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Life Is Baseball…

Life is a carnival, an old song told us. Life is like a box of chocolates, a well-loved movie suggested. Perhaps so, but to me, life is baseball.

Now, I’m a baseball fan, have been since I was a youngster…but I don’t mean to suggest that baseball is all there is to life, nor that it’s the most important thing in it. Nothing like it. But I do mean that it is the best sport to follow to teach you how to deal with life. There’s a reason so many great movies have been made about it – Bull Durham, Moneyball, 42 – they’re great because they’re about people and struggles. The goings-on on the ball diamond are the backdrop rather than the core or essence. You don’t need to have a clue what a ground rule double is to appreciate the struggles Jackie Robinson went through to make it to the Major Leagues as the first Black man in it (depicted in 42) , or understand what an unearned run is to admire how Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) went against all conventional wisdom to win in Moneyball. I can well imagine since it came out, a new manager or two at a failing store might have decided to buck the system and try all new strategies after being inspired by how Beane had done so and created a winning team against improbable odds.

Being a baseball fan teaches you math. Whole groups of computer science/mathematician nerds now work in most professional ball team front offices, because there are so many numbers to take in and make sense of. So many averages. So many ratios. My sweetie works in a call department for a large company. Often she deals with customers with billing problems. They flat out don’t understand things like averages. “Why’s my bill higher than last month? I thought it was averaged out!” But a baseball fan has an idea that if you’re batter is hitting .250, what that average means, and understands that if he goes 0-5 …has a bad game … the average will drop. They understand that a hitter who hits for a .300 average is good, one who hits .200 probably not so good. Pitcher Justin Verlander’s ERA of 1.74 this season was one of the best of his generation; Mitch White’s 7.74 with Toronto one of the worst in recent memory. Baseball fans are nodding along. Non-fans are probably thinking this sounds a lot like Greek to them. Numbers. Lots of numbers to understand baseball.

But that’s secondary. Let’s get back to that batting average. It’s a way of expressing a percentage of times a batter gets a hit. How often they succeed. And .300 is good. That’s a 30% success rate; 300 times out of 1000. A .400 average hasn’t been done over a full season in some eight decades. It’s flat out hard to swing a rounded bat and hit a ball flying in its direction at over 90MPH, and then have it not drop right into someone’s glove on top of that. To be a baseball player means to know failure, left and right. And to be a fan, if you’re not going to drive yourself utterly crazy quickly, means accepting that.

That extends out to the actual teams. Major League Baseball plays a long season with 162 regular games played by each team. The surprising thing is the amount of “parity” ; how things even themselves out over that long season. Even the really “bad” teams win – more frequently than many would guess – and the “great” teams all suffer their share of losses and heartbreaking defeats. Not so football; their shorter season and less equal talent leads to things like Miami going the entire 1972 season without a loss or Jacksonville winning just once out of 16 games in 2020. Golf, tennis, they have stars who seemingly never lose. Not so baseball. In baseball this year, Philadelphia are playing for the World Series – the finals for the championship – after winning 87 of 162 games during the regular season. A .537 winning percentage; they won about 54% of the time. If they had lost three or four more games between April and September, they’d be sitting at home waiting for next year…like players in Tampa, who won 86 games and missed the playoffs, are. You know to make the most of every game, every chance in this sport.

Take a look at the list of the past eight World Series champions : 2014 – San Francisco, 2015 – Kansas City, 2016 – Chicago, 2017 – Houston, 2018 – Boston, 2019 – Washington, 2020 – Los Angeles, 2021 – Atlanta. Eight years, eight teams, no repeat winners. It’s worth noting that Washington, the champions in ’19, had the worst record of any team this year. So enjoy your victories!

I think of this sometimes when I’m having a bad day, or when something I try for falls through. If I succeed even a third of the time, that would be a good batting average! Don’t get too down, nor for that matter too high when things go your way. But especially the former. The Philadelphia Phillies might be drinking championship champagne a week from now, and they lost 75 games this year. 75 setbacks. If your teams loses 10-0 tonight; they could just as easily win like that tomorrow. Just keep getting back out there, taking your swings, day in, day out… and you’ll get there. Savor the victories. Don’t let the strikeouts ruin your day or keep you from going back out there to give it another try..

