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How Baseball Brought Me Back

By: Andy Crawford

Not that long ago, I was probably like most other twenty-something sports fans. I’m an avid football fan (Dawgs and Cowboys) who would get into college basketball in March and passively pay attention to the NBA playoffs. Like many fans, the football offseason is filled with scant moments of interest in the sports world, like the NFL Draft or National Signing Day. Non-football events will hold my attention for a few days, like the aforementioned March Madness, or The Masters.

I’ve realized over the years that I need something to fill the offseason void left by football. Some friends have recommended soccer, as writers on this site have documented their love of the English Premier League and whatever the US National Team happens to be doing. I tried that, and have gone on record with my grievances about the so-called global sport.

Baseball was another option, but it never caught on either. For one, I live in the Atlanta market and have never been much of a Braves fan. Despite moving to Georgia over 20 years ago, in the middle of a truly remarkable run of greatness for their ball club, I was never able to catch on. Despite the threat of ostracization on the playground, my allegiance was set with the Texas Rangers at an early age. Sure they are historically one of the most inept franchises across all professional sports, but I always cast my lot in with the likes of Nolan Ryan, Pudge Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro, and Juan Gonzalez. Unfortunately, there has never been much chance of watching them regularly in Georgia.

I was at this Rangers game. First row, third base side beside the White Sox dugout.

Moreover, like many Americans these days, I found baseball exceedingly boring. Despite playing it every season from the age of 5 to 17 and having an intimate knowledge of the game, baseball was too slow to enjoy it as a spectator. In our fast-paced culture, quicker and more physical games like football and basketball are more entertaining to watch on our big, high definition televisions. There are last second plays, circus catches, big hits, dunks, etc. Baseball is a slow-paced game with no clock and sporadic action performed by overweight old men, and each game counts for relatively little over the course of a long, 162 game season.

Or so I thought. But over the last several months, baseball has brought me back. Here’s how:

History

Anyone who has ever read anything on this blog knows I am a history nerd. Back around April, around Opening Day, I began watching Ken Burns’ documentary on the history of baseball (h/t Jason Smith). The first episode was full of amazing old photographs and anecdotes about the game, dating back to the early 19th century. Add in the fact that the documentary was narrated by the legendary narrator and author David McCullough, and I was hooked.

Baseball has an incomparable legacy and well over a century of continuity. For the same reason many appreciate singing the same hymns in church that their great-grandparents sang over 100 years ago, or walking the same college campus where their parents met decades ago, there is something special about watching the same game that captivated millions of Americans in the 1880s and 1890s. The thrill of watching Delino DeShields running 90 feet to first base to beat out a bunt is the exact same joy my great great grandfather would have felt watching Tris Speaker do the same in 1907.

It’s often been said that the Old West is America’s mythology. That may be true, but baseball’s Dead Ball Era (pre-1920) may be as well. Instead of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral, there’s Merkle’s Boner. While the Old West has Billy the Kid and Wyatt Earp, baseball has its Ty Cobb and Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown (an appropriate nickname for the pitcher who was maimed in a farming accident, and whose remaining fingers allowed him to throw one of the greatest curveballs the game has ever seen.)

Ken Burns’ documentary led me to read up on some of the early legends who made baseball America’s pastime, and instilled a greater appreciation for its larger role in American history and society.

Old Made New

While history is great, that doesn’t change the fact that baseball is quickly becoming an antiquated game, right?

Wrong. Baseball has a history of being on the cutting edge. Other than a few notable exceptions like instant replay, baseball has often been ahead of the curve (pardon the pun). For example, the league integrated in 1947, a full eight years before Brown v. Board of Education.

In this same vein, Major League Baseball has revolutionized the way fans can enjoy the game. Over the last several years the league developed the first live sports app, allowing subscribers to access any MLB game in the country. Whether on an Apple TV, tablet, Roku, or any other device, a subscriber can access the MLBtv app, select the game they want to watch, and the home or away team broadcast. All of a sudden, a Texas Rangers fan in Georgia can enjoy his team’s game every day. The NBA recently paid the MLB to build a similar service for their league, and the NFL is light years behind this kind of distribution.

With an MLBtv subscription, you also get access to the MLB At Bat app. It's an incredibly useful and easily navigable tool to watch highlights, look up stats, buy tickets, keep track of minor league prospects, and of course watch the game on your phone or tablet.

With an MLBtv subscription, you also get access to the MLB At Bat app. It’s an incredibly useful and easily navigable tool to watch highlights, look up stats, buy tickets, keep track of minor league prospects, and of course watch the game on your phone or tablet.

