Friday, July 28, 2000

What Baseball Fans Do in the Off-Season by Mark Hughson

The off-season.  The words themselves bring up a horrible image.  We have a beautiful "Spring Training," a sweet "Summer Stretch," and of course the wonderful "Fall Classic."  But the off-season is just the off-season.  Sure players get a much needed rest, mildly exciting trades take place, and pitchers get their much needed psychiatric evaluations, but (by the way this is the plot of the essay) WHAT ABOUT ME????? 

Well, I'll tell you about me.  And I'll also tell you about what I, a baseball fan, do in the off-season.  I live in Central New York.  I'm a substitute teacher.  I'm single.  The off-season would be the nail in the coffin if it weren't for the exiting, exhilarating, and above all, exaggerated (trumpet sound here DA DA DA DAAA!!)

OFF-SEASON SURVIVAL GUIDE/KIT/THINGY!!  (The guide is presented in month-by-month order)(Duh)

Part October (Chances are, this month may be non-applicable to most fans)

If your team was in the playoffs or World Series, you’ve got the edge over some other fans (for instance me—an Oakland A's fan!!)  After the men have jumped all over each other, and the TV has shown the obligatory "losing-player-with-his-head-hung-low" shot, you've got one of two great ways to spend the rest of October...

1.  Celebrate.  Wear a hat.  Sing "We Are The Champions."  Do whatever.  It is up to you to let everyone else know that your team won.  I have a white t-shirt with black letters that says, simply, "MY TEAM WON."  I wear it every year and no one is the wiser (heh heh heh).  Oh boy—anyway...

2.  Curse.  Stomp on your hat.  Sing "Cheater Cheater Pumpkin Eater."  Do whatever it is you do to let everyone know that your team lost.  Save your tears in a bucket and then drown that guy in the cubicle next to yours whose been trash talking since August.  If some one comes up to you and says "tough loss, man" you come back at him with "NOT AS TOUGH AS THIS!" and then proceed to twist his scrotum off.  If the someone happens to be a woman, come back at her with "NOT AS TOUGH AS THIS!" and then proceed to walk away. She will not be physically harmed, but she will think twice next time she wants to console you...

Part November

November is a great month.  The air is crisp and clear, the leaves are carpeting the ground, the scent of apple pie fills the kitch...oh wait—no more baseball!!!  Ugh.  The month of November usually brings to mind various chores.  The annual dusting of the lamp, the inevitable chopping of the wood, and of course, the raking of the leaves.  But wait, leaf raking can actually be done for a reason this time!  Follow these steps my poor off-seasoners, and then the boring days of No-baseball-ember will be flying by...

Step 1:  Rake all the leaves in your backyard into a good-sized pile.  If you have no leaves in your yard, go steal some from a neighbor.  You also might try asking your neighbor if you could rake their yard and then take the leaves—your choice.

Step 2:  Get a good-sized garbage bag.  If you do not have a garbage bag, refer to the "neighbor" part of Step 1.

Step 3:  Fill up the bag with leaves.  Bet you didn't see that coming!!!!

Step 4 (the real ingenious part):  Decorate and costume-ize the filled garbage bag so it looks like your most hated catcher.  Dress it up in an old uniform, or paint the name and number on the back.  Put various team markings, such as an NY symbol, a big A, or possibly any number of animals all over the bag.

Step 5:  Here is the set up—imagine you are on third.  The ball is bunted by one of your teammates!!  It’s a squeeze, go for it!!  Run as fast and hard as you can, barreling over that catcher and knocking him on his autumnal butt.  You scored!!!  You won!!! You injured the garbage bag!!!   Yaaaay!!!!

Now here is where you say (in a mind boggled voice),"but why?"  I shall tell you numerous reasons why:

1.  It really is fun.

2.  You get lots of good exercise.

3.  You get to release 162 games worth of pent up frustration.

4.  You need to rake leaves anyway.

5.  They won't let you barrel the catcher in your softball league.

6.  It doesn't cost any money.

7.  Other awesome bonuses:

If the stuffing falls out, there is always more

You can pretend he is a batter and throw bean balls at him all day long.  If he starts to charge the mound—you know what to do!

If you get tired, you can use the bag as a pillow

If your neighbor sees you doing this, he'll never again ask to borrow any of your tools.