Life is baseball.

Thankful Thursday II : Take Me Out To The Ballgame

This Thursday I’m thankful for baseball being back.

Yes, the boys of summer are back, with all 30 Major League clubs opening up their spring training camps by today. Mind you, not all players have to report to the camps in Florida and Phoenix until month’s end, when the first exhibition games will begin taking place and the first few days usually consist of little more than a handful of players – largely unproven ones eager to compete for a spot on the roster – doing a few stretches and jogging around the field. But still… baseball is back. With it, hints of a long, lovely summer ahead and flashbacks to generations of summers gone by. …

When I lived in Canada, Spring Training held a special place in my heart because it was something hopeful. Winter’s there were long and dark, but when baseball began revving up its engines, there was hope in the air that spring might find a way to arrive after all. It usually beat the first northward bound Robins back by about two weeks. I often aspired to, but never quite made it to, visiting Dunedin (a St. Petersburg suburb that’s training site to my beloved Blue Jays) in March to get a look at the year’s edition of the team up close with a big helping of warm sunshine on the side. This year, for the first time since I moved south, it has that very same appeal, beginning in a week where we’ve been housebound for days after 0-degree weather and two major snow and ice storms. The thought of a sunny afternoon watching a double play unfold is doubly appealing.

I’m unusual as a Canadian. As a small kid, I didn’t mind watching hockey and collected hockey cards like the rest of the boys in my neighborhood, but my heart was with the Boys of Summer. I loved playing ball when I had the chance (my friends who watched me drop ball after ball or run away from incoming flyballs probably didn’t love it as much when I did!), loved watching the few games that were televised back then and poured over the stats on the back of the cards I collected. It seemed the perfect game to me. It was best enjoyed in fine weather, in the sunlight on a grassy field. Lots of math, lots of strategy, lots of big personalities, the game playing itself out as it might without regards to a clock. It was like chess in that…and yes, little nerdy me played chess too! Of course, maybe that wasn’t so unlike other Canadian kids. Baseball trivia buffs are often surprised to find out how many times Toronto, Canada has had the highest attendance of any big league team for the year outdrawing baseball “meccas” like Boston, New York and St. Louis. Back then, for reasons hard to remember, I was a Cincinnati fan and when our family drove back from Florida and crossed the Ohio River, I looked out at the stadium like a Muslim approaching Mecca. That was the house of Pete Rose. Johnny Bench. Joe Morgan.

Of course, as I got a bit older, my hometown (approximately) got its own team and I was soon converted to a Blue Jays loyal. The first few years they were bad, but they played with heart and had cool caps. Then they got good and it got really exciting. When they finally got to the World Series in 1992, life in the city changed. Temporarily and for the better. Everyone was a fan. Everyone wanted to talk about the Jays. Wear a tie with the Blue Jays logo in to work and everyone was your friend. Customers who’d usually complain their order wasn’t ready on time or about a price increase were all smiles discussing that incredible glove of ‘Devo’ or ‘who knew Sprague was that good, eh!’. There were no Liberals or Conservatives, Whites or Blacks, there was just a city of baseball fans.

Of course, since 1993, there’ve been ups and downs for the Toronto fans…more down than up frankly… but a winning streak still has the magical power to unite the city. A lot has changed in the game too. Strategies have changed, computers have largely replaced old-fashioned scouts watching players and there’s less subtlety to the games… fewer bunts, fewer pitchers trying to pick off a runner, more big hitters swinging for the fences with no regard to just getting on base. But still, it’s baseball. America’s pastime.

Hope springs eternal they say, and in spring hope’s eternal for ball fans. Everyone’s in a first-place tie. There’s a long summer of games for that to change during; a long season of “Take Me Out To the Ballgame” being played, just as it was 50, 80 years ago. And after a year of Covid lockdowns, a winter of ice and snow, the idea of the familiar seems rather great.

Boffo Beer Blog #16 – Baseball Edition

Well baseball’s back, or will be soon, so after a few weeks absence, so too is the Boffo Beer Blog. And with a suitably baseball-themed return. In time for Spring Training, the Sequel, we take a swing at Texas Leaguer Brewery’s Two Hopper Ale.

