Thanksgiving has some damn nerve showing its face again, with its shameful racist past, the forced participation of the team from Detroit, and the guarantee it will ruin the “OK boomer” meme when it will be provoked approximately 100 million times throughout the day. Yep, it’s the Major League Baseball of holidays.
Sometimes it is hard to remember the good part of Thanksgiving, even though — spoiler — it is literally the — you ready? — first 50 percent of the name of the holiday. Some of us might have to dig deeper than others, but we all do have reasons to feel gratitude. We here at Baseball Prospectus are used to difficult assignments, and managed to determine and share our personal thoughts and words of appreciation. May you all find your own, and recall them with as much ease as possible, in the weeks, months, and years ahead.
I’m Canadian, so we went through our Thanksgiving about a month ago, but that doesn’t mean I can’t drum up some thanks as we go boldly into the long darkness to winter hoping for the best.
I write primarily about two teams, and they are on polar ends of the spectrum for thanks this season. When it comes to the Tigers, there wasn’t a heck of a lot to be thankful for if I’m being honest. By the win-loss column, I’m thankful they didn’t make the wrong kind of history by losing the most games of all time, but by all accounts it was the worst season most fans can recall.
That said, I’m grateful for the glimmers I see, however remote, in players like Casey Mize and Matt Manning. I am grateful they did not trade Matthew Boyd, though that may still happen this offseason. And I’m thankful the contract of Jordan Zimmermann is almost done so the team might consider spending again.
When it comes to the Rays, I have a lot more to be thankful for. Young talent! A stacked farm team! A trip to the ALDS (which in retrospect with this Astros scandal maybe they should have won?) I am thankful for Tommy Pham, who is so hardcore he played half a season with a broken hand. I am thankful for Charlie Morton, who seems to get better with age. And more than anything I’m thankful for a team that looks to only be getting started.
The worst and the best of a season.
Sometimes it’s tough to love baseball. A seemingly unending cascade of scandals assaults our sensibilities year round. There’s the Astros stuff, the proposed cancellation of 42 minor league teams, the other Astros stuff, Felipe Vázquez, the other other Astros stuff, and so on. We stand on the precipice of what will likely be yet another depressing offseason, with billionaires crying poverty and refusing to bid on free agents to improve their teams.
During the regular season, real baseball acts as an anesthetic. Whatever crap goes on in the headlines, we can always just turn on a game and appreciate the beauty of the sport itself. Unless you follow winter leagues (which isn’t a bad idea), there’s no bullet to bite in the offseason.
Personally, I choose to alleviate the pain with games, such as Strat-O-Matic and Out of the Park. My winters are occupied, at least in part, by ranking players for the rookie draft and peppering my league with somewhat outlandish trade proposals. (Yeah, I’m that guy. Every league has to have one.)
These games are great time-killers, but more than that I relish the total control. The players are nothing but bits of code. They don’t cheat, commit violence, or tweet hate speech. If the owners or commissioner’s office behave with greed and poor foresight, who cares? They don’t exist beyond my hard drive. They belong only to me, and exist for my amusement. If they displease me, I can just reboot.
The simplicity is a refreshing juxtaposition with the overwhelming sludge of real life, especially in the offseason. That’s what I’m thankful for.
In early October, I woke up to a call from my mom thinking it was my alarm. My grandmother had died, she told me. My alarm went off two minutes later.
I haven’t encountered too much death in my life. A lost grandfather; some high school classmates I wasn’t close with; a college friend I sat by in Argumentation sometimes. So far in my life, death has been on the fringes, easily pushed away from dwelling in my head. And even with my grandmother’s passing, I didn’t feel the weight of finality. She had battled with Alzheimer’s for about a decade, her mind gone to the point that I barely knew her and she surely didn’t know me.
But there was another death this year, still on the fringes of my life, that did get to me. Like many of us, my hobbies in life are baseball, writing, and fantasy baseball. Simple diversions filled with poetic grace. I joined a new fantasy baseball league for 2019, my fourth, that included a smattering of Baseball Prospectus writers, one of them being Rob McQuown.
I never knew Rob outside of the league, and when he died in July, I had nothing to say in remembrance really. But Rob was part of my baseball community and all of our baseball communities. From the words that people did post after his death, I was reminded just how special all of the baseball people I do not know are and continue to be.
