I have no interest in collegiate athletics. Not as on ongoing pursuit, at least. My reasons range from personal to political and ideological to idiosyncratic, but the experience of watching a single game is not among them. In fact, I greatly enjoy the odd, isolated college game, even if it's in a sport I generally don't follow. I'll never forget the fever pitch of the crowd at the lone Cornell-Harvard hockey game I attended, and I enjoyed watching my wife's alma matter win the NCAA men's basketball tournament, of which I watched only the final two games. As a student at Rutgers in the mid-90s, I regularly attended football games despite the fact that the team was awful. I enjoy sporting events, and have very little difficulty drumming up enthusiasm for almost any event I might attend in person, regardless of my lack of prior knowledge of the teams and players involved.
Curiously, I find that this is particularly true for collegiate athletics. I have no interest in following college sports over an extended period of any length, but presented with a single college game, particularly one that is not basketball or football, I have no problem enjoying the game and the sport for its own sake.
As you might expect, this is particularly true for baseball. Indeed, I found myself watching college athletes play baseball twice in the last week and those experiences rank high among my baseball highlights of the last week. On Tuesday, I got a last-minute assignment to cover the final game of the College World Series for SI.com (which I did, given the timing of the assignment, from my couch). I'll admit right here that I had never watched a full nine innings of the College World Series prior to that, including the first game of this year's final. However, I had no trouble fully immersing myself in Tuesday night's game, as I hope my write up made clear.
A week ago, when I was busy not writing this column, I was on vacation with my wife and daughter on Cape Cod and had the privilege of taking in a Cape Cod League game. The Cape Cod League, if you don't know, is very nearly the Platonic ideal of baseball. It is a summer league populated by college players who use wooden bats. The games are free, and the general vibe is similar to going to see a little league game, except that the players on the field are playing at roughly an A-ball level. The teams don't play in stadiums, but on fields in front of chain-link backstops. The fans sit on bleachers or in their own folding chairs. The scoreboard features only the essential game data, but the players on the field sometimes grow up to be Thurman Munson, Frank Thomas, Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Lance Berkman, Chase Utley, Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki, Evan Longoria, Buster Posey, Tim Lincecum, or Chris Sale.
Photo credit: USA TODAY Sports
Of course, you don't know who any of them are when you go see a game. It's only years later that you can look at the roster you were handed at the gate and see those familiar names. When you're at the game, you're not watching the players, you're just watching the game, and for someone like me who sometimes knows too much about the players and teams he is watching to be fully in the moment when watching a major league game, that can be a refreshing change of pace, if only because I'm completely stripped of my expectations. I don't have a looming sense of dread that this pitcher can't find the strike zone, or that this hitter is going to go down hacking in this big spot. I don't bring any of the cynicism or snark to the game that can be hard to shake when watching the players I spend the bulk of my waking hours analyzing (and subsequently being told via comments and Twitter that I've done so inaccurately or unfairly for whatever equally inaccurate and unfair reason). It's just baseball, and it's a good reminder, as was that College World Series assignment, of just how much I love the game itself.
I'd been to Cape Cod once before, in 2008, and caught a couple of games during that visit, during which I fell in love with the league. This year, however, it was even more special, because my daughter, who had not yet entered the picture during that previous visit, is four and insisted I explain the outcome of each pitch to her because, she claims, she loves baseball as much as I do. So she sat on my lap and paid close attention to two full innings of pitch-by-pitch explanations from her old man, quickly picking up on the home plate umpire's strike calls, choosing a favorite team from the two competitors (in this case the visiting Orleans Firebirds) and even a favorite player based on his being on her chosen team and his wearing her favorite number. The duration of her interest was surely aided in large part by the fact that we were able to easily acquire seats directly behind the backstop, making the action on the field very present and immediate to an easily-distracted four year old who was increasingly in need of dinner.
Still, as special as that was, I haven't checked a single Cape Cod League score since, have no idea where the teams we saw were or are in the standings, and have no interest in finding out. Nor do I expect to pay much attention to next year's College World Series unless I'm again assigned to cover it. As someone who has a habit of turning hobbies into occupations, I get far more from the ability to enjoy those games purely on their own merits, essentially as a non-fan, than I ever would from adding the happenings of another baseball league to my already addled mind. We all need that kind of break from time to time, though it's telling that even in taking a week off from being a baseball writer, I couldn't stay away from a baseball game.