Texas Leaguer is a new (started in just 2017) brewery in Astro-land, a town actually called Missouri City but located just outside of Houston. Their motto is “like America’s pastime, Texas Leaguer helps people enjoy life and good times.” Under normal conditions, of which the summer of 2020 certainly is not, you can enjoy their beers at “The Beerpark”, a taphouse and restaurant they have at their Missouri City brewery, which invites you to watch the game on big screens, even play a game or two outside … and bring the kids so they can enjoy Little Leaguer root beer and root, root for the hometeam. They also have live music periodically…all of which is moot this month with the pandemic raging and Texas (wisely) just ordering bars shut once more because of it. 

They brew up a variety of drinks, with names like Chin Music (a strong rye beer),Czech swing (what else – a Czech-style pilsner) and Knuckle Bock (a bock, as you might expect) besides the Two Hopper. You might detect a theme there perhaps!

Two Hopper is an IPA and comes in a bit stronger than most beers (6.4% alcohol) and also boasts the highest IBU of their offerings, at 67. IBU is a measure of the bitterness of flavor, with most American mass market lite lagers coming in at under 10, many ales being in the 20 to 40 range but the real strong Euro stouts approaching 100. The makers describe it as a beer that “looks like an easy play but turns into trouble…just enough hops for an IPA but still has an easy finish to make the out.”

I put on the cleats (well, not really) and had one yesterday with a pretty typical lunch of a nice salami on whole wheat with a bit of a simple side salad. Cracking open the 12 ounce can, with a nice ball-on-ash crack, I was surprised to see how strong and thick a head it created. The foam was of a shaving cream texture and long lasting above the cloudy but bright yellow drink.

It had a good creamy “mouth feel” and my first impression was a little strong and bitter, but not displeasingly so. It seemed to have a bit of a bittersweet aftertaste, with a hint of citrus (perhaps grapefruit) buried in it somewhere. It certainly held its own with the sandwich, and actually seemed to compliment the slightly spicy meat very nicely. I have a six-pack and have noticed that it’s one beer which really seems to benefit from being served very cold. Near room temperature is decidedly less flavorful and pleasing than icy ones.

When all is said and done, it’s a little like a 5-4 Marlins-Pirates game. Not half bad and a pleasant little diversion but not overly memorable in the grand scheme of things. Take away the baseball gimmicks and you’re left with a thoroughly adequate, drinkable but not very remarkable ale. All in all, I give it 7 out of 10 for strength, 6 out of 10 for flavor and…

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three Charlies out of Five!

May Hooray 1

May is a cheery month, I think. Or at least it should be one. It’s bright, the weather’s getting nice, flowers are blooming, birds are singing, baseball is a quarter-way through the schedule and getting interesting (well, most years!), we’re able to shed our winter clothes. If you’re a student, the end of the school year is almost upon you and if you’re at work, we’re getting to the time of long weekends and summer holidays. May should be a fine month which uplifts us all.

Of course, this year is a bit different. “Covid 19” and “Social distancing” are running neck-and-neck for the most used new entries into our lexicon and both can make us nostalgic for ones which popped into popular use in recent years… things like “Gangham style.” Even “impeachment” see downright warm and fuzzy by comparison.

So since we’re all quite probably stressed about the virus, about our health and the health of the economy, this May looks a bit darker and drearier. But there’s still lots of good out there, lots to enjoy,so this month I’ll try to put out a few thoughts on things which we can be thankful for, or enjoy even in Pandemic Times. It’s an idea that’s not altogether new to me. In 2015, I put out a book (Thank Goodness – 101 Things To Be Grateful For Today) designed to do the same – make one see the good all around them every day.

So let’s start with a simple one…we can still spend time with our families and the ones we love at home. People are finding ways to have fun with their kids. Some families might even be re-discovering forgotten pleasures like playing board games together or running through their library of favorite old movies. And while many, like me, are missing pro baseball and the kids can’t play organized little league that doesn’t stop everyone from having a little fun on the diamond, like this father and son:

Try to enjoy your day, and if you have little ones, remember any day can be a special one.