My only Rob story is that in May, I traded him Yasmani Grandal for Yusei Kikuchi straight up. I was bullish on Kikuchi, had too many catchers, and really didn’t understand how Ottoneu worked yet. It was, and is, a horrible trade. Later, Rob posted on the message board asking for everyone’s “most boneheaded move of the season” to which I offered that trade as mine.
“Hoo boy,” he replied, “if I had a nickel for every sub-ideal talent evaluation I’ve made!” It’s silly, but in that moment, Rob made me feel as if I wasn’t the newbie, the unqualified interloper hiding behind an inherited team.
So this Thanksgiving, I want to give thanks to all of you baseball people I do not know. You are the ones who convince me to log onto the hellscape of Twitter every morning for your encouragement, insight, analysis, outrage, and jokes. Oh god, the jokes.
I’m thankful for this community that builds people up and fights against injustice. And I’m thankful for Rob and my grandmother and everyone else who doesn’t know me but loves me all the same. You all make each morning worth looking forward to, no matter what news the alarm may bring.
I’m thankful for a cup of coffee in Denver. It was a Sunday morning in early November when I walked into an independent coffee shop on 25th Ave. The owner was in fifth gear, filling complicated orders for things like oat milk lattes and CBD-infused ginger teas, while I waited contentedly for my old-school coffee and cake. Then I saw the Washington Nationals World Series Champions cap tossed over a display of energy bars and I picked it up, crying out “Nationals!” I was wide-eyed with delight. The owner turned to me in obvious surprise.
Then, through his whirlwind of beverage preparation, we conducted a dense and joyful recap of the entire postseason in a shorthand of numbers, dates, and names, which we laced with our powerful feelings of waiting and reward. It was surely a foreign language to the customers scattered around the shop, sharing smothered burritos and local gossip. Our conversation didn’t last more than about three minutes and it was all we needed. “I’m from DC,” he told me. “I started following them in 2005 when I was in high school. You?” “Since 2015,” I said. “I love Max Scherzer so I follow him wherever he goes. But I saw the 2014 NLDS. I can tell you what I was eating in the 18th inning.” “Oh,” he groaned. “That game.”
He let me try on his hat and it felt awesome to put it on. It all felt awesome, that unanticipated glee, two people overflowing with the happiness of a moment never to be repeated, intimate, like a secret handshake. Like finding family in total strangers. Our teams set the stage for these moments, and then we fans complete them by bonding over dreams fulfilled.
He said, “The coffee’s on me.” I returned the cap to its proud display over the rack of energy bars, and said the only thing possible under the circumstances. “Thank you. I’m grateful.”
I recently attended the FanGraphs Live! panel in New York City. It was great fun, both listening to smart people talk about baseball for three hours and getting to say hello to a handful of writers whose work I’ve enjoyed. I’m thankful that I attended and enjoyed it, but I’m especially thankful for one specific thing that was said. I don’t remember the context or prompt, but Craig Edwards said (paraphrased), “I thought for a long time that I was lazy, but it’s actually that I just have a very narrow band of things I really give a crap about.”
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about that, and how strongly it resonated with me. I spent a lot of my school years and post-school years trying to really figure out… myself, for lack of a better word. Putting effort into the things I really care about has never been an issue, but the slog of putting effort into everything else has always been a struggle. Hearing “Everyone feels that way” never really made me feel better about it. It hasn’t been as much of an intrusive worry in 2019, as I’ve been full-time employed and mostly content, but on the occasions that it did come up it always made me feel like I was doing something wrong.
Hearing that sentence didn’t necessarily make me think “Oh, I’m just like everyone else,” but it did make me realize how I felt about life, and that made me think “Oh, I’m not the only one to feel like that.” I’m thankful that I’m part of a community that can inspire such personal realizations. I’m thankful that I’ve found a niche in the world where I can think and write about these things and feel normal doing it. And I’m thankful that I was in just the right place and time in my life to hear that message in such a way that it finally clicked into place.
