Why I Like Baseball

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Archive for December, 2008

The Strawberry Rocker Soap Opera

December 21, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Musings

(Originally posted on February 25, 2000 and a fascinating look at the news of the day… Reposted on new URL on December 21, 2008.)

The news is fairly well-plastered these days with two types of negative articles about baseball. Those about Darryl Strawberry’s relapse into cocaine use, and those on John Rocker’s December Sports Illustrated interview, where he offended just about everyone with his racist, homophobic, and generally ass-headed comments.

It has been interesting to see how few people have come out in support of Rocker, at least in the mainstream press (I don’t read the KKK’s newspaper so I wouldn’t know…) — Ted Turner, media giant and owner of the Braves, who has been in controversies over his own foot-in-mouth statements, basically said, well you have to give the guy another chance. Several ballplayers have also come out saying that we can give Rocker at least a little benefit of the doubt for being dumb enough to act like a tough guy the only way he knew how, even if he doesn’t really feel that way “in his heart”–as Rocker said in his statement of apology. Hank Aaron didn’t exactly embrace Rocker, but cited his youth and inexperience with the spotlight of fame. So, if you want to give the guy the widest possible leeway, he appears redeemable. If you want to take his comments at face value, though, you have to pretty much believe that white militias everywhere will soon be carrying flags with his face on them. Where will John Rocker be in ten years, mentally, and ethically? Will anything change?

I’m asking myself those same questions about Strawberry. Talk about widest possible leeway… Straw has lots of people on his side. His teammates, coaches, former teammates, they’ve all come out in support, saying they know he has a problem and they hope he beats it. But they’re sad. Strawberry doesn’t have the benefit of the doubt, because nobody doubts what is going on. He is still fighting his cocaine addiction, and losing. Everyone wishes him well, but no one knows how to help him. Strawberry is not the young superstar blinded by the lights of fame, unaware of how to act and of the consequences. In this case when we ask “will anything change?” we’re asking for a miracle, perhaps.

And what does this all have to do with baseball? Everything. Because who the players are has as much to do with the story of the game as the actual plays that happen on the field. Otherwise we could just sit around and watch video-game baseball year-round. We don’t go to see robots hit, run, catch, and throw. We’re watching people, personalities, in action, as much as plays.

On the one hand, a team is something more than its players. Players come and go, but the team is still loved (or reviled) by its fans (or enemies). But that doesn’t mean that who the players are and what their personalities are doesn’t matter to us. On the contrary, they matter more, sometimes, because they may not be around for that long, because their impact on the story, the soap opera, that is a baseball season, can be great even with only a short contribution.

Last year, one of the great stories was Strawberry’s comeback from cancer and then his drug suspension. He came back not broken and bedraggled, but with a bat that was on fire. It was inspiring to watch. As season-long hero Chili Davis began to tire and feel the end of his career approaching, Darryl was the hero that came from the wings to keep the Yankee championship drive going.

But now it’s a new season, and I feel almost a little like I do when, on the X-Files, something seems all resolved and finally going right for Fox Mulder, and then in the next season it all turns out to have been a hoax. Strawberry’s recovery wasn’t a hoax, so to speak, but it was short-lived.

And what about Rocker? Will he get on the comeback trail? Will the Braves trade him away? What will he say when he finally meets with his teammates and they vent their feelings at him?

I think he should come to play in New York. Here’s why. Ultimately, for all I’ve said about how we love personalities and people here, we do still love the plays they make as well. I think this may be especially true of Yankee fans. Would we be so sympathetic to Straw if he hadn’t made a terrific comeback last year? I think we are much more willing to like him and to give him a place in our hearts because he did so well. A lot of my friends here in Boston hate Roger Clemens, but they hated him when he was here, too. “He’s a jerk,” they say. But you know what? I think if he can pitch the way he pitched in Game Four of the World Series, New York will keep loving him. (If he doesn’t, it’s “ya bum!” “Get rid of da bum!”)

(It’s a little like Bill Clinton, in some ways. OK, maybe he’s an adulterous boob, but as long as he keeps going to bat for the things I believe in when it comes to governing the country, I give him a thumbs up. Of course, he hasn’t batted a thousand for me, so I do have my gripes, but that’s for another essay…)

If Rocker came to New York, made nice with his teammates and the community (starting a foundation to help minority kids get
baseball scholarships or something along those lines would be a really nice gesture, don’t you think?), and pitched like an unbeatable bat out of hell, I think he’d do okay. I think people would warm to him and give him another chance. He might even become a can-you-believe-it comeback story of his own.

Stay tuned…

Waiting For Spring Training…

December 19, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Musings, Spring Training

(Originally posted on February 20, 2000. Reposted to new site on December 19, 2008.)

I’ve said before how I “can’t wait” for the season to start. (Or even for Spring training to start!)

But now I know I have it bad. Well, not that I didn’t know before, but yesterday I went to new extremes for my baseball fix. I knew that Mariano Rivera, Yankees closer, had his arbitration hearing Thursday, and that the answer would be delayed until Saturday. Yesterday I diligently checked my usual spots, several times, The Sporting News online, majorleaguebaseball.com, etc… and still no posting of the story. Many of the stories that run on these sites come from the Associated Press. So I went straight to the AP site, and voila, not one but three articles about it…! Ahhhh, at last.

(In case you don’t know, Rivera lost, and as a result will only make $7.25 million dollars next year, be the highest paid closer in baseball, and has the highest salary ever awarded in arbitration, even though he lost. His agent wanted $9.25 million. Rivera’s was the last deal the Yankees needed to wrap up in core players–everything else from here on out is what non-roster and minor league guys will make the team during Spring Training. But that’s not important right now.)

Anyway, teams are working out on sunny fields across Florida and Arizona, and there’s snow on the ground in Boston. It’s fourteen days until I leave for Tampa!

