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April 12, 2011

Wezen-Ball

Baseball When You're 10

by Larry Granillo

Joe Posnanski, the best writer in the business, recently started a podcast series (cleverly called "The Poscast") over at Sports Illustrated. His guest this week was his close Kansas buddy, Bill James.

Those two sentences right there should be enough to get pretty much any baseball fan, especially one who reads Baseball Prospectus, to go over and listen to the podcast. Even with all the talk about college basketball, it's as great a listen as you would expect. In his blog post describing this week's show, Joe says:

This week's Poscast I talk with Bill about college hoops, the meaning of bad starts, how well past performance predicts future and a bunch of other fun things. Bill also reiterates my own belief that we all think baseball is at its most perfect when you are 10 years old. Bill, as you might expect, puts it in better words.

"Baseball is best when you're 10-years-old." Or, to more precisely capture the conversation, "Baseball is best when you first discover it." It's not exactly a new sentiment, and it's certainly not exclusive to baseball - cartoons and comics are also best when you are ten, music is best when you're fourteen, etc. - but it's very, very true. Seeing that quote and listening to the podcast got me thinking about what was going on in baseball when I reached that stage of childhood (and I see it affected the guys at Baseball Think Factory in the same way).

I was born in late 1980, so age 10 for me would have been the 1991 season. My (obsessive) love of baseball, however, really took off in 1988 or 1989. I may have been young, but my baseball cards, my older brothers, and the general dominance of California baseball really kept me up-to-date. My interest waned in 1993 or so, giving me a four or five year window that could fit Joe's description.

It wasn't a bad time to be a baseball fan from California. The A's, Giants, and Dodgers made it seem easy to root for a winning team. Orel Hershiser had "59 and counting." Jose Canseco's race to 40/40 seemed to be an everyday update for me (my two older brothers were Dodgers and A's fans, respectively). There were the Bash Brothers, complete with ludicrous-but-awesome posters. Rickey Henderson broke Lou Brock's record. Nolan Ryan got his 5,000th strikeout and no-hitters number six and seven. Bo Jackson was the greatest athlete ever. Ken Griffey Jr. was going to break Hank Aaron's record. Roberto Alomar was young, but I knew he was going to be great - and I had his rookie card! Dave Stewart and Fernando Valenzuela, two of the greatest pitchers I had ever heard of, threw no-hitters on the same day, while seven different pitchers threw no-hitters in 1991. Cecil Fielder, Kevin Mitchell, and Terry Pendleton all came out of nowhere to have fantastic years, telling me that the landscape was open for anyone. Kirby Puckett hit a home run in Game 6 while I, thanks to a power outage, was forced to listen to it on the radio. Jack Morris and Game 7. Cal Ripken was my favorite player and he was terrific. Consecutive games, home run power, errorless games, an MVP... I felt pretty smart for having picked him as my favorite player at age 7. The list goes on.

And that's all off the top of my head. What makes it interesting and what proves Joe's and Bill's point is that, while I'm certain that I could come up with a fairly similar list for the last four or five years if I sat here long enough, I know that list would be much harder to put together than this one even though I've never watched more baseball in my life than in the last few years. And it's not that the late-1980s/early-1990s were much more interesting than today. Far from it. The difference is that, as a 10ish year old kid, all of those moments and all of those feats strike you with more emotion, with more awe. They leave a much larger impression than anything ever could fifteen years later, at age 25 or 30. In short, baseball is greatest at age ten because we let it. And there's nothing wrong with that.

What was it about age eight or age ten or even age six that made baseball so special for you? Have you seen anything recently that could top it? I'd love to hear your stories.

Related Content:  Bash Brothers

15 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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ScottyB

I fear JoePo will follow the Bill Simmons model of shifting away from actually writing and towards more and more podcasting

Apr 12, 2011 15:35 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Larry Granillo
BP staff

I sincerely hope that doesn't happen. I'm pretty sure Joe's more devoted to the written word than Simmons, though. Especially since Joe is still a senior writer at SI (and since the podcasts seem to be a directive from SI).

Apr 13, 2011 07:34 AM
 
R.A.Wagman

I was 10 in 1989. I was Canada's biggest Will Clark fan. Not really sure why. Maybe it was his rookie card eliciting awe and excitement in me that I could not otherwise explain. The Giants then made it to the World Series for the first time since well before my birth and entered game 3 down 2-0 facing Bob Welch. I remember reading in the newspaper that morning that Welch had a great history against the Giants from his days with the Dodgers. Scared for "my" team, I prayed to God for some form of intervention to prevent Welch from pitching. Needless to say that my relationship with God has never been the same. Baseball wavered for a time and returned with a vengeance when I was 21, returning home from a stint in the military.

Apr 12, 2011 18:58 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Larry Granillo
BP staff

Ah, yes. The earthquake Battle of the Bay. I meant to make a special mention of that, but I suppose I covered it in the "Giants, Dodgers, and A's are good" line. I remember everything about that very well, especially the painting you could buy that showed Clark and McGwire standing over SF Bay fighting over the pennant...