For balance over moderation. For the art of pitching. For the fact that the effectiveness of each pitch lies heavily in the fact that it might be another. That a 101 MPH fastball is useless if not for the chance that it might be an off-speed pitch instead. That that very same 101 MPH fastball is as hittable as a 74 MPH fastball if either is the only pitch that a pitcher can trust. That this lesson in balance is almost universally applicable.
This year I’ve held down five jobs —by choice — and each has substantially contributed in my efforts to finally be a happier and more content human. My day job — helping to run a small family business three days a week — is the fastball that everything else works off of. My night job — writing and performing original short plays four nights a week — is the slider, the out pitch, and the one I’m always the most eager to throw. Playing in a band — the curveball. The first offspeed pitch I learned how to throw, and maybe not super effective, but it can still get me out of the occasional jam with runners on and a tough lefty at the plate. Teaching — just a once a week, 8-week night class at the theater — is the split-finger fastball I grew up assuming I’d always throw, only to learn that the grip isn’t super comfortable; it sinks too early and gets by the catcher too often for me to want to throw it with much regularity. And finally, writing here for Short Relief — the knuckleball. I’m sure I don’t have it figured out yet, I never know where it’s going to go and I certainly haven’t gotten my hands all the way around it, but it’s fun and I’m grateful just to be able to try it. That I’m fortunate enough to dabble and experiment in the Pitch Lab out of want rather than need. Everything in balance, nothing in moderation. Happy Thanksgiving.
When I say that I’m thankful for baseball it has a different meaning for me than for most, I suspect. In my case, my thanks are for the fact that I now have access to many different leagues the world over. I used to be one of the many who thought that there was Major League Baseball and not much else to the world of professional baseball. My world expanded slightly when I discovered that I could stream Minor League Baseball regularly. That expansion pales in comparison to my current baseball viewing which is largely shaped by unaffiliated, or independent, leagues.
Now if I want to I can watch pro leagues from Mexico, Korea, Taiwan, Italy, Nicaragua, Argentina, etc., and I’m not just restricted to male leagues either. I can watch women’s professional baseball from Japan and pretty soon from Australia as well. We live in an unprecedented era of access. Every single day I am thankful that there is baseball going on that I can watch in the comfort of my own living room. Affiliated baseball may be in a particularly rough patch in terms of labor and economics, but access to the sport of baseball has never been better and we should all be as thankful as can be for that fact.
This was the hardest October. We’re no strangers to baseball as balm here at Short Relief, but it’s a thing that bears repeating. My husband and I drove home from the veterinarian with an empty cat carrier on the 4th of October, an airy box of plastic and one metal grate, rattling as it bumped against the thigh and feeling heavier than it ever, ever did. We sat in front of the TV while the Yankees beat the Twins and the Nationals beat the Dodgers and I don’t remember anything that actually happened in either game, but I’m thankful there was baseball. Thankful for the sound of something familiar in the absence of so much else.
Two weeks later, two friends from high school passed from cancer. The days of Game 1 and Game 3 of the World Series. Between Odyssey of the Mind, field hockey, soccer, catechism classes, and all the shared experiences that come from a small school like mine, these women, mothers both, not yet 40, and I shared hundreds, or rather thousands of hours with each other. How little we’d interacted in the last two decades didn’t assuage the feeling of loss, the deep sense of subtraction carrying through so many people I knew. I’m glad baseball was there. Even if I didn’t feel much like caring about the outcome of the games, even without the energy to stay up for the ending of basically anything, even though baseball was in its own annual diminishing—a thing that lands on me like a dark cloud every year no matter what else is happening—even on the worst of the days, there was a rhythm I could count on.
On a slightly brighter note, I’m thankful, too, for that Bryce Harper walk-off grand slam in mid-August against the Cubs. I’ve never heard such a perfectly satisfying sound as the ball coming off that bat, that night. There was a gift to replay, over and over, in that interior stadium Roger Angell reminds us we can build.
It’s Saturday, September 28th. I am watching the penultimate Met game. (I think Pete Alonso had already hit his record-setting 52nd homerun already, but if not he was mere minutes away from doing so.) I scroll through Twitter, where @Mets has given away suite tickets for the last game of the season. It catches my eye: My friend Kirsten is the winner.
She asks me if I want to go with her. I haven’t seen her in months. I’ve never sat in a suite. And maybe Pete Alonso will hit number 53.