Going to see games at Spring Training is something that, when I was a kid, I never thought I would get to do. We would see little news bits about it on tv, and for some reason I had it in my head that only a few really special people ever went to Spring Training. Now I realize it’s the special few who either live in Florida, or who can surf the Internet for tickets months in advance, take time off to fly down there, and, as the Nike commercial says, “Just Do It.” There are serious advantages to being an adult and not a kid anymore…

Here’s what I’m going to do over the next fourteen days:

  1. Print Out Blank Scorecards (just in case)
  2. Print Out Spring Training Previews on the Opposing Teams
  3. Launder My Yankees Shirts (I own two, both Xmas gifts this year) & warm weather clothes
  4. Visit Mapquest and get driving directions to all the ballfields
  5. Fax Rick Cerone (Yankee Press Relations) re: freelance article I’m working on
  6. Check for any last minute available Braves or Red Sox tickets
  7. Load laptop with web connection software (so I can keep checking majorleaguebaseball.com while there, and add entries to this journal!)
  8. Read Tampa area restaurant reviews (gotta eat sometime!)
  9. Pay Cell Phone Bill
  10. Find Cat-sitter
  11. Confirm Reservations
  12. Gloat to friends
  13. Find sunglasses
  14. Rub hands with glee

Oh, sure, before I go, I’m also going to put in about 140 hours at my desk, plus some 20-25 hours working at the tae kwon do school. And I’ll probably sleep about 100 hours, too. Nothing important, in the fanatics’ scheme of things.

I Need A Scorecard

December 18, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Musings

(Originally published on February 19, 2000. Reposted to new site on December 18, 2008.)

I always liked going to Yankee games as a kid, even if I didn’t really understand what was going on all the time. Being with my Dad, the excitement of the crowd, having a picnic lunch in the stands or getting to stay out late, those were plenty of reasons to like going to the game without anything to do with baseball itself.

But when I really started to enjoy watching the game, was when Dad and I started keeping a scorecard. He’d score one inning, and then I’d score one inning, and we’d go like that for the whole game.

I think I must have been about ten years old when we started. We were at Yankee Stadium early–we often arrived early enough to see batting practice beforehand–and we had bought that day’s program and scorecard book. We were reading it to keep from getting bored. I think we always bought one, but this was the first time we read the instructions in it on how to keep score. Or maybe that was the first time we’d seen it printed–I notice that in the scorecard I picked up in August ’99, there’s no description of how to keep score. Which is a bit sad, to me.

But anyway, at ten years old, I was fairly well impressed with whoever invented scorecard notation. I mean, how brilliant–each box has four corners which represent the four bases and what happened at or around each one to advance or put out the batter/runner. When I was ten this seemed like another proof that the fundamental physics of the universe made baseball the perfect sport. Or something.

To the left, the way we would have scored an inning where Knoblauch walked, then advanced to third on Jeter’s single (there’s a line in the upper left corner that’s hard to see ont his scan), O’Neill popped up to the catcher, and then Williams hit a home run, scoring both runners. (Jeter stole second in there, too.)

I don’t remember us marking things like the Strike Out Swinging vs. Looking, and I do remember the way single, double, triple and home run were scored–and it was a bit different than the way that’s popular now. As I learned from talking to people at the games last summer, and from poking around–where else–the Internet.

There’s a great site –The Baseball Scorecard–with tutorials, glossary, and other info about keeping scorecards. I didn’t agree with all of Patrick’s definitions there (i.e. it had said that on a walk, all runners advance one base, when actually if there’s a guy on second and no one on first, the guy remains on second…) but most of it is pretty good. Lots of explanation of what the significance of various stats is, and how to calculate them.

Nowadays, they sometimes print a little gray diamond inside the box, and for a single, the scorekeeper draws a line showing the runner’s path from home plate to the base. For a walk, same line, but BB written in the corner. If he advances to second on a play, or steals, another line, drawing his travel from first to second and a notation to mark how he got there. To the left I’ve scored the same inning as above, showing by the numbers of positions in the corners whose hit or play it was that advanced each runner. In Knoblauch’s box, you see the “2″ for Jeter advancing him to third, and the “8″ for Williams scoring him.

OK, the more modern method has some elegance, and is a clear evolution of the way I learned to do it. We used to just circle it whenever a runner would score. Now the trip around the bases makes its own kind of “circle.” And it is in some ways easier to jot down how each base advance worked. But too many little numbers–if there’s then an error on the play, the position number from the opposing team also has to be entered, and to me it’s not as obvious on the glance how many runs scored. But hey, whatever works for you.

I guess I’m just a traditionalist, and like to keep doing it the way I learned. I have adopted the backwards K for Strike Out Looking, though. Because it’s fascinating to watch the patterns emerge for certain batters throughout a game, the battle between pitcher and opposing lineup. Is this pitcher overpowering them with speed and heat? Or is he just keeping them guessing? I don’t, however, write in the count for each at bat, and there’s just no easy way (other than with a computer) to keep track of total pitches thrown. (I don’t like to do too much math when I’m trying to enjoy a game…)

Another thing I’ve started doing is marking the difference between, say, a pop up to the first baseman (“3″) and a grounder to the first baseman that he takes and then steps on the bag (“3, with a little squiggle representing the grounder…). I got this from a friend (Aaron, the husband of my friend Bonnie who got married on the day of Game One of the World Series last year), who not only records each out, but draws the trajectory of the ball on each fly, so you know if it was a high pop up, or a line drive that was miraculously caught, or what.

Did I mention I even keep score when I watch games on tv? I even do it sometimes when I listen to the radio (or Internet), if I’m not in the middle of doing something else. For televised games last year, I found myself improvising scorecards on the back of napkins, placemats, yellow legal pads. Of course, some of the improvisation was due to my being in weird places when I watched the game.

