The Strange Similarity between Baseball and Ketchup

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The date is October 25, and the Red Sox are in the 2013 World Series.

If you would have read that sentence to me six months ago, I would have laughed and asked you questions to make sure you weren’t talking about another team.  A year ago, the Red Sox were sitting on the couch watching the World Series, reflecting on their 69 wins they had last season.  The team finished with the third-worst record in the American league.  2012 is not exactly a Sox fan’s favorite season.

Because of that, the 2013 season began with a loose optimism.  A new manager was hired.  Veteran guys were signed.  Still, at the end of the day the 2013 Red Sox had too much of the 2012 team in them.  The most optimistic projection I read was one of a first-round playoff exit as an American League Wild Card team, but nobody – absolutely nobody – picked the Red Sox to win the division. 

According to statistical projection (I’m a numbers guy), the Red Sox had a 30% chance to win more than 87 games, a 9% chance to win more than 91 games, and a 2.7% chance to win 94 games. 

The Red Sox finished the season with 97 wins. 

Granted, the pre-season projections were just that – preseason projections.  The team changed throughout the season.  Several hyped teams that were supposed to be good turned out to be not-so-good (Toronto Blue Jays.  LA Angels).  But the fact remains – this team was not supposed to be where they are now in representing the American League in contention for the World Series title.

For those of you who know me, the Red Sox are a part of my life.  Besides that same old Red Sox hat I’ve worn since 8th grade, I’ve managed to collect a fair share of Red Sox shirts that I probably wear too much.  I’ve now followed this team for 12 years and witnessed two World Series championships.  Yet time and time again, I get the question.  “Marcus, why are you a Red Sox fan?” 

I have never really had an answer to the question.  Initially, my fan-hood for the Sox came simply because my favorite color was red and I needed a team to play on All Star Baseball 99.  The first MLB season I followed was the 2001 season, when the Seattle Mariners won 116 games, the Houston Astros won their division, and the New York Yankees lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the World Series.  I have a distinct memory of sitting in the dark with mom watching Luis Gonzalez hit the line drive blooper off Mariano Rivera and being sucked into the grandness of the sport.  Sports Illustrated later called that game the “Greatest Postseason game of the Decade” (2000-2009). 

The 2004 Red Sox only made my love for the game go deeper.  That season was the big tipping point on why I’m a Red Sox fan today.  

Baseball grabbed my heart.  I quit playing pee-wee soccer so that I could become a little leaguer, beginning what would be an 11-year baseball career finishing after 10th grade.  Afternoons were spent at the baseball field either playing or watching friends play.  Sundays were the day my brother and I practiced fielding ground balls thrown by dad.  When we were lucky, he even took us to the baseball fields to practice hitting.  Baseball slowly became our world. 

Some people don’t like baseball, calling the sport a long and boring one.  I don’t really know why I like baseball.  Baseball is long and boring.  Watching games is hard to do, especially when you’re by yourself.  I’m not going to schedule my day around the July 17th Red Sox-Padres game, because let’s be honest…the game has a high chance of being pretty boring and appears to have little to no effect on the final outcome of the season.  Oh, and there’s 162 of them.  On average, that’s 6.5 games a week for 25 weeks until the playoffs.

But the thing is?  Baseball doesn’t care.  In a recent Slate article, Jordan Ellenberg made a statement that captures this point well. “Baseball is to sports as ketchup is to condiments:  something that doesn’t change much, not because of stuffy conservatism, but because almost any change would make it worse.”

Baseball forces us to slow down.  It’s the only sport without a clock.  When all that needs to be done is done, the game ends.  Until then, it keeps going, whether or not YOU are watching.  I spend more time talking to the people watching the game with me than I do actually watching the game.  If I get up to go the bathroom or get a drink, I’m not worried I’m going to miss anything – because even if I do, I can see what happened as soon as I get back. 

Wherever you are, baseball is always there.  When you’re ready to give it your attention, it’s there waiting for you. 

The 2013 Red Sox came out of nowhere.  Everything was against them.  I followed through June…through July…through August, blinked my eyes, and oh my goodness – we’re about to win the division.  I hopped on for the ride and was ready to go wherever it took me.

Maybe all of this is really silly.  Baseball is only a game, and when all is said and done, the Red Sox really have no significant impact on any of us.  But my childhood is rooted in baseball, from playing catcher as an 8 year old, to staying up way past my bedtime when my mom let me watch the 2004 ALCS.  My first experience in Fenway Park involved watching two innings from the media booth with my girlfriend and good friend.  My name was read on the radio.  These experiences can’t be taken from me. Suddenly, watching the Sox play in the World Series means a tiny bit more.    

In the little life I have lived, new excitements have grown and old patterns have died. But baseball has always been there and will always be there – whether I’m a 10 year old on my mom’s bed watching Luis Gonzalez bloop a single, or holding a little body stable on my lap teaching my child the rules of the game, telling him or her about the time the Red Sox were in the 2013 behind that small Asian guy that liked hugging.  Maybe it’s in unrelenting consistency that I find my love for the sport.

I’m gonna go nuts if the Sox win.  I’ve already gone nuts over baseball.  But then again, it’s all so silly. 

And it’s only a game.

Rooting for Laundry from Melel Media on Vimeo.