Watching Baseball Smarter

51tsrW5XznLA few years ago, while still living in Terre Haute, IN, I developed a deeper interest in baseball, particularly the Milwaukee Brewers (being from Milwaukee, and all!).  As a kid, I grew up playing some baseball, but from middle school onwards, I stopped (lack of interest and skill, haha), but, naturally, there was something that draws me to the game (could it be my annual re-watching of The Sandlot? or just the whole “baseball and apple pie” American thing?).

Eventually, after watching more than a few games each season (or listening, depending on the video streaming capabilities), I wanted to know more about the game.  It’s clear there’s more to it than just “big man with stick hit fast little ball thrown by tall man,” but where could I go to find out the lore and history and intricacies of the game, short of finding a bar and just talking to barflies?

I forget how I found this book.  My assumption is I found it on Reddit (probably /r/Brewers, a little subreddit dedicated to the Brewers, who face the trials and tribulations of our small/medium market team with joy, realism, and copious amounts of what made Milwaukee famous).

The book title, I realize I should share, is “Watching Baseball Smarter: A Professional Fan’s Guide for Beginners, Semi-Experts, and Deeply Serious Geeks” by Zack Hample (who, by the way, based on his back cover photo, looks like a total bro).  It’s around 270 pages, with 200 pages being “book”, the other 70-odd pages being devoted to a 40-page glossary of “baseball terms” (all the words you’ll hear on radio broadcasts or talking to a die-hard baseball fan/player/fanatic).  The glossary section is probably one of the more impressive sections.  There’s the old standby of “blue” for the umpire (which hearkens back to their former uniform colors), but there are also many more obscure sayings and phrases that will have you asking yourself “they really talk like this!?”  (Apparently they do, and that’s part of baseball’s charm).

The book covers everything from the minors to a rundown of the positions (with reasons for why you want a tall pitcher to why the catcher is probably one of the most important players on the field) to what the manager does to obscure baseball lore and trivia.  The chapter titles are as follows: The Basics, Pitchers and Catchers, Hitting, Baserunning, Fielding, Stadiums, Umpires, Statistics, Random Stuff to Know, and Random Stuff to Notice.  As a note, the book presumes at least passing familiarity with the sport, like three strikes and you’re out, who the man with the wooden stick is, so on and so forth.

It’s a pretty “light” read.  This is on-par with some blog posts and some sports columns, but it’ll convey all the information you need to know to know what’s going down on the field when the pitcher is looking around and starts nodding his head (and, you’ll know what he’s probably nodding at, apparently!).  Plus, you’ll also learn about things like a “balk!”  Which was exciting for me as I watched the Brewers play the St. Louis Cardinals today, and the Brewers pitcher made a goof and the Cardinals runner (on first) got to advance on a balk!  So exciting.  I told a friend “I KNOW WHAT THAT IS” when I heard that happen.

Overall, I’d say it’s a worthwhile read if you’re just getting into baseball and want a pretty good intro to all things baseball.  I know it’ll inspire you to want to watch MORE baseball (as it did me), just so you can see what this guy is talking about and put a picture/video to the action/strategy.  I chomped through the book in about three days.  I’d almost recommend having the book alongside you after your first reading, when you’re watching your favorite team play, just so you can refer to and reinforce some of the ideas the author was talking about.  I’d also recommend getting the paperback version, and not the e-book, just because sometimes you NEED to flip to the glossary, because the author is in “baseball speak” mode, and you can’t quite figure out what he’s saying without it (and, as he said in the preface, the book is designed to be flipped back and forth so you can learn all the neat oddities about baseball).

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