I was in Atlantic City for a convention during the final Yanks/Rangers playoff game last October, and ended up in a bar/restaurant at Caesar’s Palace keeping my score on the back of a Caesar’s napkin, which turned out to be just about the right size. The maitre’d was a nice old guy, Yankee fan, too, who kept stopping by to find out what had happened while he was away from the big screen tv, seating high rollers who had gotten meal tickets and what have you. And because I had the scorecard I could give him a really good recap…

Then there’s the Game Three of last year’s World Series, when corwin and I were in Disneyworld, and I used the placemat from the fancy french restaurant in Epcot Center that night when we went to the All Star Sports Cafe to see the game. Did I mention there were no Braves fans left in the place by the seventh inning? Kind of strange since the Disney Wide World of Sports Complex is the Braves’ spring training home. We had thought maybe we’d be on enemy territory there. But well, Florida’s actually full of retired New Yorkers, and of course Disneyworld is just a planet all its own. So in the end it was us and a couple of other guys from New York cheering. (They were pretty shocked to find out we’re from Boston.)

Now, of course, in the long cold nights of the off season, I’ve made up a scorecard template for myself in Quark Xpress that I can print out at will. And corwin’s wondering if there’s a scorecard for the Palm Pilot (and if there is, if he actually wants it). If anyone out there wants a PDF of it, here’s the PDF of it now.

(2001 Season Update–my scorecard has evolved and improved: see the entry Scorecards, Part Two.)

Remember, mine doesn’t have the dinky baseball diamond in every box. At least, not this year.

Then there’s the whole question of whether to KEEP old scorecards or not. I think my policy will be: I’ll keep the ones in the souvenir magazine from the games, because I don’t actually get to go to that many games. And I’m keeping my Caesar’s napkin, for instance. But day to day regular season televised games? No. After all, that’s what the Sporting News is for.

Pencil or pen? Pencil. I can actually write smaller with a sharp pencil–and of course erase if I need to. Do you write down the time of the first pitch and of the final out? The weather? Total playing time? Attendance at the game?

Then of course there are the times when, no matter how closely you’re trying to follow the game, you just don’t know what happened. The story goes that one day Fran Healy leaned over to Phil Rizzuto in the Yankee broadcast booth, glanced down at Phil’s scorecard, and said, “Scooter, what’s ‘WW” mean?”

Rizzuto: “Wasn’t Watching.”

Baseball Book Recommendations

December 14, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Book Reviews

Today I’ll be reviewing four books out of the many I’ve received this year. Three I’d say would make good holiday gifts, while the last one is more of a book one should read for yourself.

The Greatest Game: The Yankees, the Red Sox, and the Playoff of ’78
by Richard Bradley

There are some classic legends and tales that can be told over and over again in many different ways, and even though we know how they end, each telling is just as captivating. The Christmas story, the sinking of the Titanic, the Odyssey… and the story of how the Yankees and Red Sox did battle on that fateful October day in 1978.

Bradley is a fluid and captivating writer who has researched all the interesting backstories and the intriguing characters (like managers Don Zimmer and Billy Martin), and retells not only the events of the game, but also how the significance of the game fit in a highly turbulent era for baseball and the country. Free agency, race issues, changes in the media, all created a unique atmosphere that only increased the place of the game in the historical context. He brings in elements of each team’s history, both in relation to each other as rivals and each as a sociological force in their home city.

Let’s not forget that it’s fun to read about the game, too. Bradley recreates key moments with great clarity. The description of Mike Torrez throwing the first pitch to Mickey Rivers comes on the 11th page of the chapter on the “Top of the First.” A sample:

Rivers was an unconventional leadoff hitter in one way: in 555 at-bats that season he had walked just 27 times. He… loved to swing at first-pitch fastballs. In the first game of a late September series the year before against the Red Sox, Rivers had lined three hits on first pitches. The next night, Red Sox pitcher Reggie Cleveland had begun the bottom of the first by nailing Rivers in the ribs. The game was in the Bronx, and as Yankee fans began hurling beer and other unpleasantries in Cleveland’s direction, Carlton Fisk had trotted to the mound to ensure that his pitcher wasn’t rattled. “Let’s see the little bastard try to hit that first pitch,” Cleveland had told Fisk.

As third baseman Jack Brohamer moved two steps in on the infield grass in case Rivers should bunt, Torrez starting with a breaking pitch, thinking that Rivers would guess fastball and swing over the pitch. But Rivers took it low, for a ball.

“The Greatest Game” is a nice-looking hardcover and would make an excellent gift for any baseball fan who wants to re-live the intensity of that late-70s era. If you got them “The Bronx is Burning” (book or DVD) last year, this is your follow-up gift. The hardcover is still available from Amazon
and if you are low on cash, there is also a paperback editionwith a less dignified cover and the more lurid subtitle of The Greatest Game: The Day that Bucky, Yaz, Reggie, Pudge, and Company Played the Most Memorable Game in Baseball’s Most Intense Rivalry.

It Takes More Than Balls: The Savvy Girls’ Guide to Understanding and Enjoying Baseball
by Deidre Silva and Jackie Koney

This is for the baseball fans on your list who are just catching fire with their enthusiasm for the game. I would say it’s mostly for the female fans, because some guys would take offense at any book which purports to tell them the stuff they were supposed to learn by osmosis magically through the Y-chromosome just from hanging out in sports bars. But I will tell you, from hanging around in those selfsame bars, that a lot of guys don’t know the difference between a forkball and a split-finger fastball, nor that the foul pole is fair territory, nor why it is that after a manager calls for an intentional walk, he usually pulls that pitcher (instead of letting the next guy do it). I know these things because I’m a relentless student of the game, but The Savvy Girls have it all spelled out for you in their fun and informative book.

