Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Nerd History: Why You Should Be a Baseball Fan

Ah, baseball. America's pastime, and one of my favorite things in the world. I've been a Red Sox fan for as long as I can remember, and it's been a long, cold winter without baseball to warm me up. Opening Day 2012 is tomorrow night in Miami (if someone hits a home run, we get to see this go off), and I love baseball for all sorts of reasons. Unfortunately, baseball carries a bit of a stigma - the season is long (162 games) and the games, at 3 hours plus, are overextended and boring. I don't agree, and I think you'll find that there's a lot for even your most hardened nerd to find interesting about baseball.

1) Advanced statistics: There's a lot of people who are super passionate about baseball and statistics, to the point where a whole subcategory of statisticians were born - Sabermatricians. The study takes a close look at past performance of baseball players and attempts to apply them to current and future players based on their statistical makeup. Think of it sort of like trying to stat up a role playing character, or getting limited information off of a monster knowledge check. There is a significant amount of great data to dig into for baseball players, and the work folks like Bill James have done to take advantage of new statistical information is nothing short of revolutionary.

2) Fantasy baseball: What's more fun than digging into a bunch of crazy baseball statistics than being able to build an entire team of players who fit a specific mold? Fantasy baseball is just that - trying to build the best team of all the available ballplayers in an attempt to beat other people doing the same thing. Fantasy football tends to rule the day lately, but the fantasy baseball stuff is where it all started, and it was started by IBM in 1960, which later developed into Strat-o-Matic baseball, which is essentially fantasy baseball on a board game. Wicked awesome.

3) They're just like us: You look at any major sports, and you see crazy physical specimens. Football players need to be huge and quick, basketball players are almost always at least 6 feet tall. Baseball? They have guys like Dustin Pedroia, who's generously listed at 5'9" (but is probably closer to 5'6") and is balding, or maybe one of the greats like Cecil Fielder who had a few too many pounds on him, but was still a professional athlete. There's nothing quite like seeing people like you excel at something - it makes you think you might even be able to pull it off.

4) Weird characters: Baseball players? They're kind of weird. Check out the Taylor-esque beard on Brian Wilson of the San Francisco Giants. He's also a really funny guy - a lot of great quotes in that article, and this is typical of his interviews. Or perhaps Wade Boggs, who was superstitious to the point of eating a whole fried chicken before every game. Or maybe Massachusetts favorite Mark "The Bird" Fidrych, who had all sorts of odd quirks.

5) It doesn't need your undivided attention: This is really the key for me. I will watch 100-120 Red Sox games over the course of a season. That doesn't mean I'm sitting on the couch for three hours, though - I'll be reading my book, catching up on the internet, updating character sheets, cleaning, working on websites, writing blog posts, etc. Baseball isn't like hockey, where things move insanely quickly. Instead, you can casually watch a game, pay more attention when it's a critical time, and wait for crowd/announcer cues to peek up from what you're doing. It's a casual, yet intense game, and so much of what is fascinating about it is strategic stuff that happens before anyone takes the field that it ends up being a fun casual pastime.

I love baseball. You should too. Tomorrow night's game is nationally televised, it might be worth giving a shot.

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