November 2, 2008
From Curt Schilling to Nate Silver, a growing number of baseball notables have offered their opinions and analysis, and not only on the pennant races, but also on the political races. Cleveland Indians left-hander Jeremy Sowers has a degree in political science from Vanderbilt University, and you can now add his name to the list. Sowers talked about his two favorite subjects, pitching and politics, when the Indians visited Fenway Park in the last week of the regular season.
David Laurila: How would you describe Jeremy Sowers?
Jeremy Sowers: As a player, and as a person, I'm pretty quiet and reserved. I guess that I fit some of the molds of what you'd expect a left-hander would be: a little bit off the wall, and a little obscure at times. I've been playing this game my whole life, so it's definitely a comfort zone for me, but there's also a lot of other stuff that I do take interest in. I'm obviously very into the presidential race that's going on right now. I'm particularly excited that I'm voting in Virginia this year, which is where I bought a house a year ago, because it's one of four or five states remaining that nobody really knows how it's going to swing. That could make my vote important, I suppose, or perhaps it will give me an opportunity to hear a candidate; I did get to hear John Kerry four years ago, which was interesting, to say the least. I was in Wheeling, West Virginia, which is a pretty blue-collar, mining, steel-working kind of area, so there were some pretty intense guys talking up there. I think Ben Affleck was there, too-that was the big keynote thing of it-and it's kind of ironic because we're talking here in Boston and he pays close attention to the Red Sox.
DL: What are your views on the American political process?
JS: It's kind of ironic that we call ourselves a democracy, when by definition we're a republic since we vote elected representatives to basically do everything for us, which is kind of the way you have to get it done when you have 300 million people in the country. I think it's kind of funny how, in this election in particular, it seems like the campaign has been going on for two straight years. Especially with how dragged-out the Democratic primary was, and even to an extent the Republican one. It's actually quite amazing how many hours upon hours the news sources have devoted to more or less regurgitating the same stories. I'm also a little disappointed by the ability of people to be swayed by the petty stuff, you know, the one-liners that Obama might say, or Senator McCain might say. There's the really poor nature of all the ads right now; I'm kind of waiting for that one candidate to have an ad that says, "This is what I believe and this is what I think we should do. Vote for me for president." Instead, it's "Barack Obama wants to teach sex education to kindergartners," which, more or less, is taken out of context in the sense that he was talking about sexual predators, not necessarily the birds and the bees.
DL: What are your early impressions of Sarah Palin?
JS: It's too early to write a book about Sarah Palin, until she exposes herself a little bit, which I guess will happen at the VP debate. I did read about how some media people are getting a little frustrated with their lack of access to her, so they were going to boycott something she was doing at the UN. I'm not sure how far that has gone, but it's pretty interesting.
DL: Do you feel that racism and sexism are playing roles in the presidential race?
JS: Whether we want to admit it or not, probably. There are certain people who are going to vote a certain persuasion. Certain women were very inclined to vote for Hillary, because she is female and represented a lot of what they believed in, and the same thing with Obama and the same thing with McCain, so it would be na´ve to assume that it wasn't. I guess that you just kind of hope that the overlying preference, or priority, of people is not necessarily what the sex of the person, or the race of the person is, but rather what they're going to do for the economy or how they're going to handle foreign policy-how the war is going on, and whatnot. And I'd like to assume that most people are, so I don't think that's going to affect the race so much as where we'll stand (on Election Day) in regards to things like the bailout and the turbulence in Washington.
DL: When did you start taking politics seriously?
JS: I didn't get extremely interested almost until I left school. I think that once you start earning a paycheck-and I got married a year ago, which may have had an impact on it-it's just kind of being thrust out into the real world, as opposed to being in school where you're kind of sheltered from responsibility. By those things happening, I started utilizing the information I learned at Vanderbilt. And, honestly, because we're on the field playing baseball for so much of the year, you kind of need some sort of an escape, some sort of an outlet. For me, politics and reading a lot of books about that stuff has helped out a lot. I actually spent most of this year reading Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, which might be one of the longest, most dense books I've ever read in my life. And it's kind of funny how all of that stuff is kind of relating to each other, now that I'm in the real world, versus college where I'd get up, go to class, and then play some baseball, hang out with friends, and then call it a day.
DL: Are there politics within the power structure of baseball?
JS: There might be in terms of teams getting particular attention and whatnot, because of various media outlets and their emphasis. But I'd like to think that the playing field is pretty even-keeled in baseball compared to a lot of other sports, in the sense that we've had a lot of teams that have been able to compete year in, year out, without having, for lack of a better term, a high payroll. I don't think that's necessarily indicative of putting together a good team, or necessarily damning of the way a team approaches things. Like these guys out here [the Red Sox]-they have a high payroll, but they've also brought a ton of talent up from within their system, and they've got the right players. So there's more of a science to it than, I suppose, a person being like, 'Well, the Red Sox are back in it only because they have one of the highest payrolls.' That's absolutely not true.