(By the way, if you have a male friend you think needs a book like this and he’d be offending by the implied attack on his masculinity that a “girl’s book” might bring, I suggest Zack Hemple’s Watching Baseball Smarter, which came out around the same time, and covers much the same territory as the Savvy Girls’ book.)

The Savvy Girls cover stats, history, game strategy, and just about everything else you can think of and they make it all entertaining to read, too, with anecdotes and examples.

A sample:

Sometimes successfully managing a team means holding your tongue. In 1987, when the oft-vocal Lou Piniella was managing the Yankees… New York was playing in Los Angeles and leading the game, 1-0. Pitching the game were two starters known for their craftiness and trickery, Tommy John for the Yankees and Don Sutton for the Angels. … Television cameras showed Sutton in the Angels’ dugout taking sandpaper out of his pocket. … [Steinbrenner] was incensed to see [obvious evidence of cheating]. He called Piniella to ask what the manager intended to do about Sutton “doctoring” the ball. Referring to the fact that the Yankees were winning, Piniella told his boss he wasn’t planning on busting Sutton…. “What it means, George,” Piniella said, “is that our guy is cheating better than their guy.”

Points off, girls, for saying the game was in Los Angeles, when the Angels have played in Anaheim since 1966, but you won’t find many errors in this book. (Buy it from Amazon.)

The Spitball Knuckleball Book
by Tom E. Mahl

This is a “coffee table” book that arrived in the mail recently, from a small publisher called Trick Pitch Press. It’s a lovely piece of work, possibly a labor of love, that details the history of baseball’s two most infamous pitches and the men who have thrown them. Biographies of the pitchers are divided into “The Legals,” (Eddie Cicotte, Urban Shocker, et. al.) the “Great Illegals,” (Gaylord Perry, Don Drysdale), “The Dry Spitter–The Knucklecurve” (Burt Hooton, Freddie Fitzsimmons), The Knuckleball (Hoyt Wilhelm, Jim Bouton, Tim Wakefield…). The biographies are copiously illustrated, with many, many photos of the various pitchers’ grips. An extensive section on how to throw the trick pitches, especially the knucklecurve, is included.

Author Mahl spent four years researching the book, and by all appearances self-published the book. (Buy it here.) That alone makes it a unique gift, as it doesn’t appear to be widely available in bookstores.

The book is not perfect. It needed a professional proofreader–for example, Pedro Ramos is listed in the caption on his bio as “Padro Ramos,” but even world renowned Sports Illustrated photographer Ron Modra’s book has caption misspellings in it (“Cal Rikpin” “Raphael Palmeiro”) so one cannot really say that the quality is lower on this book than on what one finds from the big presses. They also have amateur editing mistakes, like
Ramos played for a secession of awful Washington Senators teams in the late ’50s.” A good editor would have changed that mistake from “secession” to “succession.” But again, these kinds of mistakes are actually becoming all too common in publishing as a whole, as bigger presses cut corners.

Bash Brothers: A Legacy Subpoenaed
by Dale Tafoya

This is a book that was also in need of one of those copyeditors. Tafoya tries to be as colorful a writer as his brash subjects, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, but one gets the impression the book was written quickly and edited even more quickly. The result is dumb copyediting mistakes like the word “fanfare” appearing as “fan fare” and plain bad word usage like in this description of the rough-and-tumble playing and living conditions faced by McGwire in Dominican Winter baseball: “The luxuries and amenities he enjoyed in American eluded him.” Elude is a synonym for escape or dodge. The amenities ran away from him? I don’t think so.

The fact that there is a weak or shoddy sentence like this on nearly every page almost caused me to give up on this book. I started reading it only to put it down again many many times. But eventually it won me over as an important addition to the canon of baseball history. I wouldn’t give this one as a gift, because I wouldn’t be able to do it without issuing an apology for the seeming lack of editing, but I will recommend it to anyone trying to come to grips with “the steroid thing” themselves.

Every fan has to make their own decision where they stand on steroids, but no matter how you feel, you should be informed. It’s amazing how much information about what went on in the 1980s and early 1990s is already seemingly forgotten by commentators and columnists on the issue. The story of Canseco’s meteoric rise as a star in Oakland, his struggles in the minors and later his run-ins with the police, McGwire arriving on his heels in Oakland and the entire “Bash Brothers” phenomenon is all fascinating reading, and more importantly, quite relevant to all that is still going on with steroids and other performance enhancing drugs in MLB today.

Tafoya has done what seems to be fairly exhaustive research and interviews, and the book presents a fairly meaty picture of a tumultuous time in baseball that is already being shoved by some into the mists of forgotten history. Some of the facts are intriguing, like the A’s were one of the first teams to employ a conditioning coach who forced the players through stretching drills; now all teams do so. Others are ironic: the A’s 1986 Media Guide featured a photo of Canseco and the headline “The Natural.” Thomas Boswell called Canseco “the most conspicuous example of a player who has made himself great with steroids” on national television in 1988–twenty years ago. Tafoya’s book will be an incredible resource for historians and writers 20 and 50 years down the road who are still trying to make sense of it all. It is, in a lot of ways, a very raw resource, only one step removed from the transcripts and clippings that formed the basis of the research. So the bad word usage and the weak sentence construction in the end come off as almost forgivable for me, the way spots and graininess are in old movie footage. It annoys me that it didn’t receive the editing polish it should have, but I’m glad to have it on my reference shelf. (Buy it from Amazon.)

Books & More Books

December 13, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Book Reviews

So, I was floating through the blogosphere and came across this list of “Top Ten Greatest Yankee Fan Books” on the Yankzology blog. And my book is, amazingly, at number one. Of course, the book is called “The 50 Greatest Yankee Games,” so maybe having “greatest” in the title skewed the results? I’m still amazed. The other 9 books on the list are pretty much ALL in the bibliography of my book, and on my shelf. (Well, OK, 7 out of the 9.)