Part December

The holiday season may be a time of wonder and light, but for diehard baseball fans, it is but another 31 days of diamondless agony.  At this time of year, there are so many things to do and errands to run, one hardly has time to think about baseball, let alone personal hygiene.  If you have kids, you might as well forget about eating and sleeping too.  You have 744 hours of work to do, with no time or toilet paper to waste.  It may seem daunting at first, but here are 50* nifty ways to satisfy your ol' ball game needs while keeping up with the ol' torture...uh, I mean festive chores.

1.  Go to your local stadium and see if they have any extra night-game light bulbs lying around.  You know, the ones that make you see spots.  If you are always drunk at ball games, you might not have noticed a difference, but those lights really do make you see spots.  Take the bulbs home, string them up on your roof, and viola!—the brightest, shiniest, good-for-some-post-sundowm-bp decorations that money can buy and/or large bulky jackets can conceal.  Every evening you can be reminded of those summer nights when there was not a care in the world**.  When people drive by your house, they will look at your decorations and will see an astounding display: red spots, yellow spots, white spots...a kaleidoscope of holiday colors!  Yeah!

2.  It's the little things that count.  For instance, replacing baby Jesus in the nativity set with a Cal Ripken baseball card would be a nice touch.  You might also want to take out the manger and put in a dugout if time allows.  Putting a Dave Winfield doll on top of the tree might also be advisable.

3.  Cookies!!!!  Now I know you're thinking, "Oooh baseball shaped cookies, aaah..."  But really, I'm not writing this article because I'm an amateur.  Without further ado, a section that I like to call... Cookies that look like Major League Baseball Players.

Step 1:  Make the cookie dough.

Step 2:  Put small-fist-sized doughballs on the cookie sheet.  Randomly squish the balls down.  I have found that squishing them while making different sign language alphabet signs will give you the best results.

Step 3:  Bake in the oven.  Call mom for help if needed.

Step 4:  The analysis.  Look at each cookie from various viewpoints or in different ways (i.e. squinting eyes, sideways glance) and try to see what major league faces you have come up with.  About 79% of the time you will get a proballer.  The other 20% will look like past presidents or Walter Matthau, and the other 1% will look like a cookie that was squished weird.  When you are done examining each cookie, you of course have the option of eating it.  But why would you want to do that when you could be collecting them!!!!!  I myself have an impressive collection of Gaylord Perry's, Charlie Hough's, and even a Ken Griffey Jr.!  (To my knowledge, only myself and a chef in Wisconsin have a Griffey cookie - be jealous).  I also have the entire 1985 Kansas City Royals team.  It took a few batches but was well worth it***.

As you can clearly see (unless you've been looking at those stadium lights), December is no longer a problem for us fans.  Happy Holidays!!!!!

*The other 47 nifty ideas were cut from this piece due to space, and because they don't exist.

**Two possible cares in the world - "What is that stickiness under my seat!!??"  and "Can I make it to the bathroom and back before they reveal the answer to the trivia question!!??"

***This experiment was designed and intended for regular cookie making, the adding of chocolate chips and almonds will only give you nightmares...or possibly Patrick Ewing.

Part January

January.  This is like the seventh-inning stretch.  This is where you decide:  will I quit and go home and cry like a baby and act like a loser?  OR: will I strive on, stick it out to the very end, and act like a winner!  For those of you who chose the latter, read on.  For those of you who chose the former, hit the showers and never return*!  You disgust me.  If you don't have "the showers" at your house, wallowing on your flooded basement floor is also acceptable.

And so it is a new year.  Shall we make baseball related resolutions that we will never keep?  (i.e. "I will never again shout at the umpire through the television")...NO!  Shall we make snowmen that look like Fernando Valenzuela?  MAYBE!  Shall we practice blowing bubble gum bubbles and sticking them on peoples' hats?  YES, BUT NOT RIGHT NOW CAUSE I THOUGHT OF ANOTHER IDEA!!!  Don't waste your time with the previous suggestions—it's time for Mark's-Environmentally-Aware-Offseason-Time Consuming Project!!!

Most people throw out their Christmas trees.  It has served its purpose, now it must whither and rot like a retired baseball player who didn't put up Hall Of Fame numbers.  It's really sad.  But why waste that wood?  Why throw out the creative possibilities?  Why not take your Christmas tree and make it into a bat?  (Note:  This question is rhetorical...there are several reasons why—but you said you would stick it out—to the very end!!!)

Step 1:  Remove all the ornaments as haphazardly as possible.  Throw everything in a box and put it in the back of your closet.

Step 2:  Take off the tree branches.  They may be brittle and you can pull them off (depending on how late in January you start this project) may also use hedge clippers or other pruning instruments.  You may want to wear gloves for this step.

