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November 14, 2012

The Lineup Card

Seven Ways to Get Your Off-Season Baseball Fix

by Baseball Prospectus

‚Äč1. Shopping for My Daughter's First Baseball Glove
My 3-year-old daughter's favorite sport is baseball, mostly because she knows that daddy's favorite sport is baseball. But forgive me if I push the subject just a little bit. On Christmas morning, she'll find a brand new glove under the tree. The glove has to be perfect (because it's for my daughter), so I know I'm going to obsess over it, but she'll get one. And I'll dig out my old glove from junior high (with a genuine facsimile of Juan Guzman's signature) and I'll teach her to play catch. Or at least how to make an arm motion in a forward direction and let go of the ball roughly around the same time. But, she'll chatter about something or other while she does it, and I'll listen, and she'll ask a million silly questions and I'll answer all of them with, "Because he won the Triple Crown, sweetie." And it'll be the best time ever for both of us. Yeah, this winter, I'll get my baseball fix in my backyard on a warm Georgia winter day teaching my daughter about how awesome it is to just play catch. —Russell A. Carleton

2. Winter Baseball
One of the best ways to get your off-season baseball fix is by attending the week-long Caribbean Series, featuring the champions of winter ball in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela. Held in the first week of February, the annual series is a great sporting event, highlighted by numerous major-league players on the rosters of the four participants. The contagious atmosphere is surprisingly equivalent to college basketball's Final Four, as the ballpark rocks an hour before the first pitch and continues through each day's final pitch. The games have intensities similar to MLB playoff games, laden with strategy and suspense. The Dominican Republic's Escogido team is the defending champion.

The 2013 Caribbean Series will be played in Hermosillo, Mexico, and the plan is to play at a new facility named Sonara Estadio, which is scheduled for completion in time for the event. Famed Hector Espino Stadium would be the fallback option. Venezuela's Margarita Island will host the event in 2014, which is already on my calendar.

I strongly suggest that you follow winter baseball for the next couple months, as box scores are easily acquired, while games are available on the Internet and ESPN. Then you should seriously consider attending the Caribbean Series, an event that I have attended many times. It is a unique, must-see celebration of baseball that you will never forget.—Dan Evans

3. Catching Up on Prospects
The baseball offseason is a time where I swap much of the time I spent watching games with other baseball-related activities, namely catching up on prospects. A big part of that is reading updated scouting reports and rankings. In that regard, this offseason has been especially exciting. Getting to see the new BP prospect team's rankings has added a new wrinkle to things.

Also, I keep tabs on the performance of those playing in fall and winter leagues. The Arizona Fall League understandably gets most of the attention amongst these leagues, but a number of potential future big-leaguers are playing in the Caribbean Winter Leagues as well. Finally, I enjoy reading about trade rumors involving prospects and trying to make sense of blockbuster deals (such as Tuesday's mega-deal) that ultimately come to fruition. —Josh Shepardson

4. Doing Historical Research
When the MLB season ends, I usually try to make a trip out to the Arizona Fall League. When that's done, reality sets in and I get to work on research projects that have been sitting on the metaphorical shelf, collecting metaphorical dust. The research often has a historical bent, because I find where we have been to be at least as fascinating as where we are headed.

When I was writing books about the Padres, I always made a point of including chapters on the club's history. Sometimes they would be more recent, such as a recollection of the 1998 season or Tony Gwynn's 3000th hit. Other times they would go back further and examine, say, the best players by position in team history or the franchise's inaugural 1969 campaign.

As with any other research, I typically start with a question: What if the Rangers had taken Eddie Murray, Robin Yount, or Dave Winfield with the first pick in 1973 instead of David Clyde? Or if the Pirates had taken Mike Mussina in 1987 instead of Mark Merchant? What were some of the worst pitching seasons ever? (Matt Keough's 1982 says hello.) Was Cameron Drew seriously considered a better prospect than Craig Biggio? How might the Padres have fared had they signed Tim Raines as a free agent during the collusion era, or signed Todd Helton out of high school when they drafted him?

And sometimes it's just as simple as wanting to know more about the men that have played the game over the years. A voice that nags at me: People should know about Heinie Zimmerman, Spud Davis, or one of my all-time favorites, Max Bishop. Studying these people and their accomplishments keeps me connected to baseball while I wait for games to return. It is no substitute for fresh air and the crack of a wooden bat, but it beats the available alternatives. —Geoff Young

5. Catching Up on Baseball Books
I love buying books. The trouble is, I rarely find time to read them, so I find myself with shelves of unread tomes just waiting to have their bindings pinched. Baseball's regular season is usually the busiest time of the year for me, but I always find myself pining for ballgames during the sport's winter slumber. To pass the time, I combine my love of reading with my love of baseball and catch up on some baseball books. I anxiously anticipate the arrival of the annual baseball publications, but I also keep a few others on tap. This winter, I'm looking forward to diving into Joe Posnanski's The Soul of Baseball and Lawrence S. Ritter's The Glory of Their Times. —Stephani Bee

6. There's Only One Cure for Off-Season Blues
Hitting fungoes to my imaginary friends. —John Perrotto

7. R&R&R: Read, Research, and Recharge
Rogers Hornsby's oft-repeated winter to-do list—"stare out the window and wait for spring"—strikes me as a distinctly pre-Information Age plan for surviving the offseason. Now, we stare at our screens. And fortunately for us, there's much more to see while we're waiting: websites and winter leagues, mlb.tv and Twitter, baseball books and the WBC.

The winter we're just starting to slog through is the refractory period that follows the climactic end of the season. Since this is a family site, I won't take that metaphor much further, but the point is that the time we take now to recharge and reflect makes the next seven-month marathon possible. It's no substitute for new games, but it brings its own sense of satisfaction. It's when we discover things we don't know about the season we just saw, since there are never enough hours to see everything. It's when we focus on metafandom, catch up (or keep up) with the year's most brilliant baseball writing, and assess the implications of each move teams make. It's when we hear about Boras booklets and sources with knowledge of the negotiations and players' quests to be in the best shape of their lives. Immerse yourself in enough of the stuff surrounding the season, and you might find that by the time withdrawal really starts to set in, real baseball will be just about back again. —Ben Lindbergh

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