I’ve got a stack of books I’ve been working my way through which I’ll be reviewing here ASAP, partly in case anyone wants gift-giving advice for Yankee-loving family members this Xmas.

THE GREATEST GAME: The Yankees, the Red Sox, and the Playoff of ’78, by Richard Bradley
BASH BROTHERS by Dale Tafoya
a retrospective on Yankee Stadium
and a few others will all be reviewed soon!

On Rehab, Injury, and Work

December 11, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Musings

(Originally appeared on February 18, 2000. Reposted at new URL on December 10, 2008.)

So, today spring training gets underway in earnest. So many of the articles I’ve been reading have been about the players who have rehabbed from injury or surgery during the winter. Even Cal Ripken! Pitchers galore. And more.

I’ve been “recovering” from a back injury since 1996, so I can say something about strength, or lack thereof, and about how it takes a kind of focused mindfulness to come back from injury.

I’ve been practicing tae kwon do for over a decade now. And I’ve had my set-backs because of injuries. Doing something physical at a very high skill level, I’ve come to appreciate just how hard it must be for some of these players.

I injured my knee skiing in 1991, right after starting up in tae kwon do again after a three year hiatus. That time, I was stupid. I “stayed off it”–meaning I didn’t work out for about a month, but I was still walking from the T station to work every morning, and working on the fourth floor of a building with no elevator. I did untold damage to the knee by not going to the doctor right away, but I was between health insurance providers at the time (my job had just switched companies and I didn’t have a doctor assigned yet). Besides, it was the first time in my life that I’d ever been injured. That’s right, all those years running cross country track, but I’d never sprained my ankle. Never broke a bone or needed stitches. Never dislocated my shoulder. So I had no mentality for how to deal with injury or rehab.

Then there’s the fact that I was out of shape in the first place. I never would have hurt my knee in the skiing fall if I had been in shape. But after all those years of cross country track, teaching skiing professionally, and tae kwon do in college, I had no concept of what being out of shape was. never in my adult life had I been so inactive as those two years at a desk job. I didn’t jog, didn’t ski, didn’t do anything. I even ruined my eyes at that job. (Don’t get me wrong, it was a good job, an exciting and fulfilling one… but it led me to neglect my physical self.)

That’s why I wanted to get back into tae kwon do so badly, and why it was particularly heartbreaking to have to stop again after only about two months of it, because of the knee.

Like I said, I “stayed off it” for a month. Then I went back to tae kwon do class, because I was bound and determined that I wasn’t going to slack off.

And that’s when I did the real damage. The muscles still being weak in my leg, and giving no protection to the ligaments, I blew it out again in class.

That time it was a year I was out, but that time I finally went to a doctor. Got an orthopedist. Then got a physical therapist. And started doing quad exercises.

I’ll never forget the moment though, when the physical therapist said to me that I’d probably never compete again. Here I’d been going in to therapy with the mindset that I’d be as good as new when I was done. Insert Six Million Dollar Man music here…”we can rebuild her, we have the technology…” But he brought me up short with that dose of reality. I remember feeling physically ill at that moment, dizzy. To tell you the truth, I didn’t have plans to win any more medals and had figured I was done with that years before. But to hear him say it was no longer an option… it was a blow to my spirit. I cried when I got home.

Later, though, I came to decide he was wrong. I look at someone like David Cone, or Kerry Wood, or Jackie Chan, for gods sake, who have not only recovered from serious injury, they have returned to form and been able to perform at a very high level. I kept doing my exercises with the thought that although some things are unlikely, they are not impossible.

I’m still doing those exercises today, nine years later, because the inherent flaws in my knees are still there, and given the noises it has been making, I think the “good” knee is going to be the one to go next. But as long as I keep doing my exercises, I have a chance to keep it together.

That’s hard when my back is out. The back injury was a similar story to the knee, only this time I was in the best shape I had ever been in in my life. When I got my black belt I weighed 10 pounds less than I do now, could work out two to three hours at a time without feeling tired, and felt more or less invincible. That’s the problem–I felt invincible, and thought I could lift something that I could not. And–crack–I threw out my back.

I didn’t go to physical therapy this time–I didn’t need machines to do the rehab really. What I needed was to do lots of stretching, lots of trunk strengthening exercises I can do at home, and I needed to stop doing a lot of things that put stress on my back.

Nothing makes a person feel old like a bad back, though. Instant old lady feeling. “Oh, my back!”

Now it’s a couple years later on the back thing, and really only about three months ago did I feel like I could start trying to get back in shape. My cardiovascular system is at another all time low, my flexibility is shot, and I have a long way to go to get back to the level I was at in 1996 when the injury occurred.

But I look at guys like Cal Ripken, and the other players who are suffering through the dull winter months on their machines and doing their sit ups and their stretches and so on, and so forth… and I think maybe I can make it. Sure, they have professional trainers working with them, and sure, they get paid to get in shape, and I’ve just got me.

But maybe that’s all I’m going to need. Me, and the inspiration those guys give me.

On Stadiums

December 10, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Musings, Great Ballparks

(Originally posted on February 17, 2000 and re-posted to the new URL on December 10, 2008)

I’ve waxed poetic before about Yankee Stadium, and well, I’m about to do it again. Yankee Stadium embodies, for me, the Platonic Ideal stadium. If my baseball history is right, it was the first three tier stadium, as well. Add to that the fact that it is The House That Ruth Built, and the tremendous amount of baseball history that has been made in that park, and, well… I could go on and on. (But won’t.)

It does occur to me, though, that my views on Yankee Stadium are a bit skewed by the fact that, well, I’ve never really been anywhere else. There was one year when the stadium was being refurbished in the seventies. I remember going to Shea for a Yankee game that time–but most of what I remember about it was that it poured rain. And I do mean poured; Niagara-like spouts of water were shooting from the upper decks. We arrived home sopping wet and wringing out our clothes. I was probably about seven years old at the time.