Apr 13, 2011 07:37 AM
 
Greg Pizzo

I was 10 in 1970 and it was all about the Orioles and the expansion Royals for me. Very vivid memories about those days. I wrote to every single team asking for photos, autographs, etc. and many, many sent big freaking manilla envelopes of material, but especially the Orioles stuck out for me.

Apr 13, 2011 04:25 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Larry Granillo
BP staff

I doubt there was a better year in Baltimore's history than 1970 to be growing up a baseball fan...

I read all the time as a kid about people getting things in the mail from teams, players, other famous personalities (like, say, Charles Schulz). I wish I had been smart enough to do that.

Apr 13, 2011 07:38 AM
 
kyleseifried

was 10 in 1990 in cincinnati when the redlegs when coast to coast and swept the a's in the finale. what a great year for baseball, after the tragedy that was rose's departure from the great game, w barry larkin leading the new pack, eric davis and paul o'neill smashing homers, chris sabo's goggles keeping a hawkeye from the corner and the nasty boys shutting down every other game

Apr 13, 2011 07:29 AM
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reznick

I was 8 and living in Manhattan in 1961. Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford. Need I say more? I think everything of interest that can be written about that season has already been published.

Apr 13, 2011 07:36 AM
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Drungo

I'm an Orioles fan, and my earliest baseball memories are losing the 1979 Series to the Pirates, when I was eight. I turned 10 during the '81 Strike. But the O's didn't have a losing record from the 1968-1995, so this was a perfect time to be a young fan. Doug DeCinces was my favorite player, and I'd write out my own fanclub newsletter and post it in my tree house. I'd keep score on graph paper in my parent's kitchen, listening to Chuck Thompson and then Jon Miller. I cried when the O's lost to the Brewers on the last day of the '82 season and Earl retired.

Yea, it was pretty great.

Apr 13, 2011 08:34 AM
rating: 1
 
toanstrom

I was also 10 in 1991 and in addition to everything else that's been mentioned I remember the rise of the Braves, the '91 Tigers who taught me more about the value of OBP than any run distribution chart ever could (Phillips, Fielder, Deer, Tettleton, Whitaker, Fryman, Inky -if a TTO All-Star was playing he was probably on those Tigers), and watching the 1992 expansion draft (the idea of NEW baseball teams was incredibly exciting to me.)

Apr 13, 2011 10:20 AM
rating: 0
 
RedsManRick

Ah, the posters. I loved my Red Hot (Barry Larkin on the field)) and 44 Magnum (Eric Davis next to a giant gun loaded with baseballs) posters. I think they still might be at my parents' house somewhere.

Apr 13, 2011 10:49 AM
rating: 0
 
asstarr1

I was 9 in 1984 and cable TV was had just made it's way to northern WI. After listening Harry Caray call a game, and watching Ryne Sandberg beat the Cardinals all by himself I was hooked. I spent the summer rooting for guys like Jody Davis, Keith Moreland and Steve Trout. I would go out and bounce a tennis ball off the garage roof, thinking I was Bob Dernier tracking down fly balls. Being stunned when that ground ball got by Leon Durham. I've become a Brewers fan over time, and the one thing I can say is that seeing that same sparkle in your child's eye can take you back to that place, even if his favorite player at the time was Doug Davis.

Apr 13, 2011 11:07 AM
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matthewkenerly

I didn't become a sports fan until 1993, when I was 9 years old, and my first vivid memory of being a Giants fan was sitting in front of the TV in disbelief as Salomon Torres got crushed on the last day of the season. I joined Little League that year and wanted to be just like Matt Williams, a third baseman, despite the fact I was left-handed and couldn't really hit at all. I still look back and wonder how that team, with 103 wins, could come up short in the last great pennant race.

That first bitter impression made a lasting impact, I think, because before the Giants won the World Series, each subsequent disappointment seemed to sting more than the last. Devon White, Game 3, 1997 NLDS. Rod Beck closing out the one-game playoff in 1998 as a Cub. Bobby Jones, whom I respect as a fellow Fresno native, inexplicably baffling Bonds and Kent and company in 2000. Game 6 of the 2002 World Series. Jeff Coninw throwing out J.T. Snow to end the '03 NLDS...

Yes, TGWTWS, but somehow it's still difficult to let go.

Apr 13, 2011 11:12 AM
rating: 0
 
fatted

I would have been 10 in the 1997 season and that was Scott Rolen's rookie year. I was a little league third basemen and loved scott rolen. I remember the '93 phillies and their world series run. My favorite players were John Kruk, Darren Daulton, and Scott Rolen. Kruk was gone and Daulton was on his way out, but I was a little leaguer who tried to play like Rolen. I remember later all the drama about his contract situation and him getting traded. I remember feeling like I was supposed to be angry at him, but I didn't care, I was just pissed he wasn't on the Phillies, but I still rooted for him.

Apr 14, 2011 05:24 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Larry Granillo
BP staff

Great answers. So many people telling great stories of being around their team when they were great... I wonder how many of us became fans at that age when our teams were bad - like, say, late 1970s Indians or early Mariners, mid-80s Yankees, etc.

Like I said, Cal Ripken was my favorite player at age 7, and that was when the O's were 0-21. Of course, i lived on the opposite side of the country...

Apr 14, 2011 18:11 PM
 
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