Baseball Savant

I used to be a baseball savant. My son loves his Blaze and the Monster Machine toys, and my daughter loves (loved?) her American Girl dolls. Me? I had The Baseball Encyclopedia and shoeboxes full of baseball cards. I can still sometimes scare people. Like recently when I told my mother-in-law Ty Cobb’s birthday (December 18th 1886) and his death year (1961), while we were doing dishes after dinner. My first team was the Yankees; I think I liked them because of Bucky Dent, his name sounded like Buck Rogers or Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica. Similar to how my kids now narrate play, I made up songs about big leaguers Dave Concepcion and Steve “Groovy” Garvey. Whole afternoons were dedicated to memorizing statistics. George Foster, 52 home runs in 1977, Steve Carlton, 310 strikeouts in 1972. No fact was too mundane. Ken Singleton is allergic to wool, Luis Tiant likes to smoke cigars, Reggie Jackson has personal issues with Billy Martin, Warren Spahn pitched until 44. The list was endless. First thing in the morning I grabbed the Washington Post sports section to look at batting averages, analyze ERA’s. When I wasn’t with my cards and baseball books, I played, 1st base, okay hitter, usually batted 6th. Saturdays after my game I’d watch whatever teams were on TV, mesmerized by Rod Carew’s open batting stance, Pete Rose’s efficient hitting and hustle, Gaylord Perry’s vaselined hair for spitballs, Nolan Ryan’s pitching, faster than a hot Texas wind. As I got older I craved the stories. Tales of Rogers Hornsby staring at the snow, longing for it to melt so he could play ball again, Roberto Clemente’s humanitarian work in Latin America, Babe Ruth’s boxing at St. Mary’s in Baltimore. Baseball was a complete education: history, boredom on the bench, rivalries, math, race relations, superstition, teamwork, geography, psychology, ritual, Big League Chew. I made a county all-star team when I was 12, but quit the game for tennis the next year. The summer of 1991 I let the magic go, sold all my good cards, made almost $2500, said goodbye to baseball, got ready for college. Today I’m focused other things, like my family, ending homelessness in San Francisco, sometimes this writing stuff. But I can still watch a game, look at the count, whisper to myself, he’s gonna to throw a changeup.