As the baseball bug bit me in May, MLBtv ran a special where I bought an entire season’s pass for about $60 (regularly priced around $120). I jumped at the chance, and have watched the vast majority of Rangers games.

Acquiring a taste. Like bourbon.

Baseball is the kind of game that must be followed daily to be fully appreciated. While football has one game a week which stands as an isolated event, one week in baseball is an ongoing narrative that can seem like an eternity. A team can be no-hit on Sunday and three games out of the wildcard, and then run off five straight wins and lead the division by Saturday. Habitual viewing helps you learn the character of the players, their respective strengths and weaknesses, and the strategies of the team as a whole.

I used to drink beer, but not liquor. I found the latter to bitter and strong. It wasn’t until I started drinking bourbon on a regular basis that my pallet developed. I began to detect the subtleties in the taste, and could judge the quality of different brands. I learned to enjoy the slow sip from a lowball glass as opposed to the big gulp of a beer stein. In the same way, baseball requires daily viewing to fully appreciate and enjoy.

The Youth Movement

If you have any interest in getting into baseball, now is the perfect time. Never before has the game been dominated by a generation of such young talent. The old, disgraced names of the Steroid Era are almost all gone (looking at you, A-Rod). Strict enforcement of performance enhancing drugs has brought integrity and competition back to the game. The 2015 All Star Game included eight players under the age of 25 who had been named an all star at least once before.

Young pitchers like Chris Sale (26), Michael Wacha (24), Sonny Gray (25), and Madison Bumgarner (26) are dominating the game. To challenge their dominance is an even younger group of hitters, led by Bryce Harper (22), Kris Bryant (23), and Mike Trout (24). These guys could end up putting numbers up like Ruth, Cobb, or Mays by the time they retire in 15 years.

Trout's 2012 rookie season puts him in the same group with Mantle, Cobb, and others.

Trout’s 2012 rookie season puts him in the same group with some of the best to ever play.

The other night an NFL preseason game was on. I turned it on, and began enjoying what is, admittedly, still my favorite sport. After a few minutes, however, I did something I never would have considered before. I changed the channel to a baseball game.

It’s good to have options again.

Andy wrote this while watching the Rangers blow a late lead to the Blue Jays. As a Georgia fan, he’s happy to extend this kind of torment and heartbreak to the whole calendar.

collection of old hardcover books

Three Classics You Can Read in (Less Than) a Week

By: Andy Crawford

There are some books I know I will never get around to reading. Even if I had the stamina to get through the massive tome that is War and Peace, I’m not sure the opportunity cost would be worth it. I could read several books in the time it takes me to read that one.

Given that I am not an English professor, and spend most of my evenings and energy keeping up with my toddler, I have to make efficient use of my reading time if I ever want to read a fraction of the books I would like. If I want to have a broad, first-hand knowledge of classic pieces of literature, it’s best to find works that are culturally significant, continually relevant, at least somewhat entertaining, and, perhaps most importantly, short.

With those goals in mind, here are a few I’ve found. All are profoundly important works, around 100 pages, and can be read with ease over only a few days.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass

Written in 1845, Douglass published this autobiography at the request of abolitionist leaders. He recounts his twenty years as a slave, from his birth in approximately 1818 (he didn’t know for sure) to the time of his escape in 1838. Though written 150 years ago, Douglass’ writing easily draws the reader into the harsh reality he experienced. He describes the physical brutality of slavery, and gives examples of strategies slaveholders employed to break the spirit of their slaves.

If I ever write an article on who should be on US currency, expect to see this picture again. Not many can be so eloquent and photogenic.

If I ever write an article on who should be on US currency, expect to see this picture again. Not many can be so eloquent and photogenic.

Douglass tells of one kind white family that kept him in Baltimore as a companion for their son, and how he learned to read and write from the boy’s mother. Over time, however, the realities of slavery required that kindness to be replaced by a wickedness Douglass did not think possible from such people. He notes that slavery has a corrosive effect on the spirit of both the slave and slaveholder.

Douglass also describes how masters would give slaves the time between Christmas and New Years off, as if to relieve the pressure of the dam just enough to avoid a break. During this time masters would give their slaves as much whiskey as they could drink, often encouraging it with drinking contests. This would have devastating effects on the health and morale of the slave community, which was the point. “Their object seems to be to disgust their slaves with freedom by plunging them into the lowest depths of dissipation…Thus the slave asks for virtuous freedom, the cunning slaveholder, knowing his ignorance, cheats him with a dose of vicious dissipation, artfully labeled with the name of liberty.” Slaves learned that “there was little to choose between liberty and slavery.”

This is a highly entertaining and informative account of crucial black history, and a classic of 19th century American literature. And it’s only 116 pages and free on Kindle.

