Thursday, March 28, 2013

Data with soul

So I went on another trip abroad and missed the end of the World Baseball Classic. I would say this was worth it:

It's the town of Amalfi, Italy. Despite Italy's impressive performance in the WBC, I saw no evidence of baseball on the Amalfi Coast.

But I didn't care. I dismissed the world for ten days, disconnected myself from social media and the news, got away from everything in my life except Chris. That included baseball. However, the Reds weren't totally out of my mind:

I missed nothing but my office's fantasy baseball draft. I've never participated in fantasy baseball, probably because I wouldn't do very well since I am totally biased towards the Reds. But this year I was considering it because I work at a political research firm where everything is about numbers, and there are many passionate baseball fans, including two other Reds fans in addition to myself. The draft passed, however, while I was eating pasta and sipping cappuccinos by the Mediterranean. Oh darn.

Fantasy sports are pretty strange to me in that people devote so much time, energy, and money into something that isn't real. Baseball, a game of numbers, was the first, of course, with football mimicking that of our superior sport. I've never been much of a numbers person. To me, they are naked ideas, raw and soulless. I prefer words, words dressed in style, in substance, words that indicate emotions and spirituality and that which makes us human. There is this trend - big data, data analysis, data mapping, data visualization - that is all the rage among those who are soldiers in the technological revolution. We think we're so advanced because we can communicate instantaneously and print weapons and avoid lines at the grocery. But really we've lost the soul of things. We've deified data at the expense of human truth. Once words had meaning. Now everything seems to be a series of ones and zeroes. That's great if you're a starting pitcher, not so much if you're a poet.

This may sound stupid, but baseball seems like the intersection of numbers and words. Baseball numbers aren't naked; they wear shiny uniforms and colorful caps and aren't afraid to get grass stains and dirt marks on their pants. They are painted on walls and engraved on plaques. 4192. 715. 2131. It makes sense that fantasy baseball is a part of the game. Fantasy baseball is science for the art of science. The art. Data with soul.

But it isn't reality. Reality is the plain white plane surrounded by carts and carts of supplies for Syrian refugees we saw at the airport in Istanbul. Reality is the bullet holes we saw in the buildings of Beirut. Reality is the Italians we saw preparing for the upcoming tourist season and the cappuccinos we sipped by the Mediterranean and the hardened bodies we saw in Pompei, bodies that had been smothered and buried by the lava of Vesuvius in 79AD. And reality is the memories we make with the people we care about while sitting at a baseball game.

So don't sit too long in front of your spreadsheets and forget to enjoy the game!

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Why are Team USA's hats a different color blue than their shirts?

Team USA lost last night.

I've been watching some of the games of the World Baseball Classic, though I haven't been able to catch them all. The lack of interest by Americans is once again disappointing.

Citizens of other countries are pumped about the #WBC. That Domincan Republic vs Venezuela game was great - very intense, very impassioned. The announcers said that much of those countries had shut down, as everyone was watching with their hearts on their sleeves. I wish it could be that way here.

Initially, I kind of wanted Venezuela to lose because of Hugo Chavez, WHO WAS NOT A dEMOCRAT (that's a small D, folks) and I was tired of hearing how great he was when he wasn't. I despise dictators of all stripes, even those who were seemingly elected, and Chavez managed to pull the wool over the eyes of far too many people as he exploited the poor for power. But that line of thinking led me down a stream of other thoughts about the countries involved in the WBC and how very different our circumstances are.

I've lived in four countries outside of the US for at least three month stints and have managed to make it to five of the six habitable continents, so I've seen a lot  of other cultures. The one continent I've missed thus far is the one on which Hugo Chavez made his life. (Hoping to rectify that with a trip to Machu Picchu in the autumn, if everything works out.) Until 2011 I didn't know much about that part of the world. Then I got a job with an international media think tank, which didn't work out, so I moved to a political research and strategy firm, the one who worked for the Venezuelan opposition candidate against Chavez in October. So I got to learn a thing or two about Venezuela.

Chavez's socialism - the real kind, not the Fox-News-crowd mutation of the word - did pull millions of people out of poverty, and by millions I'm talking more than twenty million. But the people are still poor and the country has one of the lowest rates of economic growth in the region. Chavez ruled the country for fourteen years - half the life of most of Team Venezuela's players; most of them probably grew up poor like their fellow citizens. I don't have the time or energy to research right now, but I imagine it's the same for a lot of the players on the latino teams. And I wonder if that's why they seem more connected to their people and the people to them.

I'm not a flagwaver; the concept of nations is an artificial construct and borders are good for nothing but division. Still, I like the idea of international competition and athletes representing the places they are from, playing for a community of people, a communion of souls. I like the intensity with which the latino teams play. I like the enthusiasm of their fans. I like how the players go out of their way to play for their countries. I wish the Americans would do that. We aren't fielding the best team we could because some players just don't want to take part. Look at those Puerto Ricans charging out to the mound like they just won the World Series. They just advanced to the next round, but they are pumped, and their fans are going crazy. The stadium for the US game is silent and empty. The team itself seems lifeless.

But not as lifeless as the attention being paid to the tournament by our citizens. In front of us is an international tournament for a game we perfected, what we once called our national pastime, yet that USA stitched upon the chests of our team elicits indifference. Too bad, because this would be a perfect opportunity for citizen unity. We lack a spirit of community. We have this erroneous notion that we are better than everyone else that causes us to miss out on so many things. Like international competitions. We have nothing to unite around; there is no event that we come together as a nation to root for. Baseball is our sport, but we've discarded it as a country because we no longer have the attention span for it?

And why can't we have hats that match the uniforms?