Baseball is not for the faint of heart
By Eric Neel
Page 2 columnist

An NCAA tournament is a hot, torrid affair, a fling. You waltz in and scope out a bracket, pick a team that looks good to you, stay with 'em until they disappoint you, and move on.

But a baseball season, that's a commitment. You can't be casual about a baseball season. You have to invest. You fly on the highs, sure, but you ride out the rough patches, too, and you're there in the morning, every morning.

It's not a relationship to be entered into lightly.

To help you get prepared for the long haul this year, a dozen tips:

1. Pick a promising young player to follow all season.
He's going to break your heart over the course of 162. Know that going in. He's young. There will be ugly swings, terrible judgment, a three-error inning, and a couple of bus rides to AAA and back. But he's going to show you some magic, too.

Austin Kearns
First and foremost, adopt a young buck to cheer to maturity.
Maybe it will be just one key pinch hit in a meaningless game in early September, one measly hit that drives in a run -- not even a winning run, just an insurance run -- and when it comes, you'll rise up out of your seat, tepid beer in one hand, scorecard pencil in the other, and shout. "That's my boy!" you'll say.

Your spouse will be in the other room, reading Tolstoy or the Times, wondering when and if you're ever going to care about anything serious, anything besides your silly game. And you'll call out: "Did you see that? That's my boy!"

And in that moment, in the giddy flush of feelings paternalistic and proud, the great difficulty, the almost Sysyphian impossibility of the game will become clear to you, and you will look at your boy standing on first, the proud owner of a run-scoring single, and you will swear that the swing, the contact, the whole sweet feat was a genuine miracle.

2. Learn a new number.
Bill James' win shares is nice. Keith Woolner's pitcher abuse points might suit you. Maybe it's just OPS. Whatever. There are four keys to adding a new stat to your vocabulary:

Page 2's Got Your Number
  • Who's the ultimate No. 32? Who's the ultimate No. 7? Page 2 has the Ultimate Scorecard, with the best from 00 to 99.

  • Eric Neel says numbers are much more than a player's identity.

  • A uniform number almanac: Retired numbers trivia, and more.
  • * You have to spend a while actually learning what the number means, and where it comes from, and the effort breeds commitment.

    * The game, revealed to you in some new way, is no longer background music for the routine of your daily life, but the hub of some new, clearer, more fundamental vision of your life.

    * Chicks dig number guys. No, really. Can't get enough of 'em. Only thing better in a woman's eyes than a guy completely out-of-his-mind obsessed with the outcome of his favorite team's baseball game is a guy who can demonstrate that obsession by rattling off numbers in support of it.

    (Note: This part of the theory does not work quite so well for female fans involved with baseball men, many of whom report that their statistical expertise seems to arouse in their partners feelings of inadequacy, and sustained periods of moping, punctuated by repeated viewings of "Fight Club," "Cool Hand Luke" and "The Longest Yard.")

    * Odds are, your buddies will be trotting out old, shop-worn arguments that will fall to pieces in the face of your number-based analysis and, even if they completely ignore the wisdom of your work, you will have the quiet satisfaction of knowing you're right and they're wrong. Nothing better than that.

    3. Buy a cap, a jersey, some sanitaries, a jock.
    Just buy something.

    4. Do not buy a fantasy team.
    Need your fantasy fix?
    The phone calls, friendly arguments, twitching, stress ... obsession. Don't say we didn't warn you. If you just can't shake fantasy management mania, you know we've got the goods.
    Take the fantasy baseball tour!
    Eye twitches, late-night phone calls, a cold, callous way of sizing up your friends and neighbors, assigning them little dollar signs in your mind. Nasty stuff. Say it with me now: "I am powerless over the game. I am powerless over the game." That's step one. Now back away from the computer, take a deep breath, and proceed with the next 11.

    5. Read from the old books.
    In "Why Time Begins on Opening Day," Thomas Boswell wrote: "In sum, what baseball provides is fact. Fact in a butter sauce of tone. Fact as in the sense of detail and concreteness. Tone as in style and spirit."

    The Boys of Summer
    Read passages aloud. Repeat them. Commit them to memory.

    This comes from Roger Kahn's "The Boys of Summer": "In the dead sunlight of a forgotten spring the major leaguers were trim, graceful and effortless. They might even have been gods for these seemed true Olympians to a boy who wanted to become a man and who sensed that it was an exalted manly thing to catch a ball with one hand thrust across your body and make a crowd leap to its feet and cheer."

    Don DeLillo's "Underworld" goes a little something like this: "He runs up a shadowed ramp and into a crossweave of girders and pillars and spilling light. He hears the crescendoing last chords of the national anthem and sees the great open horseshoe of the grandstand and that unfolding vision of the grass that always seems to mean he has stepped outside his life -- the rubbed shine that sweeps and bends from the raked dirt of the infield out to the high green fences."

    Read passages like these aloud. Repeat them. Commit them to memory. What you want is the poetic fervor of a zealot. What you want is to live in the lyrical language of the game.

    6. Cable.

    7. Root through your trading cards.
    The ones stored away in the closet or attic, the ones in individual plastic covers -- and choose one (not an obvious one, not your all-time favorite, but a card no one would guess you'd pick, a card you wouldn't have guessed yourself until you laid your hands on it again), just one. This is your token, your talisman, your good luck charm. Your team needs a couple of runs in the eighth, your pitcher needs one more decent fastball in the eighth? Bust out the card. Set it on top of the television, gently, at a 90-degree angle to the back wall, and in an area free of dust. Then sit back and let the good voodoo do its thing.

    8. Set aside a little libation.
    A little Pabst, Old Style, Schaeffer's, MGD ... your call. Not to excess, mind you, just enough to wash down a fistful of chips and the occasional spoonful of bitter disappointment.

    9. There's a thing about being naked in the desert ...
    With only a baseball glove and your wits to protect you -- no food for days, waiting on enlightenment.
    The Natural
    Do watch all the classics ... twice.

    But it's not for everyone.

    10. Three step process ...
    Catch with one of the kids from the neighborhood, $25 worth of cuts at the batting cages, and infield practice with the local high school team.

    11. Watch "Major League," "Bull Durham" and "The Natural."
    Twice. Each. Do not watch "Angels in the Outfield" (out of respect for Danny Glover who, you know, was clearly suckered by some bad advice on this one; the kind of thing that could happen to any of us, really) or "Bang the Drum Slowly" (because it's just too dang sad).

    12. And really, this one is the key ...
    If you don't have time for any of the others and you're looking for the short-cut to absolute commitment, all you have to do is, well, let me put it like this: The Giants are 10-1 to win the World Series, the Phillies are 13-1, the Twins are 20-1, and the Expos are 70-1.

    Any of those look good to you? You know what to do.

    Eric Neel is a regular columnist for Page 2.

    12-STEP PLAN


    Eric Neel Archive

    Neel: Phenom five

    Neel: The glow of the numbers

    Neel: Missing my Glove

    Neel: Swimsuit user's guide

    Neel: The last shot

    Email story
    Most sent
    Print story

    espn Page 2 index