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

In 1953, Ernest Hemingway was towards the end of his writing career when he wrote what may be his best known work. After the commercial and critical flop of Across the River and Through the Streams in 1950, he was considered a relic of a bygone era whose best work was behind him.

hemingwayboxing

Well, if there’s one thing to know about Hemingway it’s that he was a fighter. Literally and figuratively. He wrote The Old Man and the Sea in eight weeks, and said it was, “the best I can write ever for all my life.”

He was right. The novella, only 128 pages, is a beautiful story of down on his luck old man locked in an epic battle with a massive marlin. Besides the obvious analogy to Hemginway’s career, the story also has a lot to say on manhood, mortality, the virtue of persistence in the face of insurmountable odds.

It’s a one of the greatest stories I’ve ever read, and easily worth the two hours it will take the average person to read it. Go pick up a copy at your local library.

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Don’t look it up on IMDB. Yes, this is the old emperor who dies at the beginning of Gladiator. No, that didn’t really happen. But he did write a classic work of philosophy.

Originally written over the decade of 170-180 A.D., this is a collection of lessons and reflections from the Roman emperor that he collected over the course of his life. Known as a philosopher king, Meditations is considered a landmark work in the stoicism, and has been cited as a favorite work by Frederick the Great, John Stuart Mill, and Bill Clinton.

A bronze statute of the Emperor from 175 AD.

A bronze statute of the Emperor from 175 AD.

Meditations enoucrages the reader to live a life of duty and service. He seeks constant self-improvement, and warns that every man must guard against the natural and base temptations that plague mankind.

The book reads somewhat like a Stoic version of Proverbs:

“Soon you’ll be ashes or bones. A mere name at most—and even that is just a sound, an echo. The things we want in life are empty, stale, trivial.”

“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own—not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine.”

Most scholars believe Marcus Aurelius meant this to be a private work for his own self-improvement, which accounts for the direct and candid style of the work. If you would like to read the private thoughts of a Roman emperor, this is your best chance. One of the most influential and best known works of antiquity comes in at just under 100 pages, and is free on Kindle.

Andy wrote this article while watching a baseball game and drinking a Shiner Bock. He is currently reading a biography of Ty Cobb, so he’ll probably write something about that eventually too.

Happy Fourth! Have a Drink.

You’re probably headed to the Fourth of July dinner party. You might be on your phone checking the tweets at a crummy BBQ. Either way, its time for some alcohol to celebrate the birthday of the country that we all know and love but don’t like sometimes. So here’s a helpful list of suggestions for what to drink, courtesy of our Founding Fathers/Mothers.

The Rattleskull

This is a fun one and you can probably have everything you need at this party. It’s all happening guys.

Go find a bottle of dark rum. Don’t worry this won’t require all of it.

Pour one to two shots of that rum into the bottom of a beer glass.

Now, go find a dark beer. A Sam Adams will also work fine. Pour that whole bottle of beer on top of the rum.

Squeeze a lime half over the beer/rum combo.

The Stone Fence

Before the attack on Fort Ticonderoga the boys who would go on to win the Fort were at a pub in Delaware. This drink was their libation of choice. So if you’re looking to conquer a fort or the social equivalent of that, give this a shot.

Speaking of shots, go find that rum again. Again, you want dark rum, preferrably not spiced rum and definitely not light rum.

Now, have you ever been to a party where the person stocking the cooler brought only hard cider and forgot to buy any beer? Well, if you’re at that party right now, you’re in luck! Grab one of those hard ciders that nobody really likes.

Pour the cider into the rum.

Now, drink. Yeah seriously that’s all you have to do to make this drink.

Martha Washington’s Rum Punch

This is First Lady Martha’s original recipe. This drink was once served at the White House. America, f*** yeah! Obviously, proceed at your own risk with this one. This recipe comes via the Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails.

4 oz lemon juice
4 oz orange juice
4 oz simple syrup
3 lemons quartered
1 orange quartered
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
3 cinnamon sticks broken
6 cloves
12 oz boiling water

In a container, mash the lemons, orange, nutmeg, cinnamon sticks and cloves. Add syrup, lemon and orange juice. Pour the boiling water over the mixture. Let it cool. Strain out the solids. Heat the juice mixture to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Let it cool and refrigerate overnight.

In a punch bowl, combine:

3 parts juice mixture
1 part light rum
1 part dark rum
1/2 part orange curaçao

Serve the punch over ice. Top with grated nutmeg and cinnamon.

 

Happy 4th everyone! Also, remember DO NOT DRINK AND DRIVE THAT IS THE DUMBEST.

 

xoxo

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