My flight to Arizona had touched down about ten minutes prior, and I found myself quietly dragging my feet within the confines of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Signs pointed my way to the baggage area, yet I somehow managed to make a wrong turn. My thoughts were elsewhere at the time. I felt an extreme combination of anxiety and anticipation for the week to come.
First, my vacation to Arizona featured a weekend get-together with the men and women of FanGraphs. It was meant to be a weekend of socialization and spring training baseball. Instead, I dreaded it would be more like an awkward audition and a test of my baseball acumen. A test that I somehow needed to pass in order to feel “a part of” a club that features some of the smartest baseball writers that I know.
The FanGraphs crew ultimately proved to be an inviting group. David Appelman and Dave Cameron were phenomenal hosts, and the remainder of the men and women displayed nothing but kindness. It was a weekend full of friendship and baseball and was, admittedly, much more comfortable than I had previously expected.
Still, I felt caught on the outside at times.
We had dinner on Saturday evening with Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk and Keith Law of ESPN. It was a portion of the weekend to which I looked forward, but I ultimately floated on the outside and did not do much more than briefly introduce myself to either person, while everyone else pulled up a chair and engaged in conversation with the two men. Both are well-known in the baseball media. Law turned down an invitation to join the Houston Astros this winter, for goodness sake. Why would they have any interest in what I had to say on the game of baseball?
That feeling of being in limbo only increased after the FanGraphs weekend ended.
I extended my vacation for another week in order to attend Brewers camp and provide in-depth news coverage for the readers of this site. I applied for media credentials through FanGraphs — because the website was recently accepted into the Baseball Writers Association of America — but was unable to secure access. Perhaps that was due to my relative obscurity as a baseball writer in terms of the league as a whole, or perhaps that was due to my weak application for credentials. Either way, the lack of credentials severely hindered my purpose for remaining in Arizona for another week.
Determined to make the best of the situation, I decided to spend the Brewers’ off-day on Monday traveling to Peoria to watch the Seattle Mariners host the Texas Rangers. It once again highlighted my sense of discomfort this week.
Peoria Sports Complex is a beautiful and underrated stadium in the Cactus League. I chose a seat down the first base line and (thankfully) under the protection of a dark blue, metal awning and out of the sun. The game was almost a sell-out, and strangers packed in next to me. Being supremely introverted, I made myself as small as possible in my seat and proceeded to simultaneously watch the game and follow the remainder of the Cactus League action on my cell phone.
I reported what I could see via Twitter throughout the game. Rangers’ starter Matt Harrison looked fairly sharp, featuring a live fastball down in the zone and a quick, sharp slider. He filled up the zone and kept hitters off balance for the majority of his short outing. Chone Figgins was overmatched at the plate, despite going 1-for-2 with a walk, and Blake Beavan showed moments of effectiveness on the mound, as well as his severe limitations that will keep him from being anything more than a #5 starter (maybe) at the big league level.
Still, my position in the stands and in the culture of baseball media — as merely a blogger — curtailed what could have been a useful and informational day at the ballpark. I did not get to see players such as Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero take batting practice. I did not get to see Taijuan Walker throw a bullpen session. Instead, my information was limited to one or two at-bats in game action and perhaps an inning on the mound by a select few pitchers.
I found myself wanting to distance myself from the fans in the ballpark. The gentleman next to me commented to his wife that he was “caught sitting next to a nerd” who was “too busy on his phone and not watching the game.” Of course, he later told his wife that the Mariners would miss Michael Saunders this year because he was a “big help” to the team in 2011. That would be the same Michael Saunders that hit .149/.207/.217 with the big league club last year in 58 games.
A fan later asked who number 96 was on the Mariners team. He said, “Is it that Ichiro guy who people talk about all the time?” Number 96 was Brad Miller, a promising young shortstop in the Mariners’ organization, while Ichiro was the guy who already had three plate appearances by that time in the game and is a bona fide hero amongst the Seattle fan base. I thought the fan was joking, until he and his wife proceeded to pull out their program and announce that Ichiro was, in fact, number 51.
This information is not meant to insinuate that I am more intelligent than the fans surrounding me on Monday afternoon in Peoria, Arizona. The vast majority of the people in those stands have better jobs than me, make more money than me, and undoubtedly have a higher level of intelligence than me. In terms of acquiring and disseminating knowledge about baseball, however, I have something to offer. I have multiple forums to disseminate that information — one of which was deemed worthy enough to be accepted into the BBWAA — yet no way to acquire that valuable information.
Thus, my vacation stuck on the outside will continue for the remainder of the week. I will once again be the nerd in the stands on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday afternoon with a cell phone in my hand and one million Brewers baseball thoughts running through my head. Instead of having access to further those thoughts and attempting to ascertain some sort of elusive truth about the game that I and so many other people love, the ivory tower will remain gated off and impenetrable.