Baseball Geek

I popped my head into K-104’s Scotty Mac’s office on Friday to say both “Hey” and “Good Morning” while I toasted a couple of slices of rye bread that would eventually become my open faced tuna sandwich breakfast but with new lettuce and tomato that I had just picked up at Price Chopper on my way in (I was actually pretty excited for this … yeah, I know, a little pathetic). I love toaster ovens, love all things toasted, would be lost at a place that didn’t have one in its kitchen to the point where I would just have to buy one myself even with then having to share it with folks who might not be as mindful and respectful of toast.

He said “so did you see the latest moves …” and I immediately cut him off before he could continue “Don’t tell me … this is my Christmas in July just minus annoying radio promotions, trade deadline day … MLB dot com awaits my toasted tuna my friend so zip it”

He’s a baseball guy like me though, as a New York Yankees fan, he is always a bit more enthusiastic and optimistic than I could ever be with my Pirates.

It was trade deadline day and it had been a pretty eventful week leading up to it but there were still more deals to be made and eyebrows to be raised.

I’ve always gotten excited around trade deadline day as it is just a unique baseball thing, not that other sports don’t have the trades of players, they do, but not like baseball where there is a romance to them, a sudden urgency of that clock that’s been well known ticking and a storied history that you can look back on and maybe raise more eyebrows as to how they worked out. Did they help that one team down the stretch, as is always the intention, did the other side land that one seemingly unknown guy who would go on to glory in a new uniform begging questions in hindsight, did it actually work out for both teams and fill, exactly, the needs that both teams needed filling? Or were they lopsided or nearsighted looking back at them years later? Nolan Ryan always comes to mind for me.

Now last season, 2020, was an aberration, an asterisk, no trade deadline excitement, a season I paid absolutely no attention to, the only season in all my years as a baseball fan that I didn’t watch even a single inning of any game for the first time since I was a kid, even just an accidental portion of an any game with those dreaded NY teams on local TV I was forced to endure growing up living in this NY place.

When MLB TV, which I have paid for, for the past however many years it’s been available to be able to watch my Pirates, twenty years or so now, justifying the cost with a don’t buy this or don’t buy that at that moment whether real need or not, when they offered the possibility of me watching at a reduced rate due to Covid, a shortened season or to use the discount next year, this one, I opted for this one as opposed to the attempt to present a 60 game schedule then as an actual baseball season with actual yearly awards and actual champions that they say counted. Sorry, they didn’t … not to me.

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I’ve been a baseball geek ever since my Grandad taught me how to curse and throw shit, just words in my case but actual physical things for Grandad, at the tube when Grandma would allow me in the living room with him, the only grandkid she would while she sat lording in her kitchen. He’d been to Forbes field, my Bucco fan field of dreams, maybe not at the penultimate moment in 1964 but he’d been there and watched games from whatever section he was able to sneak into when he was younger. He was my reason Pirates guy.

I know “geek” isn’t usually associated with sports. That’s more a science or math or book smart or sci-fi thing or getting your ass handed to you in High School by those who would regret, years later, their shortsighted judgements, but I was a baseball geek, a studied baseball geek and well rounded. I could talk books and sports in the same sentence. I would even find myself later on writing stare at shoes well wrought self important poems in college while still checking pages for the Steelers latest victory story or my Buccos latest continued disappointment.  And I think my 8 Yahoo fantasy baseball teams with rosters I set on a daily basis and waiver wires that I get so much joy in scouring will attest to my geekines or maybe the need to get out of the house more often.

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I have difficulty with our current state of baseball though, the new things Rob Manfred finds to be important at the big league level and the changes in the minors that are being tested. Mostly dumb things, things that slap at the nature of the game. I am a purist, I guess, that dying guy who still wants current baseball to stack up with old baseball, the only sport that really has a history that you can compare. He had how many hits then?  He had how many home runs then, how many RBI’s? Did Jacob DeGrom’s ERA really rival 1968? Is somebody going to break a record that’s stood for 50 years or is there that one moment where some obscure guy does something also obscure that’s never been done in the long storied history of the game. It’s the only sport that really allows such.

A guy on second base in extra’s (an absolute embarrassment), 7 inning games, 3 batter minimums, pitch clocks in the minors and moving the rubber back some and all the other attempts at “improving” the game just screws that all up, it messes with the numbers, messes with that nature, messes with that shared history. And don’t get me started on Statcast, that glorified tape measure and protractor and speed gun that is constantly being shoved down our throats in every MLB dot com article.

Was it a hit? Just simply was it a hit? I don’t give a shit about how fast it went out there. I can guarantee you that there will never come a day where I will ask about or even be remotely curious about the exit velocity of any hit … ever. Just did it fall in? Did it make its beautiful way to finding a spot to bounce between fielders? Did it just get past and outstretched diving glove in the infield for a single or did it roll to the wall for a double or maybe bounce around in weird ways to become a triple with a head first slide? When that outfielder fielded it what were the new calculations he had to make now that everything had changed as he tossed back into the infield? That’s it. No useless numbers attached. No angles or silly catch probabilities or ground traveled distances. Just was it a hit maybe with a scorched or a dribbled or a Texas leagued attached?

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Grandad stood up, arms wide and turned and spun to whoever would look at him in the crowd like some baseball Jesus and said “I told you he would pop out, I told you he would pop out, he always pops out, he always blanking pops out!”

That was at the game (games, it was a scheduled doubleheader, a real one with 9 innings for both) at Shea so many years ago with my Dad and Grandad and that was Frank Taveras, our light hitting shortstop who, yes, always popped out.

You had that baseball Jesus thing down Grandad though not without with some slinking embarrassment from Dad and I.

That’s my go-to, that go-to memory, when it comes to baseball. Yes, I played the game, had my moments, played against a stacked club in my senior year of High School that some statcast nonsense would have given us a really improbable percentage of win, but a three hitter from me and an unbeatable John Belushi later and we took the two of three without a third. But Grandad? Arms wide and Jesus angry? That was baseball.

I even met John Candelaria that day when my homemade jersey bearing his name came to the attention of two small, and I mean small excited Mom and Dad’s (no idea where his height came from, and he is a tall guy, other than maybe a stacking of Mom and Dad’s genes on top of each other) in the filing out of fans at the two games end who made that accidental meeting happen at the player’s entrance. I was in heaven and walked away with a few signatures on my game program including Rennie Stennett and future Hall of Famer Goose Gossage in his only season with the Bucs.

Years later I would meet John Candelaria again, recount this story with a laugh and a handshake and an autograph of the Pirates Helmet I had bought that day almost 40 years ago. But it was grandad and Frank Tavares always blanking popping out that I remember the most.

I’ve always looked forward … no, don’t tell me Scotty, I want to check for myself … to the trade deadline and its deals, from the small ones to the blockbusters, so many deals and for teams that aren’t even mine, lived for the changes that happen to current rosters or future ones, to remember names that years later might become that story of the hall of famer, maybe, who was part of a now former team’s great regret.

Will all the guys my Bucco’s garnered at this year’s trading deadline pan out, will there be a future hall of famer in there? Couldn’t tell ya though ya never know.

But it’s excited reading fodder for me today over a morning’s tuna sandwich or a down the road watching and waiting to see who just might pan out out of all these names, a current and future Baseball enjoyment I just can’t put into words.