs, and realize that at the end of the day, you wouldn’t be where you are without them.

All of us have those folks playing behind us – and all of us play behind someone else, most likely behind multiple people. Remember that as well – someone may be counting on you to make a play for them.


Disappointment vs. Discouragement
November 23, 2008, 1:22 am
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There is this really fine line that I find myself walking on or near a good amount of the time. It’s the line that exists between disappointment and discouragement, and it’s a line that I need to be critically aware of which side I’m on.

Life is – or at least can be, depending on your outlook – full of disappointment. The weather didn’t work out, you didn’t get the job you applied for, that cute guy or girl didn’t think your line was funny. The car broke down, the lottery ticket wasn’t a winner, or you didn’t get your to-do list done.

Things like this are all around, pushing me, dragging me, taunting me right up to this line between disappointment and discouragement.

What is so important about this line? On the other side of this line is where disappointment wins – it’s where the spirit gets weakened, where self esteem turns into self doubt, and where self doubt turns into a lack of motivation, motivated by a fear of failure.

That place is discouragement. It’s where fear rules, bravery and courage suffocate and die, self doubt thrives and risk is to be avoided at all costs.

It’s a pretty miserable place to be, because it’s where I become afraid to go to the plate and swing at a pitch. It’s where I become afraid to take my foot off of first base out of fear that I’ll be picked off. Or round second base hard and go for third because I don’t want to be that guy who got thrown out trying to be what some will label as greedy or aggressive.

It’s said that certain people lack motivation. I believe that statement is absolutely false. Those people who some think lack motivation only lack the right kind of motivation. Those people who are talked about have plenty of motivation – it’s just a motivation rooted in avoidance of failure rather than embrace of success.

And let me be the first to raise my hand and say that’s how I’ve spent a good majority of my life. I wish I knew whether it was something I learned, or rather, something I never learned, but somehow the fear of failure and the feelings of rejection and loss of self worth that comes with it are things I truly have yet to overcome.

So how does this all fit into this blog that is supposed to be baseball related?

First, I have to constantly remind myself that baseball is a sport that baseball is a sport rooted almost entirely in failure. The best hitters will fail close to seven times out of ten…pitchers are measured by how far away from perfect they are.

As fans, it feels like we’re constantly rooting for our team to dodge the inevitable failure and somehow, just this once, finally this year, triumph. Whether it be to strikeout the hitter, or avoid the strikeout and get a hit, it’s hard to push back against the feelings of doubt and fear.

But baseball challenges each and every one of us to do just that: put that last strikeout behind me and get in the batter’s box again and take another swing.

But how do I work up the belief in myself to get back up there?

Is it a matter of simply blocking out every failure and focusing solely on my triumphs? Do I have to lie to myself and say that success is the only option? Or is it something else?

I wish I knew. That’s one lesson I haven’t learned yet.

Give it to the kid, part 2
November 18, 2008, 5:16 pm
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Baseball has a funny way of working itself out. Or rather, working us out.

As I was walking out of HoHoKam Park in Mesa on Monday afternoon, the 13th and final Arizona Fall League game I’d see in my 7 days in the desert, what should I see sitting just a few feet behind my car?

A foul ball.

I’m keeping this one.

Give it to the kid?
November 12, 2008, 11:12 pm
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Tuesday was day one of my 2008 trip to the Arizona Fall League – quite possibly the best kept secret in baseball. Of course, if there was a better one, maybe I wouldn’t know about it, would I?

Anyway – the Arizona Fall League is a “finishing school,” if you will, for Minor League players. Each Major League team sends seven players to the AFL, five MLB teams combine to form one of the six 35-player teams. They play every day of the week except for Sunday, and throughout the season you’ll find days where you can catch two of the three games thanks to a 12:35 pm start and a 7:05 start.

(On a side note – and this is directed to you, Mr. Stephen A. Cobb, President of the Arizona Fall League…please consider doing days where all three games are played at the same stadium. Have it start at 12:35 pm, and just have each successive game play 30 minutes or so after the conclusion of the first. There are plenty of neighboring fields for the players to warm up and take BP on, so that’s not really an excuse. I think this would be a great thing for both scouts and fans – it could possibly cut down on gas and travel, it would provide a tremendous value for fans wanting to see a lot of baseball, and it would be a great way to showcase the league. Give each team two “home” dates – so since Peoria Stadium hosts two teams, they would get four dates with the triple-header, while Surprise, Mesa, Scottsdale and Phoenix would each have a pair. I think it’s a winner, personally.)

(After I wrote this, I realized that locker room space might be an issue. But I’m sure we can figure that out.)

To put it lightly, going to the Fall League is generally the highlight of my off-season. It’s my last batch of live baseball until Spring Training, and it’s in such a pure form – no in-game promotions, no at-bat music, no trolley/hydroplane/subway/dot races – just good quality baseball, a crowd that’s generally interested in the game on the field, and a bunch of players who know this could be their chance to step into the spotlight and give their teams something to look forward to in February and March.

