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Who wants to learn how to play baseball?

Every boy in the classroom raised his hand.  The Peace Corps wants me to do what the community wants.  If that’s what they want …

I was surrounded by kids as I walked onto the soccer field.  I had a plastic bag with six tennis balls, one baseball and a bat.  They were all reaching for the balls, but I wanted to get a quick vocabulary lesson in first.  I taught them the words for bat, ball, throw and catch.  They weren’t listening.  They had their eyes on the bag of balls like a hungry dog hoping you can’t finish that hot dog.  I handed out one ball for every four kids and kept the baseball to myself, knowing it wasn’t safe.  Somewhere in the chaos, someone took my bat.  I wanted them to learn to catch and throw before I got the bat out, but they would have none of it.

A lot of the kids could throw and catch a lot better than I expect from the land of soccer.  I played with a group of them and made the mistake of throwing a fly ball as high as I could.  After that all they wanted me to do was throw the ball 100 feet in the air.

Soon enough there was a group of kids hitting tennis balls with the bat.  I stepped in to show them how to hold the bat and to make sure there was plenty of space for the batter with the fear of some Thai kid getting his head cracked.  But then I remembered it wouldn’t be a big deal as the Thais aren’t the suing type and there’s universal healthcare – what doesn’t kill us…

Then, I had to do it.  It would be a shame to go an entire “summer” and not hit a baseball.  I told all the kids to stand back as I pulled the baseball out of my pocket and made sure there was no one in the first 100 feet of me in case I topped it.  I didn’t.  I crushed a deep fly ball, but there a few kids in its trajectory.  Don’t hit the kids.  Don’t hit the kids.  Don’t hit the kids, I said to myself.  It didn’t.  It landed safely about 30 feet past them.  It felt good and helped dissolve some homesickness.

After playing catch with some other kids for a few minutes, I looked to the kids who were batting just in time to see the pitcher about to throw the baseball.  I yelled to stop him before he pitched it and told everyone we would need gloves to play with the real baseball.  There was at least one kid who appreciated using tennis balls instead of baseballs when a line drive hit him dead in the face.  Luckily, he was laughing before he hit the ground as was everyone else.  I helped him up.

Eventually I assigned three or four kids to catch throws in from the outfield while I hit fungoes.  For 15 minutes I hit fly ball after fly ball to giggling Thai children.  I started hitting hard grounders to some of the kids who were closer and they did a great job blocking the ball having experience as goalies.  I taught them that the balls in the ground are called grounders and soon a half-dozen kids were yelling, “Ground-ah!  Ground-ah!”

Then I started pitching and found some good hitters – especially for their first day.  One of the little kids in particular was hitting everything I threw at him.  I would occasionally throw a real fastball at him and he managed to connect with a few of them.  I was impressed.

Then the downside of Thailand walked onto the field – grown men.  There were about six guys in their early to late twenties who planned to play soccer.  The kids didn’t seem to mind, but I did.  I wasn’t there to teach grown whiskey-drinking, immature men how to play baseball.  After playing along for a little while, I decided I wasn’t going to let these guys show up the kids so I pitched nothing but hard fastballs at them.  They rarely connected.  I even threw a brushback pitch to one guy, but I don’t think he knew the significance.

When I told the kids I was leaving and would come back next week, they said thank you – in English.  I haven’t taught them Thank you.  I was touched.

They know how to throw, catch, pitch and hit.  Next lesson: the balk.

Take a good look – there could be future major leaguers in this pile.
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Ban the home run

In the last decade, anyone involved with the game of baseball wanted performance-enhancing drugs (PED) banished from the game.  PEDs are now (hopefully) at a minimum in the game, but drug testing and harsh penalties weren’t necessary.  Why not go right to the source of the problem?

The home run.

Ban the home run.

Why did most batters take PEDs?  They took PEDs to hit more home runs, which brought more people to the ballpark, which made the owners richer, which made the players richer.

Why did most pitchers take PEDs?  They took PEDs to prevent the home run, which sometimes worked and sometimes made the home runs travel even farther which brought more people to the ballpark, which made the … you get the idea.

When do real baseball fans truly enjoy the home run?  They enjoy it when it benefits their team.  When fans watch a random minor league game or one on TV between the Padres and Giants, they don’t want to see home runs.  They want action and suspense.  Home runs have little action or suspense.  They’re over as soon as they begin.  The single, double and triple provide action.  There are plays at bases.  There are fielders fielding, running and throwing.  There are base coaches waving their arms.  Umpires are scattering to get into position.  Decisions need to be made.  Drama and suspense ensues.