So, not counting that one soggy trip, I was at Shea for a concert in the 1980s (was it 1983?)–The Police, Joan Jett, and R.E.M. I don’t think that counts either.

And I’ve been to Fenway Park only once, despite the fact that I lived a block from the place for five years, and it was to see a high school World Series game in around 1995. (more…)

On “Diamond Girls:” Female Baseball Fandom

December 09, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Fans and Fandom, Women In Baseball

(Originally posted February 16, 2000, reposted to new blog on December 9, 2008)

So, I never really thought about the difference between female baseball fans and male baseball fans, until the whole Derek Jeter thing.

Let me explain. Growing up as a kid, I was a tomboy, and was always doing this that the “guys” did: I ran cross country track, and played the sousaphone (tuba), and I was the one girl in my fifth grade class who traded baseball cards. (Because I only cared about the Yankees, I didn’t mind letting the guys bid on my other hot players who were non-Yankees… the going rate for a “trade” back then was a penny a card, or a card of equal “value” for a card… which meant someone like Reggie Jackson wouldn’t go for less than 75 cents, and could get bid up to about $3. In milk money, that was a significant amount! I was also my class’ treasurer… and I made a killing shedding the Dodgers, Reds, and Mets I didn’t want…)

Anyway, the thing is, I didn’t really think of baseball fandom as a masculine thing, particularly. And I still don’t, especially not with all the women I always see when I go to games. And they’re not there as tag alongs to their boyfriends or husbands.

Then again, in New York, maybe they are just there to see Derek Jeter.

I was slightly shocked when I went to a game at Yankee stadium in 1999 to find that, as the players were introduced, the decibel and pitch level of the screams for Jeter were considerably higher than for other players. Being the baseball exile I was for so many years, and not being in New York, I had missed the whole Jeter-as-Heartthrob phenomenon. I thought to myself, hmm, yeah, he’s kind of cute, single, and plays shortstop, chicks dig that. But I didn’t really see the attraction myself. Maybe, I thought, it’s because I’m, ahem, seven years older than he is–I mean, s**t, he’s the same age as my little brother.

During the post-season this year, though, I’m not sure what it was, but all of a sudden I “got” Jeter fever. This was especially weird since I haven’t had that Beatle-mania kind of feeling for any athlete, movie star, or pop singer since I was, oh, a teenager. But, as Mel Stottlemeyer is fond of saying, Jeter is “special.” The more I watched him play, the more fascinated I became. Who is this guy? I wondered.

Then came the offseason, and as I was surfing the Internet, I came across many great Jeter articles and interviews I’d missed while in baseball exile. Turns out, he’s also the nicest, best-mannered guy in the sport. Jeez. I read features from Sports Illustrated, ESPN The Magazine, GQ (!), Time Out New York, People (!!)… Perhaps even more intriguing was that rarely did I read these interviews on their original magazine’s sites. More often than not they were lovingly scanned, or perhaps painstakingly re-ryped, word for word, by dedicated fans of Mr. Jeter. I found hundreds of Jeter fan sites. And not surprisingly, most of these sites are run by young women, in their teens and twenties.

I was deeply involved with teen heartthrob fandom myself when I was young (I ran a fan club for Puerto Rican boy band Menudo, and yes, I met Ricky Martin many times back when he was thirteen–you’ll have to wait for my autobiography to hear more…). So I know the turf. I was capitvated by features on the sites–the modern day equivalent of home-made fan club newsletters–like “101 Reasons I Love Derek Jeter” and the still-ongoing speculations about Jeter’s relationship with Mariah Carey (despite the fact they broke up years ago).

Even more captivating was all the actual baseball talk that got tossed in with the discussions of Jeter’s eating habits, social life, and eye color. Okay, granted, there were many, many messages posted on the boards with subject lines like “OMIGOD DJ IS SOOOOOO HOT!!!!!!!!” but maybe that’s why it was so surprising to me to find women arguing about Chuck Knoblauch’s throwing problems, for example.

Then again, think about the character of Annie in “Bull Durham.” She wasn’t just a dugout groupie–she knew her baseball.

No, I really shouldn’t have been surprised at all, I guess. I salute baseball women, the “diamond girls,” whether what thrills their blood is Jeter’s smile, or his lightning throw to first. Or both. And I’m proud to be one of them.

Why I Like The Red Sox (no really!)

December 07, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Musings

(Originally published on February 15, 2000, and reposted to the new blog on December 7, 2008)

OK, OK, I’ve talked before about being a Yankee fan in Red Sox Land. It’s tough, let me tell you. I go into the copy shop where I do thousands of dollars in business a year wearing my Yankees cap, and they give me s**t about it. The give me the evil eye in the post office, too. And yet, I see more people wearing Yankee caps both here in Boston and in my travels around the country, than I see of any other hat.

But really, although I was ecstatic, of course, that the Yanks went all the way and won it in ’99… wouldn’t a Red Sox/Mets series have been an incredible sight to behold? A replay of the Bill Buckner series, but without Bill Buckner? (You know that poor sap had to move out of New England because no one would ever let him live it down? Even in New Hampshire he couldn’t pump his own gas without getting booed. And I think I have it tough at the post office…) Even Sox/Braves would have had an age old rivalry to it, the Braves originally being from Boston. (And a Mets/Yanks series would have turned New York upside down!)

The Sox deserve to have their shot at winning it all. This “Curse” business, you have to take it seriously, if only because at the very highest levels of play, it’s the slight mental edge that makes the difference. The Yankees have a winning attitude, and that contributes to them winning more. The Sox, no matter how much the players say they don’t think about the Curse, you know it has to pop up in the back of their minds from time to time.