Pete doesn’t hit 53. The game is meaningless. Mickey Callaway refuses to put in Juan Lagares, who’s playing his last game as a Met. He refuses to put in Dominic Smith, who battled back from an injury that kept him from playing in the best part of the Mets’ season, but not from cheering his team on from his little scooter. I send some annoyed tweets.
The Mets are up by one going into the ninth inning, so of course Atlanta ties it up and they go to extras.
Mickey does put Juan in, eventually. He pulls out Pete Alonso for Dom. I have spent three years defending Dom from the haters, including my own mother. I am so happy to see him play again.
The Mets give up two runs in the top of the 11th. We should go home. We don’t. We sit in our suite and eat free popcorn and drink free Diet Coke. I feel foolish, but it’s a beautiful afternoon to watch the Mets lose.
The Mets rally. Dom Smith is up with two men on and two outs. He hasn’t had a plate appearance since late July. He should strike out. He should ground out. We should go home frowning.
Instead, on the first pitch, he hits a walk-off homerun. I still get chills when I think about it. Some part of me still can’t believe it happened.
I am thankful my friend won tickets that day and invited me with her. I am thankful I get to watch players like Dom Smith who bring joy to the game. I am thankful that baseball is still so magical and so ineffable that things like this can happen when every piece of logic tells you they’re impossible. And I’m thankful for the promise of more.
I started editing Short Relief back in July. In my introductory email to the writers I pledged to be the exact opposite of what Mitchum Huntzberger was to Rory Gilmore. Nobody acknowledged my Gilmore Girls reference, but otherwise it has been a pleasant experience. I get to read the work of these great folks before the rest of the world and then get paid to basically just copy and paste them onto the CMS. (Some aren’t as fond of the em dash as myself — nobody’s perfect.) Once in awhile I choose a title and/or picture that perfectly augments the material, and when this is confirmed by others it makes my weekend. (Those were two fun weekends.)
I’m also appreciative of Craig Goldstein and the higher-ups here for never telling us to adhere to games, or some other phrase of that nature.
I’m thankful that I’m, uh, alive. It’s cool to be alive sometimes.
*And a begrudging thanks to Evan Drellich of The Athletic for putting the Alonso-Dwyer comparison in my head forever.
“Munns had gone to the relief of Ownie Carroll, who had done a bit of all right for seven semesters, allowing only three runs and five hits… Hal Lee, however, relieved the monotony of the goose eggs by slapping a triple to right in third, and an old fat bloke by the name of Shanty Hogan belabored one to center on which Lee scored.”
— George Kenney, New York Daily News, 1934
Shanty Hogan, 28 years old and at that moment a career .301 hitter, crumpled up the evening edition of the News and tossed it under the table of the owl wagon where he was in the process of consuming his third stack of blueberry pancakes. It was late November and we were barnstorming through the warm Deep South. Well, he was; I was just along for the ride. “Who does that SOB think he is?” he said directly after forklifting a hefty wedge three layers deep into his mouth. Crumbs sprayed forth in a majestic arc.
“An SOB,” I agreed, flinching. “That knowledge gives one a lot of license.”
“License to sell papers on my ass,” Shanty said. “Can you get a beer here?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Dammit.” He waved to the waitress and held up his empty coffee mug. Satisfied she had seen him, he set it down and returned his attention to his plate. “You try these? Damn, they’re good.”
It didn’t matter where his travels took us; he always thought they were good.
“No; it’s a bit late in the day for hotcakes.”
“As an American, it’s your right to have a hotcake any time you want ‘em.” He chewed thoughtfully. “God, that Kenney guy pisses me off. Where was he when I hit .340 for McGraw?”
“It was .339,” I corrected. “And he’s got his rights too, like freedom of the press. He can call ‘em like he sees ‘em.”
“Even if it ain’t true? I’m not old. And what’s a bloke? In baseball, I mean. It sounds like a foul tip.” He made a noise with his mouth that sounded like a bat barely touching a ball. Bloke. I noted he had carefully excised the word “fat.” Shanty was 250 pounds if he were an ounce, but he was also vain.
