Pitchers and Catchers Report!

Spring training batting practice, 2010
A Twins coach throws batting practice at spring training in 2010 – Creative Commons (WEBN-TV)

It’s actually unusually balmy for a February morning here in the Twin Cities (especially in the context of this particularly frigid winter), but I’d still prefer to be in sunny Fort Myers, Florida today — as the pitchers and catchers on the roster of my beloved Minnesota Twins report for the beginning of baseball’s spring training.

It’s not likely to be a good year for the Twins, but with two of the top five prospects in baseball in camp this year, hope is on the way. (And Target Field is hosting the All-Star Game this July, the first time it’s been in town in nearly thirty years.) In any case, it’s good simply to have my favorite sport making its annual reappearance.

If you’re a fellow fan and new to the blog, you’ll find a surprising number of posts focused on the National Pastime:

Behold, I Make All Things Old: Hope, Simplicity, and Amish Baseball

“…even if you’re one of the growing numbers of non-Amish Americans who’s less and less enraptured by the antebellum charms of baseball… then you should still read [Kent] Russell’s article [on Amish baseball], since it’s ultimately a meditation on how the Amish preserve the integrity of the individual and the community in the face of modern fragmentation.”

Beyond Muscular Christianity

Christy Mathewson
Christy Mathewson (1880-1925) – Library of Congress

The muscular Christians constantly walked a fine line: they sought to cultivate virtue, but not so much that being virtuous would sound, well, virginal.

Take the greatest muscular Christian in baseball history, pitcher Christy “The Christian Gentleman” Mathewson. Sportswriter Hugh Fullerton later called him a “clean, right-living man,” so full of integrity that umpires would trust him to make close calls if they weren’t sure, but he hastened to add that the pitcher was “100 percent male he-man. He smoked a bit, drank a bit, at times gambled and swore” (quoted in Donald K. McKim, “‘Matty’ and ‘Ol’ Pete’: Divergent American Heroes,” in The Faith of Fifty Million: Baseball, Religion, and American Culture, eds. Christopher H. Evans and William R. Herzog II, p. 59). Mathewson’s own wife insisted that he was a good man but not a “goody-goody.”

God Made the Country

Mostly about my fascination with county fairs, but I snuck in one paragraph on baseball: “The notion that baseball fields are pastures planted by urbanites seeking to escape from the hectic pace and crowded space of the Industrial Age pops up repeatedly in Ken Burns’ Baseball miniseries. Early in the 1st episode, Burns has Garrison Keillor speak Walt Whitman’s words: “Let us go forth awhile, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our close rooms…. The game of ball is glorious.” (Fortunately, Burns also interviews historian John Thorn, who points out that baseball, notwithstanding its lovely green space and fresh, when undomed, air, entered its professional phase deeply intertwined with urban problems like gambling and prostitution.)”

Play Ball!

New Bill James Historical AbstractA three-part post celebrating some of my favorite baseball books, including John Montgomery Ward’s Base-Ball and Bill James’ New Bill James Historical Abstract.

Replacing the NFL: A Thought Experiment

When I asked my friends Chris Moore and Sam Mulberry to project the chances of each major sport supplanting the NFL (were we to imagine it away within ten years), they weren’t too sanguine about baseball reclaiming former glory, with Chris summing up, “Baseball makes the fewest changes, as it is the most hidebound professional sport. It continues to hold its championship in late October. It continues in its failure to capture youthful players and fans.” I was more optimistic, pointing out that the most gifted and popular athletes in the NFL, the quarterbacks, tended to be baseball players and would naturally find their way back into that sport.

600 and 3000

On the occasion of Jim Thome hitting his 600th home run as a member of the Twins: “…if we as a nation cannot agree on anything else (and we’re pretty close to proving that), can’t we collectively affirm that there are career milestones that signify far greater contributions to society and that they deserve at least a fraction of the attention given an opposite field home run hit by the designated hitter for a baseball team playing out the string on a disappointing season?”

Super Monday

Basically a chance to revel in the end of an NFL season, with an assist from Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell and his famous list of 99 reasons baseball is better than football.

The Thinking Man’s Game

“…as a baseball-loving egghead, hearing that fewer than one in twenty MLB players has a four-year degree also flies in the face of the National Pastime being “the thinking man’s game.” Historians like me revel in the game’s rich sense of tradition, and the ways in which it has served as a mirror for U.S. (and, increasingly, Latin American and Asian) history. Social scientists and mathematicians (or evolutionary biologists like the late Stephen Jay Gould) find themselves on familiar footing in a sport that lends itself more than any other to statistical analysis.”

Which One Game in Baseball History Would You Go Back in Time to See?

Kirby Puckett in 1997
Kirby in retirement, 1997 – Creative Commons (Allen Dimick)

I tried to be creative and mentioned games involving Grover Cleveland Alexander, Dizzy Dean, and Satchel Paige rather than the obvious choices (anything involving the Yankees; Jackie Robinson’s debut), but in the end anyone who grew up idolizing Kirby Puckett could choose only one game, the sixth in the 1991 World Series:

There have been better single-game performances in the history of baseball, but none that I’d so desperately love to see again — to forget, if only for a moment or two, all that happened in the last decade of his life, and to remember what I knew as a child: that baseball is the best game invented, and that no one has ever played it with as much joy as Kirby Puckett.

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