So anyway – I land in Phoenix on Tuesday around 11 am, get picked up by my uncle and head to Peoria for my first game of the 2008 season. Walk in, sit in a little sun, and get my AFL enjoyment underway.

A few innings later, as the sun has moved and we’re now in the shade, my uncle decides to move down a few rows, leaving me with one of the upper sections of seats pretty much to myself. Now bear in mind, I’m in the second row of seats above the walkway at Peoria Stadium…if you’ve been there or to any of the spring training parks in the desert, you should have a feel for where I am.

So a foul ball gets hit behind me and bounces down into the unoccupied row in front of me. A kid from the lower seats makes his way towards it, but is in the wrong spot and can’t see or reach over the wall to where the ball is.

So I reach over the row in front of me and scoop the ball up and examine my souvenir. Now bear in mind, I had left the cold and rainy Seattle area just about four hours prior; five inches of rain had fell in the 11 days prior to my departure. The Mariners stunk up the 2008 season, my men’s league team stunk, and I know that this is my last dance with the game until March. So needless to say, I’m in a pretty darn good mood – not even 6 hours since I left home and I had a foul ball in my hand. And then out of the stands comes the comment that I have come to absolutely despise:

“Give it to the kid!”

Oh yes…someone, the kid’s mother or grandmother I think, throws out those words of entitlement that have come to infiltrate even my beloved Arizona Fall League.

“Give it to the kid!”

This woman has decided that the baseball in question would mean more to a kid than to me. She quickly and decisively compared the joy that ball would bring to both my life and the boy’s and ruled swiftly in his favor. She became an immediate expert on my life and my values. She forced their judgment and valuation of the situation upon not only me but the crowd at hand; they have issued their orders. She knew that I’d probably just throw the ball away as soon as I got home, or use it as a doorstop, or something else that would disrespect its sanctity, while the youngster in question would treasure it beyond his wildest dreams.

“Give it to the kid!’

I tend to think of baseball games as a good setting to see how folks behave, especially when it comes to those times when the emotions really get pumping.

Baseball, at least for most fans, should be seen as an escape from the real world. It’s almost like going to the movies, except it is OK to cheer out loud the good parts, boo the bad parts, dress like the main characters and actually get wrapped up in the story.

As someone once told me, sports are the original reality TV.

But at some point, despite all the emotion that sports generates, each of us has to keep our behavior in check. No matter how angry you might be that your team lost, you can’t take it out on the guy in the other team’s jersey. Likewise, just because the team you’re cheering for won the game, doesn’t give you license to act like a jerk if they win.

And just because you brought your kid to a game, doesn’t mean he deserves a foul ball. Just because he’s six, or got an ‘A’ on a test, or finally learned to use the potty, it doesn’t mean he deserves the ball.

Just because you spent an hour in the car getting here, fighting traffic, almost got in an accident, then got here late and your favorite player didn’t sign an autograph or was out sick or whatever, doesn’t mean you should get a ball.

More importantly – just because I – a 30-year-old white guy, got the ball that he was late for and couldn’t reach, doesn’t mean that he deserves the ball and I don’t.

What really bothers me is that these parents and miscellaneous other adults are instilling that kids deserve things just because they are kids, and not because they actually went out there and did something worthy of merit. They didn’t catch the ball, they didn’t run hard enough or smart enough or play the hop well enough – but they still deserve the ball.

I have to plead with you – if you are one of those folks who believes in the “give the kid the ball” theory, please stop and reconsider. Teaching them that just showing up and playing the kid card doesn’t work in the real world – at least not the real world that carries any consequence.

Teach them with baseball – that it’s always better to put forth your best effort, even though you may not win when you do, and you may get lucky when you don’t. At the end of the day, as long as you know that you left it all out on the field, you can hold your head high.

Entitlement is a dangerous thing – see our economy if you need a reminder why. Nothing is promised, nothing is guaranteed. Let’s all take a minute to remind ourselves of that, and more importantly remind future generations of this important lesson.

And in case you’re wondering, I kept the ball so I could give it to my cousin who just started a new job recently and is a big baseball fan, and I only get to see so often because we live 1,000 miles away from each other.

All that stuff from Shea Stadium…
November 10, 2008, 12:53 pm
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…ended up here.

Not going to lie, I’m a bit jealous.

Sometimes, how you dress is important.
November 10, 2008, 12:39 pm
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Have you seen the new University of Oregon baseball jerseys?

The ever interesting UniWatch blog featured a story on these a few days back, with some pretty spot-on commentary.

While I’m sure going to Oregon and having Nike fawning over your uniforms can be appealing, this is a bit of a price to pay, if you ask me.

Chicken fighting in Korea?
November 10, 2008, 12:23 pm
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So apparently this video is old, and it’s from a celebrity game and the fight was staged, but it’s funny as hell, at least the first few times. And as someone I know says, “it’s new to me” and that’s all that matters.

[livevideo id=C142AD56FC6345068D3652F8CA063631/357330/korean-baseball.aspx]

Apparently this is called chicken fighting, in which the point is to knock your opponent over while holding one foot and bouncing around. I would love to see MLB adopt this. At least for a little while.