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Carroll County Times Opinion

Dean Minnich: The numbers nerds are ruining the soul of baseball | COMMENTARY

After two post-holiday visits to the gym, my annual get-in-shape ritual, I’ve come to believe that center field is getting bigger each year. Maybe it’s time to consider being a designated hitter.

The field isn’t just bigger, it’s tilted. Gone are the days when I could glide under a high fly to right center on one play, and then sprint for a back-handed snag deep to left.

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Now it’s uphill, both ways.

Was it really that long ago I could almost fly, as if showing off a ballet fluidity that left fans swooning on the sidelines?

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OK, that never happened. Truth is, getting to the ball was always an adventure, and holding on to it was a small miracle. But at least I could jog to the bench between innings without falling.

Now, I wobble on a trip to the mailbox.

Many seasons have come and gone, and I remain in love with the game of baseball, probably the only living fan who no longer understands the vocabulary anymore. WAR? What is a war, aside from the predictable reaction to a tight pitch under the chin, or a spikes-high slide into the bag?

When did they decide that home runs, runs batted in and hits divided by at-bats to determine a batting average were not enough statistics for a sport that should be appreciated for its art, not science? I don’t need to count the number of pitches tallied by the starting pitcher or limit the innings. The old ERA (that’s real baseball talk for earned run average) tells me all I need to know.

The numbers nerds are ruining the soul of the sport. Analytics, they call it. Spin rates, frequency of success against lefty hitters when the clouds hide the sun versus righties who hit better on the second Tuesday of the week. It doesn’t hold a blank scorecard up to the feeling of the ancient mystery of the pitcher’s next delivery when the winning run is on second and the beer is getting warm with neglect, forgotten in the suspense.

The only science I ever appreciated related to baseball was the eternal geometry of the distance from the pitcher’s rubber to home plate, which was 17 inches wide even if the umpire wasn’t always as precise; the 90 feet from home to first, then a right angle for 90 feet to second, and then to third, and home again. White-powdered lines drawing angles down the foul lines to the surprising vagaries of more angles in the placement and height of the outfield fences.

A ballfield is sacred ground, not a laboratory. Even a scabby field of rocks behind the carnival ground or one temporarily created by the neighborhood kids on a wide sloping spot in the town cemetery not yet ceded to the departed has more depth of meaning than running numbers through a data base.

Statistics might predict outcomes, but they can’t match memories. Files on thumb drives are less a part of the human experience than that moment of surprise and elation when your moment, your favorite team or player, or your personal contribution seals itself into your life’s story.

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Perhaps you think I prattle on about times too long past to be of any relevance, that the stories an old man carries from the past are of little value.

I would suggest that my memories were once not only my dreams, but ideals shared by generations who remain as young and eager to discover the next sweet moment of life as any kid alive today.

And we didn’t even have cell phones.

Dean Minnich spent more time on the bench than in center field, but it’s his story and he’s sticking with it. He served two terms as a Carroll County commissioner.


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