Here’s the pitch … Jackson pulls it deep to right!  It’s gone!

With Spinler leading off second, here’s the pitch … Jackson slaps it the opposite way to left!  Spinler’s on his horse and he’s being waved home!  The throw from Karels goes home!  Spinler slides and heeeee’s … safe!  Jackson is going for the extra base at second!  The throw from Olson and Jackson slides safely into scoring position with two out!

Which one was more exciting?  It was the single – the f***ing single.  One base is more exciting than four.  Of course, there might not be anything more exciting than an inside-the-park home run, but thanks to short outfield fences, those are few and far between.

(Note: this blog is not about the inside-the-park home run.  The author is in full endorsement of parks that promote the inside-the-park home run.)

“I don’t know why people like the home run so much.  A home run is over as soon as it starts…. The triple is the most exciting play of the game.  A triple is like meeting a woman who excites you, spending the evening talking and getting more excited, then taking her home.  It drags on and on.  You’re never sure how it’s going to turn out.” – George Foster, 1978

The home run has been cool for four periods of baseball history.  The first was Babe Ruth’s career.  When The Babe started belting balls over the fences, the audience’s reaction was probably similar to the first alley-oops in basketball.  Many people didn’t come to the ballpark to see their team win, they came to see The Babe knock a home run 500 feet.  This is, by far, the longest period the home run should be applauded.  The other three periods last for only one season.

When the home run was new and cool.

The next was 1961 when Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris battled to break Babe Ruth’s 1927 single-season total of 60.  The nation wanted Mantle to break it.  Instead, it got the quiet, sometimes grumpy North Dakota kid, Maris.  Little did the nation know this was just foreshadowing for 2001.

In 1974, amid threatening racist letters and horrible home attendance, Hank Aaron broke Ruth’s all-time record of 714.  If you weren’t a dumb redneck, you were rooting for one of the greatest and most consistent players to break the former Boston Brave’s record.

Then there was 1998, the summer of international denial.  Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, who looked like Hans and Franz, trashed Maris’s single-season record with 70 and 66 long bombs, respectively.  Every baseball fan was captivated by the same two men they’d be cursing in less than a decade.

The home run really hasn’t been consistently cool since Babe Ruth retired.  It was cute back then.  It has worn out its welcome.  It is cowardly and takes away from the game.  As soon as the one-trick ponies of Dave Kingman, Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa stepped up, the game of baseball was no longer a game but a contest.

Even new parks were built to accommodate the home run.  The ball was likely juiced as were the players.  The combination of steroids, small parks, juiced balls, amphetamines and Sportscenter all added to the home run totals.

Okay, they were fun in 1998, but soon enough they became annoying thanks to the solo home run in the ninth inning with two outs down by six runs, Chris Berman’s “Back!  Back!  Back!” commentary, the home-run line at Enron Field, the right-field wall at Yankee Stadium, and Sammy Sosa’s boombox.

How fascinating is the home run if three players can hit over 60 of them in one season over the course of four seasons?  If its single-season records we want to see broken, why not ask for something more challenging?  There’s Earl Webb’s doubles record (67), Joe DiMaggio’s hit streak (56), batting .400 (hell, batting .380 would do it for me) and stealing 100 bases.

Chicks may dig the long ball, but real women love real baseball.  The only “chicks” who dig the long ball are the ones that, sadly, pay more of a ballplayer’s exuberant salary than the real women.  The “chicks” are usually drunk before the game starts and continue to buy $8 beers throughout the game while rarely watching the game.  When asked who their team is playing, rarely can an answer be pronounced along with the score or starting pitcher.  There are three times as many men with the same affliction.

There are a few solutions.  Ban the home run, or at least moderate them.  Allow each team one over-the-fence home run per game.  Every other home run after the first is an out with runners not advancing.  Is this proposal realistic?  No.

Unfortunately, with the influx of new ballparks in the last 20 years, there aren’t many teams looking for a new place to play.  For the few who are, build your new parks with real baseball excitement in mind.  However, many of the new parks like Citi Field, Comerica Park and Target Field are on the right track.  A home run is more difficult in these parks more than others thanks to vast outfields and deep power alleys.  Players need to earn their home runs.  A 314-foot right field fence in Yankee Stadium is not earning a home run.  It’s sad the Yankees kept the dimensions the same as the old park when they built the new one.

The home run does not impress me.  It’s been overdone.  It’s overrated.  It has lost its magic.