“Maybe he thinks you don’t move as well as you used to.” He shot me his dirtiest look; I was used to it. “What’s truth?” I shrugged. “Be thankful for guys like that; sometimes it’s a blessing to get an idea from the outside, to have someone hit you right between the eyes with the words you didn’t want to hear.”
“I’m thankful alright, thankful I’ve got a hide thick enough for it to bounce right off. I’m thankful for the hotcakes that keep me that way,” he said as he gestured to the waitress for another stack. “I’m thankful that he can say it ‘cause I’m an American too, but I’m also thankful I can prove him wrong with every swing of the bat I make and every pitch I call. I’m thankful folks can see and think for themselves and that God damns a sportswriter.”
“Don’t blaspheme, Shanty,” I chided.
“It ain’t blasphemy if it’s right. He writes it to be read, not to be true. Who finished eighth behind Bottomley in the ’28 MVP voting?” He thumbed his own chest. “This guy. Kenney can try to chip away at that, but he can’t never change it as long as folks got eyes and the brains to use ‘em. I already got his words under my feet and they’ll blow away soon enough, but what I done is forever.”
“I’ve lost track of the days,” I said, trying to change the subject. “It might even be Thanksgiving now.”
“This is better than turkey.” He speared a last forkful from plate number three as the fourth arrived.
“You know what your problem is, Carrie? You’re so busy being thankful that you’ve got no sense of priorities. Kenney’s got a column inch that will have shrunk to nothin’ by the next edition. You’ve got me.”
“And what have you got?”
“Pancakes,” he said, and chewed happily. “And hits. I’ll put up hits against words anytime.”
I am thankful for the strength I’ve found this past year. “Honor your voice” is a phrase my therapist uses at almost every session. I have begun to honor my voice now more than ever. Honoring my voice ensures that I get the help I need. Honoring my voice led me to start a nonprofit to help others dealing with mental health challenges. Honoring my voice saved my life.
A lot of the times, getting the help I need is in the form of this great game that we all love. Baseball is a type of therapy for me. It’s something I turn on when I’m struggling. I throw myself into what’s happening on the field. I sit and stare at box scores and Baseball Reference. When things get particularly bad, I find my mind wandering toward Marlins Park. Attending games is the ultimate form of therapy for me, and I’m eternally grateful for the game that has become my saving grace.
Neuro-atypical Neighborhood has become my passion project. It started out about a year ago as a blog. I wanted to interview athletes who had mental health stories to tell. I began to do that, but I found that I wanted to do more than just use my words.
I decided to turn it into a nonprofit. Our mission is to destigmatize mental health and suicide by providing inspiring opportunities for children dealing with mental health challenges. I was once a struggling young athlete. I want to be the person I wish I had growing up. I’m thankful for the opportunity that was placed in front of me to start this project, as well as those around me for their support through the creation of Neuro-atypical Neighborhood.
Lastly, I’m thankful for my second chance. The beginning of 2018 was a difficult one. I was in a dark place and I was struggling to keep my head above water. I am thankful for the opportunity I was given to save my life. It has been far from easy, but I have learned so much about myself over these past two years. I’ve gained a life partner, I’ve seen some great baseball, and I’ve kept myself alive. Those are things to celebrate.
One of the hardest parts about my particular journey has been the difficulty that comes with being disowned from my family. Baseball has given me a new family. Some of my closest friendships have been formed over and through baseball. In this trying time – and this year has been harder than most for me – those friends have been holding me up and keeping me going. That some of those friends are also writers I admire is a privilege I never thought I’d be honored enough to have.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to help people, which my job, Open Communities, provides me with every day. I’m grateful for things that break, because it makes them more precious. I’m grateful for the hundreds of thousands of brave people who every day fight to make this country a better and more just and generous and compassionate place. I’m grateful for time, because it makes life the most precious thing of all. And, most of all, I’m grateful for the pain and sorrow that adversity brings, because it’s where growth comes from.
I’m thankful to have my words on the internet. These words! And these ones! Not so much these, I don’t think, these ones have carried it too far. But most of the words I have written in my life no one has read. And that’s OK, most of them shouldn’t be read — but it’s hard to describe how gratifying it is to be working on a skill your entire life in complete solitude, like mashing away at guitar in the dark behind a thick curtain, with no expectation that anyone would ever hear you, only to then, by chance (and the heavy lifting of Kate Preusser and Roger Cormier), have the curtain lift and realize you are on a stage. How many people are in the audience? You don’t know, you can’t see them beneath the haze of light. You don’t care. The acoustics are better and you are no longer afraid that you would spend your life in the dark. You keep mashing away, hoping there’s at least one person in the seats that finds listening worthwhile. A chance to at the otherside of the curtains is all you wanted, anyway.
