August 13, 2008
Lars Anderson is more than just one of the top hitting prospects in the game, because the 20-year-old native of Carmichael, California is also one of the most thoughtful and intellectually curious. Anderson bypassed a scholarship to Cal-Berkeley to sign with the Red Sox in 2006, and began this season in High-A. After shining there, he has continued to wield a potent bat since a mid-July promotion to Double-A Portland. The lefty-swinging Anderson, a 6'4" 215 pound first baseman, is hitting .317/.410/.520 with 16 home runs on the season, and impressing scouts along the way.
David Laurila: Who is Lars Anderson?
Lars Anderson: In what part of life? I can have a lot of personalities. I think there are periods in my life when I'm really confident and outgoing, where I have that feeling of invincibility; I can talk to anybody and kind of dictate where the conversation goes, and I can dictate how my at-bats go and how the game goes. I can control myself emotionally. But there are also times in my life when I'm pretty insecure and need assurance, because I'm not really comfortable with how my life is going; I feel like I need to make improvements constantly. It can almost be like a roller coaster. I was talking to my dad about my feelings the other day, about how I have this longing for something but can't really pinpoint what it is. When you're playing pro ball, you don't really have a home, because you're always in transit, so I'm trying to find a place in my mind that I'm comfortable with. He told me not to worry about it, that it's something that all 20 year olds go through; I'm not the first one, it just happens to be what I'm struggling with right now. So I'm like everyone else, going through periods where I'm feeling great, and others where I'm feeling not so great. I'm a pretty curious person about life-about other people and other things. I'm searching a lot, and searching leads to questioning. Sometimes that questioning is self-directed, about what I'm doing and what my motives are-a lot of stuff that can lead to some interesting realizations.
DL: How important is baseball?
LA: It gives a lot of people joy and something to look forward to, and life is at its best when you're happy and have something to look forward to. Sometimes that can be, "I can't wait for this game and to get to the field by seven o'clock." That's kind of small scale in the big scheme of things, but it's still a positive.
DL: Why do people play baseball?
LA: It usually starts out with parental oversight. The parents want to see their kids play sports, and maybe dad used to be a good ballplayer, so that's what he wants his son to grow up to be. I think that a lot of it is forced, initially. Obviously, there are other cases where the kid is the one who is passionate about it and says, "Dad, let's go play," or "Dad, can we go take some ground balls or take some batting practice?" But a lot of other times, sometimes when the kid is way too young, the parents are, "OK, you're going to play in this organized baseball league," even though you're just five years old. I saw a lot of my friends who weren't really that into it get forced to do it, and even if they were into it, there was so much pressure on them to be specialized into it that they just lost that passion and it became more of a chore. I didn't play organized baseball until I was nine, and it wasn't my parents saying, "Hey, you should do this," it was me saying, "Hey, can I do it?" Every day when my dad came home from work, I'd be in the kitchen, often with two of my best friends who lived right next door, and I'd say, "Dad, let's go play some ball," and he'd always say yes. It was never him pushing it; it was my friends and me initiating it. I've always had that passion for baseball.
DL: What drives that passion-what makes the game so much fun to play?
LA: It's such an interesting game; there are so many aspects of it. But that's a huge question: What makes baseball so much fun? For me, there's nothing more enjoyable than hitting a ball well, and seeing that trajectory, and having that feeling in the bat where it's almost a feeling of nothing, yet it's something. It's almost like magic. There's also the clubhouse stuff, where it's like we're all trying to fit into this life, or maybe I should say trying to feel wanted, or to feel at home. I think that a lot of times a clubhouse is a place where you relate to a lot of people's struggles, and also to their passions. A big attraction is the kind of camaraderie that you can find in a team. And it's just such a unique game, where every pitch is huge, where the game can change instantly. In basketball, a two-point bucket in the first quarter isn't all that important, especially compared to a two-run double in the fourth inning, because that could be the game. Or if a guy throws a pitch that he wants to be on the outside corner, and it ends up in the middle of the plate and gets hit out of the park, those three inches could decide the outcome. It's also such an interesting game from a mental standpoint. It's a constant struggle with yourself to be level-headed and positive; it's really an internal game.
DL: Have you ever looked around the clubhouse and wondered if your teammates view the game in much the same way that you do?
LA: A little bit. For me, it's more that I'm wrapped up in controlling my own thoughts and emotions and trying to stay positive, but I'll talk to guys and try to see how they approach certain things, but for the most part we all seem to kind of have the same struggle.
DL: You're in a position where you might make a lot of money playing baseball. How important is money to Lars Anderson?
