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

I originally thought of commenting on the World Series, but then realized that every baseball writer in the United States would be doing that.  Instead, I ask the question to every passionate baseball fan that I ask myself after the final out of the World Series: now what?  I don’t enjoy any other sport a tenth as much as I enjoy baseball.  What am I supposed to occupy myself with until spring training?  George Will summed up my opinion of football pretty well when he said, “football combines the two worst aspects of American society: violence punctuated with committee meetings.”  I do enjoy a good live basketball game, but can’t stand to watch the first three quarters of any NBA game or even the first 30 minutes of a college matchup (It also doesn’t help that my two teams – the Timberwolves and Gophers – aren’t at the top of their games lately.

Another sport isn’t going to hold me off.  I’ve come to accept this and have figured out the best ways to enjoy baseball without a single (meaningful) box score to look at until opening day.

Literature
By the end of the World Series, I’m in no way tired of watching baseball, but I am tired of staring the television for three hours a night and watching endless ads for ED drugs, beer and politicians who seem to think if I vote for their opponent, the United States will quickly come under Nazi regime.  There might be a two or three-day vacation from the game until I need my fix.  This is usually when I pick up some sort of baseball biography from my bookshelf or the library.  There is an almost endless number of books on baseball and rarely do I not enjoy one.  I can remember reading nine baseball books one offseason.

I sometimes wonder if I appreciate baseball more in the offseason when I read these books and the game is played out within my imagination.  I can imagine aspects of the game I was never able to see like Roberto Clemente throwing out a runner trying to get from first to third on a single, Babe Ruth hitting home runs at will and then downing a dozen hot dogs and sodas after the game, Bob Uecker catching fly balls during batting practice with a tuba or Sandy Koufax’s curveball dropping like it fell off a table.

Check out my Flashlight Worthy list of great baseball books to get fans through the offseason: http://www.flashlightworthybooks.com/Great-Baseball-Books-Fans/633.

Simulations
Many baseball fans like to play video games on their game system of choice.  For me, I don’t like my team’s ability to win or play well based on how well I can use a controller or my ability to read a pitch from the cartoon on my TV screen.  I can’t stand it when I play video games and I strike out on three pitches out of the strike zone and Albert Pujols is batting.  I think, “Pujols wouldn’t do that!  I would, but if this game were realistic, it wouldn’t let Pujols swing like Bobby Bonds.”

For me, I need realism in my baseball simulations so I turn to the dice game Strat-o-Matic (https://tripleinthegap.wordpress.com/2010/09/09/dungeons-and-dragons-for-baseball-nerds-like-myself)  and sometimes the computer game Baseball Mogul.  Baseball Mogul doesn’t have any real graphics, but does a pretty good job of simulating baseball in the view of a manager and/or general manager/owner.  The player can go through a century with one team and make all the moves from how the game is played on the field to the price of ice cream.

Video library
If it weren’t for the invention of DVDs, my 1991 World Series videotape would probably have worn out by now.  Before I got it on DVD, there was a glitch in the tape just after Kirby Puckett’s catch at the wall in game six from my constant stopping and rewinding.  I have a number of DVDs in my library, but thanks to Netflix, I have many more at my disposal.  Through Netflix, I can rent just about every DVD released by Major League Baseball, including full games of the 1975, 1979 and many other World Series.  Many people ask me how I can watch an entire baseball game I already know the outcome of.  There’s much to learn from watching those old games from Joe Morgan’s routine before every pitch to how the commentators have evolved.  Every game is divided into chapters by half inning, so the viewer can skip to the run-scoring innings.  But that just omits the good defense and pitching.

I’ve also downloaded a number of complete games from iTunes and can watch them on my computer as I wish.  Any classic game is usually available to download within 24 hours after its completion.

There’s also the Ken Burns baseball documentary.  Despite its length of over 18 hours, I seem to watch every winter.

Offseason news
I keep an eye on certain website’s baseball news like Ted Williams watched every pitched ball of his career.  As I go online, I go straight to sites like Yahoo!, Sports Illustrated and the Star Tribune.  Of course, I have these sites bookmarked, so I skip over the main sports page and usually find out how the Packers and Vikings via eavesdropping.

The negative aspect of the around-the-clock news on the internet is that official news rarely comes as a surprise to fans anymore.  When Roy Halladay was traded from the Blue Jays to the Phillies, the rumors had been flying for some time before it was announced.  Even after the rumors comes the news that there is going to be a press conference the next day and so-and-so is expected to be announced as the newest member of their new organization.  Minor trades and free agent signings still happen quickly to the fan, but I’m pretty sure there will be weeks of speculation before Cliff Lee and Carl Crawford sign with anyone this offseason.