For over a decade, ignorant baseball fans pleaded that Pete Rose was innocent and never bet on baseball.  They believed every word Charlie Hustle told them.  Why did they believe him?  He was their “hero”.  They believed his hollow lies despite the mountain of evidence against him and the fact that, in leaving baseball, he signed a statement accepting his banishment as long as the commissioner did not unveil the evidence to the public.

Then fourteen years after his banishment, Rose released My Prison Without Bars and admitted to betting on Cincinnati Reds games he managed.   This seemed to hit his backers and fans like a punch to the stomach, but they just came up with new arguments to back up the all-time hits leader.  Well, he didn’t bet against his team.  So he tells us. 

Now we have come to the third phase of the Pete Rose saga.  Many are now saying what Pete Rose did isn’t as bad as what the steroid users had been doing.  Alex Rodriguez broke the rules just as much as Rose did, they say.  If a steroid user can make the hall of fame, so should Rose, they say.  They hurt the game just as much as Rose.

I strongly disagree.

I would never give Pete Rose a vote for the hall of fame.  At the same time, I’ll be the first to admit that Rose was one of the greatest players of all time.  No one played the game harder on the field and no one disrespected it more off.

I would vote Barry Bonds and Rogers Clemens to the hall on the first ballot while admitting they took performance-enhancing drugs (PED).

I hate to break it to the steroid-user haters out there, but there’s likely already a steroid-user in the hall already.

“There was another player now in the Hall of Fame who literally stood with me and mixed something and I said ‘What’s that?’ and he said ‘it’s a Jose Canseco milkshake.’  And that year that Hall of Famer hit more home runs than ever hit any other year.” – Tom Boswell, Washington Post

Who broke the rules?
Every major league clubhouse has the rule stated on the wall: Gambling will result in lifetime banishment. This includes association with gamblers and betting on games of which the player is not a participant.  Rose looked at this rule from his rookie season of 1963 through his final season as manager with the Reds in 1989.  After breaking records and accumulating millions of fans, Rose may have felt the rule didn’t apply to him or, because of his stature, he could slip by unnoticed.

Rose broke baseball’s biggest rule when he bet on baseball.  Today, it’s still baseball’s biggest rule.  A report on a player betting on baseball would be a much bigger story than anyone using PED.

A strong argument can be made to say using PED was encouraged for a time – it’s called 1998.  Fans may not have consciously realized it, but baseball was promoting the use of steroids as the nation stopped, captivated by the heroics of Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire and their quest to break the single-season home run record (https://tripleinthegap.wordpress.com/2010/01/31/the-real-single-season-home-run-record/).

In 1998, the steroid snowball could be held by a small child, but it was developing.  The nation had two lovable sluggers in a friendly competition for a 37-year-old record.  Everyone turned a blind eye to the inhuman size of these men and the way they – even when they swung late at a 98-mph fastball – could flick a ball over the opposite-field fence.  Steroid users were cute in 1998.  They smiled for the cameras and brazed the covers of magazines.

But by 2001, the snowball turned into an avalanche.  It was then that two protagonists turned into one giant antagonist and fans started questioning the power surge.  That’s when Barry Bonds showed everyone what the best player of his era could do on steroids.

Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa?, Bonds thought to himself.  Pfft!  They’re one-trick ponies.  Watch this.

Then Bonds broke their records.  He broke them without the smile.  Bud Selig and America didn’t like it: hence, strong anti-steroid rules.

What made the Selig Era so troubling, looking back, is that there were much greater incentives to use than to not use. Baseball wasn’t testing. Baseball was proudly peddling home runs. The odds of getting caught were miniscule. Nobody seemed to care. And the health issues that steroids cause are fuzzy and disputed and, anyway, simply not a strong enough deterrent to prevent a lot of people from using them.” – Joe Posnanski, si.com

The same could be said for the amphetamine era; an era that last much longer than the steroid era.  Unfortunately for Rose, if there was a gambling era, it ended at the 1919 World Series.  In good ways and bad, Rose was one of a kind.  After 1919, there hasn’t been a gambling era.  There’s been no incentive to gamble on baseball, especially since the free-agency era with salaries at astronomical levels.

Rose knows about 1919.  He knows what happened to Joe Jackson after being convicted of gambling, one of the greatest players of his era – banned for life.  Do the consequences need to be clearer?  What did Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens see when their peers took illegal drugs to improve their game?  National fame and further riches: that’s what they saw.

There’s more than one PED
Fans love to look down on steroid users because steroid users have the big records.  They hit home runs.  When are baseball fans going to grow up and realize the home run is overrated?