LA: For my inner peace? In that respect, it's not very important. I think that once you get into a family dynamic-maybe you have a wife and a couple of kids-it probably becomes more important. But up to now, some of my happiest moments in life have come when I didn't have any money. I don't know-money seems to cause an awful lot of problems. You always want to live comfortably, but if I was in a position where I could choose comfort or lots of money, in regards to a place to play, I'd definitely choose comfort. Especially with the minimum salary-if you can't live comfortably with $400,000 dollars, you've got some issues.
DL: What are your thoughts on loyalty in baseball?
LA: That's an interesting question. I think that it exists, but the business part of the game probably overshadows it a bit. But I think that the two can coexist. You do have to approach it kind of selfishly and play for yourself, but you also have to play for your teammates and your ball club. And it's important to always remember that everything is temporary. It's a temporary relationship, whether it lasts a month or 10 years; it's a relationship that is going to end. Of course, that shouldn't draw you away from having a relationship and being friends with the club that you're with.
DL: How different are Lars Anderson the baseball player and Lars Anderson the person?
LA: Sometimes baseball is a real outlet, where I can get away from stuff that's bothering me off the field. Sometimes it carries over where I can take some of that negative energy into my at-bats. That's where it becomes kind of risky; you don't want to do that too much. I've done a lot better job of that this year, separating my baseball life from the outside life that I live. Baseball is a big part of my life, and something that's been important to me this year is that I've been able to find refuge from the rest of the stuff when I come to the field.
DL: You play the guitar. How important is music in your life?
LA: Man, I don't know what I'd do without it. Musicians are incredible. Melodies and lyrics are like a totally different voice. It's awesome. I can hardly even put it into words. I can say that there's a lyric in the song "For Members Only," by the band Northstar, which sums up the way I feel about music. It goes like this, "You move me like I've got new feet."
DL: What about literature?
LA: Reading is exercising a totally different part of the brain, and for me it's kind of an outlet from baseball. I've rarely read books about baseball; I like to read stuff that transports me to places of different thought. Right now I'm reading 1984, and other books I've read recently are Watership Down and Lonesome Dove. Probably my favorite authors are Charles Frazier, who wrote Thirteen Moons and Cold Mountain, and Barbara Kingsolver, who wrote The Bean Trees and Pigs in Heaven, which I thought was pretty inspirational. It's amazing to see how creative these people are; what they have in their minds is amazing. People like Tolkien and Orwell created languages to suit the characters in their books, and they're able to put in multiple stories and tie them together in a non-clichéd, blockbuster-movie kind of way. I think it's really cool, just how poetic they can be without being cheesy. I just really enjoy reading, man. It's totally a good way to stay centered.
DL: What do you think when you look at the Latin American guys in the clubhouse who are learning not only a new language, but also a new culture?
LA: It's really admirable. I don't think that we give them enough credit, or do a good enough job of trying to put ourselves in their shoes. I certainly don't put myself in their shoes enough, imagining what it's like coming to a strange country-not only the language, but the food and the way people act, the laws and regulations are different, there's different scenery. It's a totally different world, and for them to live independently-they don't have translators here-it's just really cool to see their development. I remember seeing how Manny Arambaris picked up English after he got here. When I first met him in spring training last year, he didn't know a ton, but by the end of the year I could carry on a conversation with him. It was great. And it's also healthy for us, because we get an opportunity to learn about their culture and language. That makes us appreciate things even more.
DL: Which parts of the world would you most like to visit?
LA: I've been to Europe and I'd love to go back and revisit some of the cities there. I don't know, man-there are so many places. I'd love to see South America; I'd love to go up north and see some of Canada, and maybe even go up into Alaska. I read the book Into the Wild, and it kind of gave me a nostalgic feeling for big mountains. I'd like to see Thailand, Nepal, Tibet; I'd like to visit India. There are very few places in this world I don't want to see. I'm a huge fan of different landscapes-how the earth is shaped and how it moves. And people, too. We're in a time where we're really plugged in as a culture, and I'm as guilty of that as anyone with iPods, computers, text messaging, and all this digital stuff. It seems like we don't have that many actual conversations with people, and traveling, you'd be hard pressed not to have conversations. My brother traveled for a year after high school, and I'm just really envious of that. I see the pictures and hear the stories, and I think about how much fun, and what kind of an adventure it would be. It's a big world out there, and there's a lot that I'd like to experience.
DL: Throughout baseball history, players like Bill Lee have been controversial because they thought outside the box and sometimes questioned authority. Do you ever fear that the same could happen to you, that you will be looked at as different?
LA: No. When I become insecure and defensive-when I don't feel confident-it's because I'm not doing what I want to do. I see Bill Lee as someone who said what he wanted to say, and did what he wanted to do, and anytime someone can do that they have a lot confidence in themselves and they have independence. If you say something that is controversial, and people don't like you for it, as long as you're comfortable with it, I don't really see a problem. So many prominent figures in history have been controversial because the majority of people didn't like what they said, but 50 years later they're looked at as heroes.