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Baseball Banter MAG
Throughout my lifelong love affair with baseball, I've enjoyed arguing over topics that would seem inconsequential to a layman. Would Babe Ruth survive against today's pitching? Which of the 21 perfect games was the most perfect? Why doesn't Ryan Howard bunt away from the overshift? These seemingly trivial questions that inspire decade-long arguments have taught me
that even if nobody wins, debate can be fun and stimulating.
When I entered elementary school, I started paying attention to sports in a way that others, even some adults, usually do not. I read the sports section in The Philadelphia Inquirer daily and meticulously checked the box scores of all sports – hockey, basketball, and so on – for mistakes. Whenever I found one, I sent it in to the sports editor, Bruce Martin who responded graciously, and we became regular correspondents.
That spring, he invited me to visit the newspaper's sports desk! I had my picture taken with him and received an official shirt; my second-grade classmates didn't hear the end of it for a month. I was inspired by this experience to continue immersing myself in the inner world of sports, the one hidden behind the media coverage and huge salaries.
My passion for baseball was nurtured by my dad and my uncle, both of whom are die-hard Phillies fans and endured years of disappointment before experiencing the euphoria of a World Series win in 1980. I also lived through destitute Phillies teams in my youth, but the five straight division titles since 2007 and the World Series win in 2008 somewhat eased my pain.
Throughout the 2008 postseason (and beyond), I debated the relative merits of the two championship teams with my family and anybody else who would listen. During the summer before eighth grade, my dad came up with a way to determine which player was better when the game was on the line.
“Imagine that the Martians are coming to town to play Earth in a seven-game Solar System Series. They've got a time machine, and you can grab a player from any era for the team. If Earth loses, humanity is enslaved forever. Now, who's gonna start for your team?”
My dad and I usually come to the same conclusions in these thought experiments; for example, the 1968 Bob Gibson would pitch Game 1, and the late-1970s Mike Schmidt would play third base. However, the Martian scenario is not limited to baseball. It can be applied to all sports and other disciplines, though it becomes rather outrageous if you start arguing whether Einstein or Bohr would be a better physicist in crunch time. The Martians have become a quick way to bring perspective to discussions in my family: “Well, what if the Martians came?” is enough to galvanize everyone into deeper thought. We all have slightly different viewpoints on who is best at a certain occupation, so half the fun is attempting to convince others of the superiority of your opinion.
While few people share my passion for the details of baseball, being in the company of those who do is rewarding. This past summer, I interned with the Wilmington Blue Rocks, a Single-A franchise affiliated with the Kansas City Royals. My favorite part of the job was keeping in-game statistics on a laptop in the press box. Because everyone there was like-minded, we viewed any job involving baseball as fun. I spent hours bantering about various baseball happenings with the official scorer, the Wilmington News-Journal beat writer, the scoreboard operator, and anyone else who happened to be stopping by the press box.
When Mike Flacco, brother of the current Baltimore Ravens quarterback, stepped to the plate for the opposing team, the discussion shifted into high gear, everyone contributing from his respective workstation.
“Hey, is he Joe Flacco's brother?”
“Yeah. Joe actually showed up last night and got mobbed. Have there ever been two brothers who played different ….”
“Well, there were plenty in the same sport. The DiMaggios, the Barbers, and …”
“Did Jackson or Sanders or one of those two-sport guys have siblings?”
“I dunno. Hey Steve, look that up, would ya?”
The marketing director wandered in to check on the next promotion but could not escape the discussion. “Hey, Dave, you know of any brothers ….”
The repartee continued as the game progressed, and we accosted anyone who ventured into the press box with our questions; the only thing more important than finding an answer was the action on the field. The conversation enthralled me, but it could not last forever. The final out signaled the end of the work day, the end of the discussion, the end of the fun. I was often disappointed when a game ended, because of an unanswered question or unfinished debate. Even if the Blue Rocks won, closing down the stats program and leaving the press box concluded my three hours in paradise – until the next game.