Anything else
Whatever else I can do in the offseason to hold me over, I do.  I’ve gone to Twins Fest, an annual get together at the Metrodome which features current and former players as well as way too many merchandisers.  On occasion, I’ll grab my wood bat and take a few swings at the local indoor batting cages.  This usually results in waking up the next morning wondering why my ribs are so sore.  Twice I’ve flown to Arizona to watch spring training games.  My only issue with this is I wish it were in January.  By March, I’m less than a month from opening day and the weather in Wisconsin is beginning to thaw.  It’s the days in January when the high temperature is 2 and the sports pages are filled with the football playoffs that I really need an escape.

A longer offseason than usual for me
On a personal note, I will be moving to Thailand as a Peace Corps volunteer in January.  As far as I know, there is no baseball in Thailand.  How will I cope?  I don’t know other than reading books and keeping a close eye on the news via the internet.  Aside from friends and family, I know baseball will be what I miss the most.

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The first criticism I heard about Ken Burns’ new documentary, Baseball: The 10th Inning, was from my parents.  Being the good mid-west people they are, they’re tired of hearing about the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.  So am I, but at the same time: what’s done is done.  They told me it contained too much Yankees and Red Sox.  This turned me off, but then I thought about it and realized it would be very difficult to make a documentary about baseball from 1992 through 2009 without including those two teams.

Having said that, I loved Ken Burns’ new addition to his original nine-part series.  Burns takes his best sources from the original series like George Will, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Thomas Boswell and Roger Angell and puts them right back in front of the camera for a great perspective on the last two decades of the game.  Burns also calls on new opinions to the game like Howard Bryant, Joe Torre and Pedro Martinez.

Burns gives great perspective on the steroids era, starting with Jose Canseco and the Oakland A’s of the late eighties and flows to Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and eventually Barry Bonds.  Almost every story that is told in The 10th Inning I’ve heard before, but never from the perspectives they’re told from here.  It’s great to hear of Pedro Martinez’s dominance from 1997 through 2003 from Pedro as well as noted sportswriters.  I’ve known the story of Ichiro as I’ve been watching him play since his first game in 2000, but never really thought about what an anomaly he was from the rest of the game.  While the name of the game in the beginning of the century was, as George Will puts it, “Get two guys on base, get Godzilla to the plate to knock it into Tokyo Bay,” Ichiro was playing like a throwback to the deadball era and Negro leagues.  Ichiro is Cool Papa Bell!

 

Ken Burns

 

The story of Bonds cannot be ignored and Burns tackles it well from a small biography of his father, Bobby, to his time with Pittsburgh and onto his big signing with San Francisco before the 1993 season.  Burns shows the viewer how Bonds became the egotistical player he was.

I was worried Burns would go through all five of the Yankees World Series victories in depth, but instead, we only get to really know the 1996 Yankees.  That team happened to be the one New York squad I was rooting for (and likely, the rest of the country).  Joe Torre gives great insight to that team along with how the Series went down after losing the first two at home to the Braves.

Burns uses a lot more players than the previous nine innings and every one of them contribute well to the story.  Omar Vizquel, Ichiro, Torre and Martinez all show they have a great personality to match their skills on the diamond.

If it isn’t obvious that Burns is a Red Sox fan by the film, then watch the bonus footage and be thankful most of it was cut.  There is a full games highlights at Fenway Park as well as the entire guided tour in the special features.  Much of the interviews are certainly worth watching, especially from the ballplayers.

Much like my attitude at the time, I was happy to listen to the stories of the 2004 Red Sox, but was glad to move on once it was done.  Thankfully, Burns doesn’t dwell on the 2007 team and only mentions them along with the other World Series winners from 2005 through 2009.

Fans of small market teams may feel left out of this four-hour film, but this isn’t the All-Star Game and everyone can’t be included.  I would have loved to see more on the Twins, but how much is there to tell to the casual fan who’s not from the midwest?

I think the greatest compliment Ken Burns’ original documentary received was from my girlfriend who didn’t know anything about baseball or even care about it.  I was watching the second inning and Ty Cobb was being profiled.  She watched a few minutes and said, “I could watch this.”  When even the non-baseball fan enjoys it that much, imagine how much real baseball fans can get out of it.

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