Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Because I love the game but the blogosphere would never know it...

It should surprise no one that I'm an incredible big geek. What might be surprising is that I'm also a bit of a sports nut - especially baseball, and especially when it comes to making sense of statistics and talking strategy.

I last played baseball proper when I was 20 years old - in part to win a scholarship (based on academic merit and not athletic ability - yes!) but also because I missed playing the game. That season reminded me that baseball didn't exactly miss me back: in representing my home town in the all-too-appropriately named Northern Elite League, I helped (?) my team win 2 of 17 games, and my batting average was embarrassingly low. (I won't tell you how low, except to say that it was nearer the current average of Andruw Jones than Adam Jones.) And though it's no real consolation, there were about as many players on my team with a worse average as there were with a better one. Oh yes, we were awful.

Over the past four years, I've played softball at the University of Toronto with the English grad students' team. (I was only enrolled in the department for one of those years, but they've been kind enough to keep inviting me back.) For two summers in row, I've also played in a softball "beer league" (which is a misnomer - we can't actually consume alcohol on city property) with my older brother and some friends (one of whom blogs) on a team that I named The Blitzkrieg Boppers. (It's a pun, but at least it's halfway clever, right?) I've also joined another University of Toronto intramural team, this time to play on a team that represents a program that I have never been a part of - Pharmacy. (For reasons that I'll eventually get to on the blog, I'll never be able to play games this often again, so three teams seems an appropriate degree of overkill. I just hope that my ailing ankles and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde-esque throwing elbow forgive me.)

There are at least two things that make softball a marked improvement over baseball: First, it allows someone like me, who is not particularly fast on my feet, to play shortstop and center field because the fields are smaller and the players are similarly out of shape, where in baseball I was relegated to the corner infield positions. Second, and simply put, I like hitting home runs, and that's a) nearly impossible in real baseball, but b) seems to happen for me a couple times a week in softball.

One final note: I organize the batting music for the Boppers, editing songs into 9-12 second clips and burning them on to CDs that we play as our team members walk to the plate to hit. (Just like the professionals, of course.) It's absolutely silly, but it offers a perfect source of levity (for those who like to laugh and relax before an at bat) and excitement (for those who need to feel pumped up). Or, for me at least, a little bit of both, since my personal favorite tracks tend to hit hard but not without irony. My top 3:

The Stooges' "Search and Destroy" where Iggy sings "I'm a street-walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm" (because, naturally, I am)

The opening to "Pour Some Sugar on Me" (the emphasis on "bomb" serving as inspiration and striking fear into the opposition)

And most recently, Gowan's "Strange Animal", the iteration of the chorus - at about the 1:43 mark of the video - that begins with Gowan screaming "How can I get enough?" (because, uh, I'm a strange animal who can't get enough? really, this one is just here because its an awesome song that makes for perfect batting music)


Jen said...

You called out two things that make softball more fun than baseball (at least at our age). I think there are more.

For one thing, it's a more social game. It's still competitive, but it's friendlier all around. Because the game moves more slowly, there's more chatting time, less tension, less anger.

Also, though you mentioned home runs in particular, I think batting in general is just a bit more fun in softball. When you play self-pitch the way we do, the game becomes more about the batting and running, which I think most people find to be more fun on an instinctive level (though I don't - I'm all about the flies, as you know).

Finally, I think the co-ed thing is significant. Playing on single gender teams is just a different experience. It's great in it's own way, but the co-ed dynamic is, I feel, more adult or realistic. (Neither of those is really the right word.) To me, the co-ed thing just feels more now than single gender, which can have a high school gym class quality.

I played baseball as a kid too, but these days, while I still love baseball to watch, I love softball to play.

It's nice that you're getting in so many games. You'll probably look back on this crazy softball filled summer really fondly. Later, when you have more important things going on, I mean.

neilshyminsky said...

All very true - except that, like I've told you before, the assumed friendliness of softball also makes it harder to react when your opposition acts like assholes. In baseball, the response is simple: they break the rules of etiquette, you throw at their batter's head. In softball, though? No equivalent. (Maybe you tag them really hard?)

Jen said...

When I played competitive fast-pitch softball in high school, we had those sorts of "rules". The pitcher definitely threw at the batter deliberately (when I message needed to be sent).

So softball does have same etiquette in theory, it's just the level we're playing at that makes the difference. And I guess our age and the stakes too. In high school, players are still looking for scholarships, and showing off for scouts, etc. When you're sixteen, the future is still pretty open. The stakes are so much lower now. We're all just in it for fun, basically, so the rules are different.

I just tend to ignore bad behaviour from other teams. It gives us something to complain about post-game.

neilshyminsky said...

The only problem is that dickheads don't know that they're dickheads, generally. So if we don't find some way to let them know, we're really doing a disservice to every team they'll play in the future, aren't we?