Step 3:  Whittle a baseball bat.  Start with a hatchet or bowsaw, cutting your tree/bat to the right length.  I have found that the bow saw if more efficient and safer, but the hatchet is way more fun.  Next strip off the bark with a bark stripper.  Remember to go lengthwise, up and down, with long, even stripping movements.  You may want to take more off at the handle end.

Step 4:  Sand.  Sand like you've never sanded before.  Surgically attach sandpaper to your palms and digits.  Change your name to Ryne Sandberg.  Become a sanding machine.

Step 5
:  You should now have a crude looking bat.  If not—hit the showers!  You'll have to try again next year!  You make me sick.  If you have a nice looking stick, move on to...

Step 6:  Decorate the bat.  A small knife should be good for carving initials, team names, or "Loserville Slugger."  Magic marker works nice also.

Well, that's it.  If you don't think this will be a time consuming project, try doing steps 1-6 using only a butter knife and your fingernails.  If you've made it this far, congratulations!!!  I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

*Losers will be able to watch the All-Star Game.

Part February (The Final Chapter)

’Tis a cold dreary month.  February holds no joy, except for maybe being able to laugh at Marge Schott because she got no valentines.  Now is the time to prepare, now is the time to think ahead.  You have been waiting and struggling all this time, it would be a shame to be out of shape come opening day.  Here are a few key warm-ups for all the baseball fans out there, young and old, and let's not forget the middle aged either...

Warm Up One:  Standing up.  For most of the winter season, you've been sitting on your rear.  Now is the time to practice standing up.  Now you may be saying, "standing up is easy," or "this is a dumb exercise," or possibly "I should give this article to my dog to crap on..."  But wait!!!  The dog can use a different article!  There are certain elements of standing up that MUST be stated here, and you MUST perfect them or suffer the consequences!

First, you must learn to stand up quickly.  When that hard drive shoots down the baseline you can't be taking your time, get your arse up!  It's almost like a jerking movement.  Pretend cables are attached to your torso, and you are being lifted straight up.  Do this 50 times a day.  If you need a break from the stand ups, try the lesser-known art of "seat leaning."  When that burly heathen who has a seat two down from you wants to come and go, you have to be ready.  I heard he has season tickets too. 

While you are standing up, practice leaning back, sucking in air, and willing yourself to be skinnier.  Any and all those things will help when people want to get by.  Trust me, practice now and you'll practically be two-dimensional by game time.  You'll be the envy of all end-of-the-row-spectators everywhere.

Warm Up Two:  Arm stretches.   Reach for the sky!  Reach for the clouds!  Reach for that foul ball!  The foul ball is one of the most fan interactive parts of the game, prepare yourself and reap the rewards (of getting foul balls).  Some may say that a good monkey bar hanging will improve your foul ball catching, but I say nay to that!  Hanging will make your arms too loose and dangly, and not enough like deadly vipers.  Are you going to let that 10 year old in front of you catch that ball?  You must have the desire, the skill, the sickness, in order to grab that baseball.

First you must do that arms in circles motion thing.  Big circles, then small circles.  Then move your arms and shrug your shoulders like you're doing the chicken.  Next, do that thing when you rest a baseball on your bicep/elbow joint, and snap your arms straight, so the ball pops up.  Finally, flex your fingers.  After doing these exercises, try to get some neighborhood kids to do them, so you can see how stupid it looks.  (You may also choose to exercise in front of a mirror.)

Warm-Up Three:  The final warm-up.  Yell.  Yell loud, long, and hard.  Push that voice to the max.  Strain that throat and practice projecting your voice.  If you want to shout something, you need to make sure it gets heard by the right ears.  For example, if you shout "ARE YOU BLIND!!!???" - and instead of the umpire receiving this heckle, it is heard by a blind man or woman - that would be bad.  A very embarrassing situation indeed.  To practice aiming your shouts, there are three ideal locations, depending on what specific skill you need to improve.  For general purpose shouting, try a movie theatre (advanced fans may do this in a dark theatre).  For distance shouting, try a bowling alley (stand at lane 1 and shout to lanes 5, 12, 29, etc).  For moving target shouting try an ice rink, or possibly a kindergarten classroom.

Finally...and there it is, the complete and absolute OFF SEASON SURVIVAL GUIDE/KIT/THINGY.   I hope you enjoyed the lessons, ideas, and crazy stunts.  Please try all of these at home.

Play Chess!  D'oh!  I mean ball!!

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