DL: Is baseball more of a Democratic game or more of a Republican game?
JS: I could quote Bull Durham, where Crash Davis tells Nuke LaLoosh to get more ground balls instead of strikeouts. I guess you've got your strikeout pitchers, who are more like your authoritative governments than your ground-ball pitchers, which I guess would be most of us considering that if you have more than one strikeout per inning you're going to lead the league. So, I'd call it pretty democratic. Everybody is contributing. Somebody else might tell you what to do, but it's somebody new every day, kind of finding a way for the team to win.
DL: Do you have dual personalities: the political-science academic, and the baseball player?
JS: I certainly don't like wearing that stuff on my sleeve. I like engaging in debate, but politics isn't something that's going to run free in the clubhouse and be argued back and forth. We're usually in heated debates about which college football conference is the best or something like that. You have the SEC guys ganging up on the Big 12 guys ganging up on the Pac 10 guys, and all around. Obviously, in a clubhouse full of guys, your stuff is usually going to be parlayed more to sports and stuff like fantasy football. There are a few guys who get into politics, but most of the arguments tend to be sports related.
DL: Well-educated players often get accused of thinking too much, especially when they aren't playing well. Is that a fair stereotype?
JS: I can see the stereotype, but it almost seems like an easy out. If you're going to accuse a guy, and say the reason he's playing bad is because of over-thinking-the best way to win in this game is to simplify things. But if everything is going well, everything is very simple and it's easy to simplify things, whereas when you're scuffling, perhaps there are certain tendencies for guys to over-think things. It's like you have to be smart enough to know that things are going to turn around, and that you kind of just have to trust yourself, as opposed to tinkering and thinking about things. But I guarantee you that everyone who has ever played this game has gone on both sides of that. I think it's just a matter of peaks and valleys in the season. When you're slumping, you're trying to figure it out, and when things are going well, everything makes sense; when somebody says, 'do this,' it seems like the easiest thing in the world. So, I wouldn't necessarily connect that to the more mathematical and analytical guys.
DL: Are you ever guilty of over-thinking on the mound?
JS: I think that for whatever reason, I trust myself when I'm out on the mound, whether it's going good or bad. However, that being said, in between starts, whenever things are going good, it seems like everything is easier. When things are going bad, I'm always kind of thinking, 'maybe I didn't do this right,' or 'I need to do this'-I'll definitely over-think it. But, once again, I think that's something we're all guilty of. It's a very, very peculiar thing, the idea of confidence and no confidence. It's very elusive, and when you have it, the world is just really, really easy.
DL: When you're looking in from the mound, are you thinking about the hitter's hot and cold zones?
JS: Not so much in the sense of hot and cold, but in the sense that you try to keep balls lower than you do higher. It's one of those things where if you simplify things and just try to hit the glove, everything else is kind of going to be set for you out there; everything is in place. Kelly Shoppach is setting the glove up where he knows the pitch needs to be; maybe that's where the guy's cold zone is, or it's just a place where it should get you an out. So, it's just a matter of throwing the ball between the catcher's shoulders and chest, into his glove. I'm probably a bad example when it comes to being very analytical out on the mound, because for whatever reason I'm not. Sometimes I'll think, 'I need to put a ball here to get a ground-ball double play,' or, God forbid, a strikeout, which isn't the easiest thing to come by when I'm pitching. And everything happens so fast out there sometimes too, that you don't necessarily have time to process everything until you come off the mound. Then it kind of starts coming across, like, 'Oh, this is everything that happened right here.' It's also pretty common sense when you leave a pitch up, and a guy hits it-you know that you left it up. And every now and again you'll throw a good pitch, and a guy gets a hit, and at this level it happens more than it does at most other levels, for obvious reasons. The hitters are better. So you kind of have to rationalize that stuff.
JS: I know that Sal Fasano definitely thinks so, in terms of patterns and seeing a couple of pitches ahead. I personally don't play chess. If I tried to play one of them in chess, I'd totally get waxed. I like doing crossword puzzles, so I guess that's my way of thinking outside of the box, sometimes. I think it's more of an idea of keeping your mind alert and thinking in a creative way, and that kind of opens the door for that other stuff. The more you keep your brain working, the better it's going to be. Instead of sitting in front of the TV and watching SportsCenter, you can read a paper, do a crossword, or play some chess. There are probably six or seven guys playing, every day, in our clubhouse. I just don't happen to be one of them. For some reason, I've just never played the game. I'd like to, but it's one of those things where I never really got started.
DL: What would it be like to pick up the New York Times crossword puzzle someday and have "Jeremy Sowers" be one of the questions or answers?
JS: That would be pretty interesting, but I'd have to figure out if my name was one of those ones that are able to be filled in, because you always come across the same nine or ten different names. So I don't know if Sowers is one of those kinds of names-it might be; you might be able to fit it in. Of course, it would have to be on a Friday, because not many people know my name.