The Sox are great baseball because there is always drama associated with them. They play in one of the great old parks–though of course there is talk now of building a new stadium, a bigger stadium, which would pull better profits, and allow them to increase the payroll, and pull in more Yankee-killing pitchers, and so on. Maybe a new stadium would break “the Curse” if only for a psychological fresh start. But how can you think about tearing down Fenway Park! Man, it pains me just to think about it.

Then again, they are talking about tearing down Yankee Stadium, too. Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park, though, may be the places with the most historic overall baseball significance of any of the old parks.

I tell you, if those two old ballparks go, it will be the end of an era in baseball. The end of an entire age. I suppose it may be inevitable, what with the loss already of Tiger Stadium, and many of the other beloved parks.

But I was talking about why I like the Red Sox. There’s always drama. And my Yankee fandom aside, I like to root for the underdog. And the current Sox are such a likable team. I watched most of the Sox post-season games in ’99, watched them battle through trying to get a crack at the Yankees. And it looked so good, too–they had a winning record against the Yanks in ’99, and hopes were high…

But in the end they were ground up in the Yankees postseason juggernaut (except for Pedro Martinez, who you just gotta love), and a truly, truly incredible story did not come to pass. And hearts were broken everywhere.

And maybe that’s what it takes to be a real Red Sox fan. The strength to carry on despite heartbreak. I don’t think I quite have the constitution to survive Red Sox fandom. But you can be sure I’ve got my eye on them, and I’ll be waiting for that day when they rise above.

(Addendum: And yes, once they eliminated the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS I knew it was their year, finally, and rooted for them!)

Why Baseball is Better than the Movies

December 06, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Musings

(Originally posted on February 14, 2000, reposted to at new site on December 6, 2008)

There are a lot of reasons why I like baseball. I’ve already talked about formative experiences of youth, bonding with my father, and so on.

But I think there’s more to it than that, and this has to do with sports in general. Because in recent years I’ve found my interest in all sports becoming more intense.

It began with Olympic coverage in 1996–frankly, I was disgusted with it. Every bar or restaurant we went into (we had no tv then and we still have no cable or regular reception), we were glued to it. But the network had tried so hard to create a “story” around each American athlete, that it actually worked counter to the drama of the games themselves. The drama and suspense was ruined because you knew that the three people they would show you profiles of would be the three medalists, and they didn’t show you enough of the actual competition and games, since they were spending so much time on the interviews and background features. I was, to say the least, annoyed. And I realized that a lot of the drama in sports is on the playing field itself. Yeah, you want to know who the players in the drama are, but it’s the actual amazement you feel at their achievement, (the amazing plays, the competitive edge, the home runs), the actual thrill of victory and agony of defeat you feel at the end of the game, the heartbreak of errors or bad calls… all that is what is actually compelling about it. I remember getting up early in the morning to see matches the year the US Hockey team did the impossible and won gold. The way the Olympics are covered now, there’s not time for that kind of drama to develop. The 1996 Olympics left me with a hankering for what they lacked.

Then, I read the novel INFINITE JEST by David Foster Wallace. Much of the book revolves around life at an elite tennis academy, and the inside game of tennis. This was an amazing book for reasons having nothing to do with tennis, but I suddenly got interested in tennis. I actually hated playing tennis as a kid–my mother and father basically strong-armed me and the friend who got married on the day of Game One of the World Series (see above…) into taking lessons together when we were like 11 years old. We were terrible at it. And my parents were always watching tennis on tv. Which I found boring. But I remember watching these apocalyptic showdowns between Borg and McEnroe and really being glued to the set. (no pun intended)

So anyway, inspired by reading Infinite Jest, while traveling for business we’d channel flip in our hotel, and come to ESPN2 broadcasting the Monaco Open or something, and we’d get sucked right into it. corwin and me both. Or even better, Classic Sports Network showing those selfsame Borg/McEnroe matchups. Yeah, this after about ten years of not watching any televised sports.

Add to this the fact that I write fiction for a living. I write short stories, novels, novellas. In the past I’ve written screenplays, tv scripts, (none produced, mind you) and to like, too. So when I see a tv show or we watch a Hollywood movie, I know what’s going on in the writer’s mind a lot of the time. Hollywood works on certain formulas, and, OK, this works to some degree because the movie isn’t a satisfying entertainment experience for much of the audience unless certain criteria are fulfilled. I.e. in an action movie you have to have a car chase (or boat chase, or whatever ‘spin’ on the car chase the director decides on), a shoot out, etc. Good guys usually win, and so on.

But as we all know, plenty of bad movies come out. The formula doesn’t always work. And at some point I just run out of compassion for characters who are weakly drawn or badly acted or just plain fake.

But baseball is real. Sports drama is real.

You don’t have to suspend your disbelief because these are real actual guys whose job it is to go out there and compete every day. And they are amazing at what they do. Believe it. And the back story? The baseball season is like a soap opera. On any given day, nothing earth-shattering may seem to happen. But who will rise above? Who will slump? Who will have the clutch hit at the critical moment? Who will get tagged out at third to end the rally? Who will get injured? Who will recover from injury?

This is why even teams that don’t have winning records have fans. Because it isn’t, actually, all about winning. It’s about being there. It’s about not knowing what will happen. No one is scripting
the happy ending for you. You never know if today will be a tragedy or a comedy.

This is why the Yankees are so compelling to me. The media have taken to calling them “the most storied” sports franchise in history, and I think that is really true. You could make a movie about a hundred different players or situations or seasons with the Yankees.

The Red Sox are pretty storied, too. But their story is so inextricably linked with the Yanks story, it’s hard to be objective.

Ah, who needs objectivity anyway? When I was a kid, I was a fan of a lot of things, Star Wars, the Lord of the Rings, Duran Duran, and the Yankees. These days, I get interested in something like, oh, The X-Files, but it doesn’t last. I eventually feel cheated by the writers of the series who have other concerns than being true to the characters or satisfying me, the fan. But baseball, that’s real. That’s something you can get into, and stay into, because it’s happening live, right there, in front of you. The players you like, the teams you hate, it’s all unfolding in real time.