“I don’t know why people like the home run so much.  A home run is over as soon as it starts…. The triple is the most exciting play of the game.  A triple is like meeting a woman who excites you, spending the evening talking and getting more excited, then taking her home.  It drags on and on.  You’re never sure how it’s going to turn out.” – George Foster

Why aren’t more fans complaining about all the other statistics busting at the seams because of other PED?  Amphetamines have been fueling baseball for decades and no one seems to care.  No one cares even though now that they’ve been banned from the game and players actually seem to be aging.  There has been a huge drop off of statistics for players over the age of 32 since the banishment of amphetamines and steroids.  How many hits would Rose have had without the help of “greenies”?  How long would his career have gone on?  Dare I ask, how many home runs would Hank Aaron have hit?

Why do we care about two records (single-season and all-time home runs) and none of the others?

What about cocaine?  Cocaine was a huge problem in the 1980s and no one is calling for Tim Raines’ stolen base numbers to be taken away.  As long as players weren’t popping pills for the cameras or taking out their vile of cocaine at second base, it was easy to get away with these PED before baseball stepped in and banned them.  Amphetamines and cocaine users don’t grow gigantic muscles and, more importantly, they don’t break home run records.

Not only is there loads of evidence against Rose in regards to betting on baseball that the public has never seen (Rose, you can thank the graciousness of the late Bartlett Giamatti for that), but there’s also people out there who know about Rose’s use of amphetamines.  But who cares about that?  No one because amphetamines didn’t help Rose hit home runs (at least not a lot of them).  In other words, Rose also used performance-enhancing drugs.

Hall of fame
Many of Rose’s backers, despite knowing he bet on baseball, feel he deserves a spot in the hall of fame based on his playing statistics and legacy.  Some believe Bud Selig can wave his magic wand and suddenly Rose will be in Cooperstown.

I’d be curious to see if the commissioner ever did allow Rose back into baseball what the voters would do.  Many don’t realize that the baseball hall of fame isn’t a part of Major League Baseball.  It is an institution on its own.  It’s not up to MLB to let Rose in – it’s up to the voters.  The voters can write Rose in now and there’s usually a few who do, but not enough to get him into the hall, let alone the five-percent needed to get a player on the next year’s ballot.

Steroid users only wanted to improve their game and to keep up with the competition.  They still wanted to win the World Series and beat their rivals.  The goal of the game was still to win it.  The reason there are rules against gambling is because it turns the game on its head and it becomes a show.  Steroid users did alter the game, but their goal remained the same.  Unless the evidence on Rose is released, we may never know what his intentions were.  I don’t trust his opinion, I know that.

Rose won’t be forgotten
We know Barry Bonds took PED and that he hit 762 home runs.  Just because his name is on top of the home run list in the record books, doesn’t mean he has to be the home run king in your mind.  Hank Aaron can still be your home run king just like how Rose can be in your hall of fame.

Steroid users should get a vote, only with a much higher standard – the entire era included (non-steroid users).  The public will never know all the answers to the steroid-era, just like we’ll never know who was using amphetamines, who was gambling on baseball, who corked their bats and who cheated on their wives.

Pete Rose is one of the greatest players of all time and he doesn’t need the hall of fame to prove it.  We know!  Just because Bob Dylan didn’t win any Grammy’s in the sixties doesn’t mean we don’t know his music was revolutionary.

Pete, you were one of the all-time greats.  We know it.  We won’t forget you.  You just can’t come back to the ballpark with us.

Note to Triple In the Gap readers: I have joined the Peace Corps and have been living in Thailand since January and will be here until around opening day, 2013.

“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball.  I’ll tell you what I do.  I stare out the window and wait for spring.” – Rogers Hornsby

Living without baseball hasn’t been as difficult as I thought.  The number one question I was asked from friends and family before I left was, “What are you going to do without baseball?”  This made me wonder if people thought I was so shallow that all I thought about was baseball.  No, I also enjoy good literature and films like Shoeless Joe and The Natural.

Like all the other luxuries I enjoyed in the states (peanut butter, toilet paper, comfortable weather, libraries with English books) I don’t miss what I don’t have.  If I was in the states and was barred from going to baseball games, then I’d miss it.  But there’s no one here asking me if I saw the play that Denard Span made last night or what a great time they had at the Saints game, so I’m apathetic.

Honestly, I am!