It seems every single day the list of positives of being a baseball fan shrinks. There are fewer “good” players for whom to root, and it becomes clearer that those at the highest level would love nothing more than to destroy the game, so long as doing so would earn them a few additional pennies. Along with these realizations come uncertainty and guilt — we question how much our fandom contributes to people’s suffering and lament the fact that we never can seem quit baseball. One more fumbled DV case, one more bit of evidence of collusion, we tell ourselves, and we’ll walk away. But we never are able to crawl out from beneath the wreckage.
Nonetheless, the end of baseball appears to be imminent. There has to be a tipping point, and we have to be advancing toward it with increasing speed. What I’m thankful for, then, is that we have not yet reached the end. There is still time, and time is the product of great miracles. So long as the end is not yet here, there’s still a chance for us to ward it off even farther, to piece together baseball in such a way that we are, once again, proud to support it. To do so will take work that often seems beyond our means, but trying is always better than shaking our heads as the sport collapses around us. So spend today giving thanks that there’s still time to save this thing that we love despite our best instincts, and then get to work.
I have a lot to be thankful for this year. My new nephew is adorable and smiley. He really liked it when I sang “This Year” by the Mountain Goats, so I have high hopes for him. My knee, surgically repaired this year for the fourth time, feels good enough that I can keep and launching myself after grounders in the hole with reckless abandon. My friend Kat, who is way too busy to start a band with me and make a record, still made time to start a band with me and make a record. You might have also heard that the Nationals did ok this season.
Lastly, this year I got the chance to write for Baseball Prospectus. All of a sudden my jokes about juicy baseballs appear on the same pages as writers who are, at the very least, famous to me. Our editor, who clearly attended the same school of compliment avoidance that I did, has ninjaed his way out of my previous attempts to offer gratitude, but I’m thankful all the same.
I was startled to turn a corner in downtown Seattle late on Tuesday night and encounter a clutch of people on the normally quiet street, huddled hopefully around the entrance to the Moore Theatre. Idling nearby was a tour bus, splashed with the neon pink logo of a reality dancing competition–the serious one for actual dancers, not the one where D-list celebrities don neon and spray tans and proceed to commit crimes against Latin ballroom. Clustered on the street were about a dozen young teens, several wearing crisp, still-creased black hoodies bearing the show’s logo. Some had ballet-perfect buns left over from dance class; one had gold glitter dance heels and bare legs despite the 40-degree Seattle night. The wind blew cold off Puget Sound, but the aspiring dancers vibrated in a haze of excited energy and extra-hold hairspray.
Outside this band of light stood the responsible adults, in stocking caps and those knee-length down jackets that look like giant vacuum-packed hams. The wind howled down the dark city street; the idling bus spewed diesel fumes; the teens chatted up the tour bus driver, the closest thing to a celebrity in sight. The adults looked on, toy soldiers at the ready, their faces placid masks of patience usually unseen out of Catholic statuary. Shepherding someone else’s dreams requires a lot of standing around.
This Thanksgiving I’m thankful to all the parents who stand in the shivering cold, sit in the sweltering heat, hover at the edges of a room, or spend a sunny day in a dark theatre or smelly gym, all in the service of supporting someone else’s dream. I’m thankful to the baseball parents who wake up early Saturday mornings for long drives to far-flung fields, throw batting practice deep into the night, who wash jerseys and cut up orange slices and remember the blue Gatorade is the best flavor. I’m thankful to this group of strangers sucking down diesel fumes on a deserted city street in late November, and I’m thankful to my own mother, who has stood in the cold for me, metaphorically and literally, more times than I can count. Mostly I’m thankful to anyone who has been a good shepherd to someone else’s dream, so that dream can come into the world where we all live and make it more expansive, more challenging, more magical; gold glitter heels flashing in a dark winter’s night.
Thank you for reading
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