And this season, I’ll be right there for the whole thing.

Born Again in Baseball: Part Three: The Comeback

December 03, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Fans and Fandom, Baseball Musings, Yankee Fan Memories

(Originally posted February 13, 2000, reposted to new site December 3, 2008)

WILBB 2000 Offseason LogoIn 1999, corwin and I had been together eight years. Eight years! And now that we’re both in our thirties, we’ve gotten on to a kind of second-childhood kick. (We also took a vacation to Disney World this year.)

I decided that, with our limited funds, we ought to take a vacation to New Jersey, and it was high time he experienced two of the things that were really formative to me as a kid. One, the Jersey Shore (Seaside Heights, specifically) and two, Yankee Stadium.

I went to two games, one with corwin and one without. On Sunday afternoon, I’d gone with my brother and his girlfriend. The Yanks had beat the Mariners that day, but the victory was bittersweet for us, because my parents were supposed to be along with us, also. But my father ended up hospitalized and in the Intensive Care Unit a few days before. (He’s fine now, thanks!) So he was laid up and my mom decided to stay there with him. Ricky Ledee hit an inside the park home run, and Ken Griffey Jr. was held powerless to do anything, really… (gloat, gloat)

But then came the next night. We went with two friends, my best friend from high school, Bonnie, who was on that birthday trip to the stadium all those years ago, and her then-fiance (they’re married now), Aaron. It so happens that Aaron is a huge sports fan and knows the inside scoop on all the players, even the opposing team. It’s Yanks versus Oakland A’s on a beautiful summer evening in New York.

We arrived early, with the traditional fried chicken in our bags, met our friends and found our seats (lower deck, third base side). corwin made an audible gasp as we came through the dark, dank, concrete corridor that leads to the seats and out into the intense green and blue open space that is Yankee Stadium. I said “you think this is cool, let’s go up to the upper deck just to see the view from there!” We did, and then a cop chased us away since that section was empty.

It was the best kind of game, the come from behind victory. We got to see a little bit of everything that game. Controversial umpire calls. Home runs. Double plays. Rookies blossoming. Old hands making their comebacks. History in the making.

On the drive back to my parents house, corwin said, “That was really fun.”

“Yes, dear, it was.”

“No, I mean really, that was incredibly fun.”

“Yeah, I know, that’s why three million people are going to do it this year.”

“No, Really…”

You get the idea. He was hooked.

I had no idea just how hooked, though, until the next day, when we were due to drive back to Boston in the evening. We had some errands to do in North Jersey, sort of near the George Washington Bridge.

As we were getting on the road, around 6pm or so, corwin looked across the Hudson River toward the stadium and said, “You know, we could go to the game.”

But being as the errands we had done included buying a couple hundred dollars worth of furniture and stuff, it didn’t seem wise to leave the car parked in the Bronx.

Then, the road we were on became blocked by a horrendous accident. It took over an hour before the cops began to re-route traffic, and we sat in the car, and sat, and sat…

“You know, we could listen the game on the radio,” said corwin.

We turned to the pre-game show. And then we were happy as clams. In fact, we started to get worried when the traffic broke up. Because we were probably going to drive out of range before the game would end…

So picture this. Halfway through Connecticut hours later, we’re north of New Haven, and the signal starts to go. corwin’s driving.

“I’m going to pull over,” he says.

We pull off the highway into an abandoned factory parking lot. The game goes to the ninth inning.

“I’m getting hungry,” I say.

The game is tied up. Going to extra innings!

We suffer. We get back on the road. We search for a Hartford station. We pull off again. John Sterling’s voice is being eclipsed by static. Suddenly we find a Hartford radio station carrying the game. Off we go again!

At 11:30 pm we pull into the parking lot of the Olympia Diner. The Olympia used to be open 24 hours, but now they are only open until midnight. So it is a good thing that in the bottom of the thirteenth inning (13 innings!), the Yanks were unable to make the hits they needed, and they went down in defeat. And at 11:45 pm, after sitting in the car all the way through the final out, we finally get out and went into the diner.

“I can’t believe they lost,” says corwin, while staring at the menu.

“Yeah, and I want a Sabrett Hot Dog,” I grumble. They’re just not the same if you eat them anywhere else but Yankee Stadium.

The next day I came home from teaching tae kwon do (which I do three night a week) to find corwin in the kitchen, where he was supposed to be making dinner. He had his head in a cabinet, but no food was being prepared. “Look what I did!” he announced.

He had been downloading the RealPlayer G2 to his laptop and then hooking it up to our home stereo system so we could listen to the game live while in the kitchen.

I forgave him not having dinner ready.

And you know what else? Those two friends who came to the game with us? They had the nerve to get married during Game One of the World Series. (Aaron says if he ever gets married again, he promises he’ll check first…) From their wedding, we went on our Disney vacation, and one evening went to the Disney All-Star Sports Cafe to watch Game Three. It was almost like being at a game–they have a live DJ there who plays all the little fight songs and things. Earlier in the day, we had been in a restaurant at Epcot Center where they had crayons on the tble, and I drew the Yankee Top Hat logo on the placemat. I was still carrying that placemat and kept my scorecard on the back of it, with a pen I bought at Disney Wide World of Sports, a ball point pen with a baseball on the end. I don’t know if it was lucky or what, but they won the game. (That was the Chad Curtis home run game.)

And yeah, I can’t wait to go back for another game. And neither can he. And I’ve been jonesing for more baseball ever since, reading the news on the Internet every day. Checking the trades. Reading the STATS INC book over Christmas. corwin’s now reading “The Physics of Baseball.” Yeah, we’re hooked. We’ll probably even see some non-Yankees Red Sox games this year!

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