“If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant’s life, she will choose to save the infant’s life without even considering if there are men on base.” – Dave Barry

However, I am getting small fixes now and then through the games I have saved on my computer and the computer game Baseball Mogul (I’m currently playing a full season as the Billy Martin-led Twins of 1969.)  As for reading the news on the internet, I’m pretty satisfied simply checking the Twins box score and then the standings to see what team’s been hot lately (as of today, the Twins!).

Now that the season’s in full swing, I keep getting the comment, “It’s a good thing you’re not here with how bad the Twins are.”  I strongly disagree.  No, I don’t want to go back just to see a Twins game, but I have honestly missed bad Twins teams over the last decade.  We Twins fans have been spoiled.  We are not Yankees fans – we do not need to go to the World Series to be satisfied with our team.  We take what we get and I think the last decade has spoiled us  to the point where they’re a little more like Yankees fans, but still light years away from their egotism.

“This is a game to be savored, not gulped.  There’s time to discuss everything between pitches or between innings.” – Bill Veeck

Last season was frustrating for me.  For my entire life I could always count on going to the Metrodome by myself or a friend on game day and finding a seat to watch the greatest major league baseball organization in the history of Planet Earth.  Last year, the fair-weather fans flocked to the brand new Target Field like it was a 1994 Garth Brooks concert.  Twice I showed up by myself hoping to squeeze in somewhere – no go.  Meanwhile, there were 40,000 people inside about to see the game and 5,000 of them would leave early because their short-attention spanned kids consumed too much cotton candy and Mountain Dew and wouldn’t stop crying for two innings while witnessing one pitch through six innings … the first one.

“I believe in the Church of Baseball.  I tried all the major religions and most of the minor ones.  I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms and Isadora Duncan.  I know things.  For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball.  When I learned that, I gave Jesus a chance.” – from Bull Durham

I’ve watched some of the best baseball of my life when the Twins were “bad” (https://tripleinthegap.wordpress.com/2010/06/06/best-of-the-best-greatest-games-attended-6-10/).This year, 2011, the novelty of Target Field has worn off and the Twins are horrible with their number one draw, Joe Mauer, on the bench with owwy legs.  I think I’d be able to get a seat on game day now.  I don’t care if the team’s bad.  One of my favorite Twins teams was from 1996 with Paul Molitor and Chuck Knoblauch leading off the lineup with matching .341 batting averages (Molitor’s was slightly higher) and a pitching staff that couldn’t strike out Babe Ruth (present day).

If there’s something I miss most about baseball at this point, it’s that everyone at the games speak English.  I miss it, but in the same way I miss my friends, family and book stores – it’s what I signed up for and I was prepared for that sacrifice.

As for the 2011 Twins, I don’t care how bad the team is, I just want to be able to see them without having to buy a ticket four months in advance.

“The other sports are just sports.  Baseball is a love.”  – Bryant Gumbel

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

The average container ship can carry about 4,500 containers. This blog was viewed about 14,000 times in 2010. If each view were a shipping container, your blog would have filled about 3 fully loaded ships.

In 2010, there were 55 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 193 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 146mb. That’s about 4 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was November 10th with 553 views. The most popular post that day was Jim Bouton’s Ball Four.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, digg.com, reddit.com, healthfitnesstherapy.com, and dating-online2u.blogspot.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for albert pujols, willie mays, target field, jim bouton, and hank greenberg.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Jim Bouton’s Ball Four May 2010

2

The Real Single-Season Home Run Record January 2010
1 comment

3

It’s Target Field, not Target Stadium February 2010
5 comments

4

Best of the Best: Greatest Games Attended (16-20) May 2010

5

Hank Greenberg leads a nation, culture April 2010
4 comments

Baseball in Thailand?

Just letting everyone who’s reading my blog know why it hasn’t been, or will be, updated in a while. I’ve joined the Peace Corps and will be leaving for Thailand January 8, 2011. At this point (December 23) I have no idea how much free time and internet access I’ll have in Thailand. I’ll do my best to write a Triple In the Gap blog now and then, but it probably won’t be on the regular basis is has been for the last year.

I will be starting another Thailand based blog on WordPress for those interested. I’ll post the site when I establish it.

I will miss baseball a lot while I’m in Thailand. Luckily, I’ll be able to keep up on the internet and maybe even watch some games on my computer.

Thanks to everyone who’s read Triple In the Gap. This isn’t the end of it, just a break.

Peace!

-Jeff Jackson

Here are some of my favorite pictures I’ve taken from ballparks around the country.

For the record, my favorite major league park is PNC Park in Pittsburgh and the best minor league is Fifth Third Field in Toledo.  Click on the photos to enlarge.