I started playing baseball when I was seven. I quit when I was 55 because I stopped spraying line drives and started rolling over on everything and hitting ground balls to the second baseman.
I mean, it got to the point where that second baseman didn't even have to move.
As a hitter, timing comes and goes; eventually, it just goes. Playing was no fun anymore.
But it sure was fun while it lasted.
More fun than watching.
More fun than writing about it.
I played on Sundays in a local recreational league, which is as far from professional baseball as Neptune is from Earth. I was a catcher. I would not have played so long if I'd played another position. On the rare occasions I played elsewhere, I got bored.
I loved catching for all the clichéd reasons – having the whole game in front of me, calling and blocking pitches, trying to nurse a struggling pitcher through one more inning, basking in that ineffable rapport that comes when your pitcher has everything working, blocking the plate (back when that was OK to do), finishing a game dirty, tired and oddly elated.
I fell into writing about baseball around the time it was clear that my playing days were numbered. It has been a good end-of-career gig. Contrary to popular opinion, there is nothing glamourous about it. But on most days, it has been fun, and occasionally it is marvelous.
In fact, every game has its marvelous moments. After all these years, I remain astonished by how gifted big-league players are. Even on a routine 6-3 ground ball, I am often incredulous at the footwork and timing and arm strength that coalesce into an out that will be forgotten in a matter of seconds.
The game is really hard, and those guys are really good, and when they make mistakes, the old sandlot player in me tends to forgive, even as the writer in me has to ask them what the hell happened.
I stopped being a fan of a particular team when I started reporting on baseball. I hesitate to equate what I do with journalism – every day I read real journalism and remind myself that's not what I do – but I'm a reporter, and reporters do their damndest to remain impartial and avoid being co-opted. It's hard sometimes, but it's job one, whether you're covering politics or social issues or sports.
If you start from that point, then your goal is to follow your curiosity and ask the questions that you and your readers want answered. Oh yes, and call bullshit when you see it.
I love the game – that is, what happens between the lines – and I enjoy working with the analytics that help me understand it better than ever. My colleagues and competitors are good company. I enjoy dealing with players and coaches who are willing to analyze and explain, which helps me to do the same when I write, because I'm often not smart enough to figure stuff out on my own, just from watching games and parsing stats.
On the other hand …
I abhor baseball's insistence on playing by two sets of rules. Either make the DH universal or get rid of it.
I hate the barbaric beanball culture and bench-clearing "brawls," which typically involve play-fighting, hugging and glaring.
Let players celebrate at will. A batter celebrating a home run is fun to watch. Why does a pitcher take it personally? He made the mistake and he's furious at the hitter for capitalizing?
I'm appalled at baseball's deplorable record of diversity hiring (which is almost as bad as sportswriting's record of diversity hiring). I loathe the tradition of teams extorting taxpayers so they can build new stadiums. And I've grown weary of Major League Baseball allowing umpires to create their own strike zones. I never thought I'd advocate robots calling balls and strikes, and I'm not there yet, but after watching Bill Miller in the World Series, I'm getting close.
I am skeptical of any statistic invented by a sportswriter (saves, quality starts) and the anachronistic worship of pitcher wins and RBIs.
Other than that, it's a grand game, full of incredible feats of athleticism and quirky plays and rollicking arguments over strategy, as we just witnessed in that glorious World Series. I love it, and I'm lucky to get to write about it.
Mostly, I'm just glad I got to play.
And to Joanna, congrats on bringing a unique voice to the game for a decade. Here's to many more.
Sometimes a writer hates being written about. So a second writer, who would customarily write about the first writer in this space, will refrain from doing so because they respect the first writer's wishes. But if the second writer were to write about the first writer, they'd say the first writer was their favourite.
So put that in your pipe.