Magazine article USA TODAY

Firing Up the Hot Stove

Magazine article USA TODAY

Firing Up the Hot Stove

Article excerpt

GLOBAL WARMING REPORTS to the contrary, winter is in full bloom here in the Northeast and it's absolutely freezing outside. Such bone-chilling weather can mean only one thing--no, not that Al Gore is in hibernation, but rather that baseball's Hot Stove League is in full swing, a glorious time for thinking, talking (and being thankful for) our national pastime, wart-ridden though the contemporary version may be. Reminiscing about the good old days--when curtain calls, styling at home plate, and not bothering to run out grounders was not quite so commonplace--my mind turned to a trip I made in the mid 1980s to attend a SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) convention.

It was my first venture to the Windy City and I instantly fell in love with that Midwest metropolis and all it had to offer--especially Wrigley Field (which, at the time, had no fights) and the since-demolished Comiskey Park (which, at the time, was major league baseball's oldest stadium, having been christened White Sox Park in 1910)--while being bemused at a number of the conference attendees. These were hard-core baseball researchers and trivia experts, completely out my league--although I thought I was pretty good--when it came to knowledge of the grand old game's storied and statistical past. Still. some of them were frightfully out of touch with the present-day game. These "baseball nerds"--for lack of a better term--could provide excruciating de- of crowning detail concerning games and events that had taken place a half-century earlier, but couldn't name the winning pitcher in yesterday's contest. These junkies of the past provided an interesting juxtaposition to the modern-day fans with whom I had frequently held sway. Ever-ready to proclaim the virtues of their favorite team, these neophytes knew practically nothing of that particular franchise's history. Discussions concerning former MVPs, pennant-clinching games, World Series heroics, heartbreaking late-season losses ... often drew blank stares.

This all came back to me recently when cleaning the basement and finding a bunch of my old Scholastic Books--you know, the ones you ordered in grade school, carefully filling in each title desired before giving the money to your teacher in an envelope. Not surprisingly, my entire collection for grades one through six consisted of nothing but baseball books. (Okay, that's not quite true; there were a handful of football, hockey, and basketball rifles scattered among the pries.) I began paging through the yellowing pages, fondly recalling how I was the top provocateur of baseball arguments at my elementary school (in junior high and high school, too, come to think of it). Then it hit me. I could not name the MVP of the just-completed 2008 World Series, even though I attended the three games in Philadelphia. I know he was a lefthanded starting pitcher, tall and thin with long brown hair--but his name ... sorry, not happening. Yet, I can rattle off pretty much all you'd ever want to know about the Phillies' previous World Series participants of 1915, 1950, 1980, 1983, and 1993. In other words, besides the passage of time turning me into an old man--and don't try to sell me on any of that stuff about 50 being the new 30--it's also made me into one of those "geeks" that so amused me way back when. …

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