Baseball Withdrawal Antidote: Olympic Curling

curling

Curling has been an Olympic sport since 1998. And, especially in last eight years or so, it has become everyone’s favorite Winter game to ironically like, make fun of, or become enthralled in strictly under the auspices of seeming incredibly interesting. You can put even money on a late-night talk show doing a remote somewhere where the host feigns an attempt to learn curling while he mostly dicks around and makes fun of a sport — not game, sport — that has roots as far back as the 16th century. Yes, curling is a little different. Yes, the shouts coming from the skips can seem out of place when juxtaposed next to such a slow-moving and low-contact event. It uses equipment not seen in any other sport. The curlers themselves look like they could work in your law office or butcher shop. That’s because they all work in a law firm or butcher shop or some other office — they all have day jobs. Baseball — the main subject of this Internet blog — is approaching. Pitchers and catchers are reporting. And while the mere fact of that brings excitement, it’s just that. There’s not much substance there. So, in the next few weeks, let me offer an alternative to fix your eyes upon. Let me sell you on curling.

Some of you might not need selling. That’s cool. Keep reading if you’d like. For everyone else, let’s get some things out of the way. Curling and baseball are really nothing alike. I won’t go over every difference because they are many, and they seem fairly obvious. We all know baseball is great. But curling is pretty great, too. It’s seen as mainly a game of strategy, and that isn’t far off. But don’t sell the players short as actual athletes. Surely, many aren’t fit and toned in a way that we may expect, but the throw — coming out of the hack in that smooth, forward motion while carrying a 40-pound stone — is not easy. If those hacky late-night bits serve any purpose, it’s to show just how difficult that motion actually is. It takes years to perfect that delivery. It can escape even the most experienced at times. And sweeping is no breezy task, either. It involves not only moving the broom as fast as you can, but simultaneously applying the most downward pressure possible. It races the heart and perspires the underarms.

But the strategy does play such a big part. The physics of the game allow only a handful of shot types. It’s how they are employed that separates. There are plans and backup plans and backup plans to the backup plans to consider. Opponents must not only be out-played, but out-thought. The basic rules are simple enough, and while it seems that some skips are running on autopilot at times, it only appears that way because they’ve been in that spot a thousand times before. It’s when they stop to think that things get squirrely. Doubts come. Past failures are remembered. It takes a flexible body, a flexible mind, and nerves of steel to compete at a high level at curling.

So, why should you care? Why should the baseball fan even raise an eyebrow? While the motions and actions of the game differ, the aesthetics match a fair bit. It’s slow-moving, in general. There’s periods of inaction followed by bursts of excitement and tension.  Even if you are new to the sport, the high-leverage situations will be easy to spot. It’s leisurely and enthralling. Straight-laced and quirky. Mostly, it’s fascinating.

You can find the TV schedule online, and you should be able to stream a lot of it. Matt Sussman of Baseball Prospectus published some great primers to the competition. The fine folks at The Classical were nice enough to run a piece of mine that originally ran in their magazine, about the non-polished tournaments that happen all over our country.  If you watch, you’ll figure out the rules quickly. There will almost certainly be an explanation before many of the early events. Cheer for the USA, if that’s your thing. The men are a long shot, but the ladies have a fairly decent chance at a medal. And many US players come from here in Minnesota. Cheer for the cute women or men. There are some of each. Cheer for the Norwegians and their famous goofy pants. But just give it a shot. It may surprise you. If not, you can at least be the most interesting person at the party by having observed more than five minutes of it. Curling is everybody’s favorite sport that they don’t actually watch. You can buck the trend, fair NotGraphs reader.



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David G. Temple is the Managing Editor of TechGraphs and a contributor to FanGraphs, NotGraphs and The Hardball Times. He hosts the award-eligible podcast Stealing Home. Dayn Perry once called him a "Bible Made of Lasers." Follow him on Twitter @davidgtemple.


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Jake
Guest

Bartolo Colon ain’t fit and toned in a way that we may expect.

Shrewd Cat
Guest
Shrewd Cat

Judging by the photo it looks like it does have something baseball doesn’t – hot chicks!

The Saint Paul Sieve
Guest
The Saint Paul Sieve

This too: league play is co-ed and drinking during matches is kosher.
Winners buy the losers a round= you CAN’T lose!

It’s bowling on ice, what’s not to like?

Daniel
Guest
Daniel

That’s Jennifer Jones – yes – she’s smoking hot (as are many female curlers)!

Joseph
Guest
Joseph

HURRY HARRRRRRD to your televisions!

Etc. Curling is a wonderful sport.

A eskpert
Guest
A eskpert

I don’t know where you got the notion that Curlers don’t look like athletes. On the Canadian men’s team all the guys are over 300 on the bench, for instance.

Billy
Guest
Billy

I could absolutely see men like Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Pablo Sandoval. doing this sport. No one cares how you run, and being strong is helpful. I actually love curling and agree that it’s a lot like baseball in more ways than most other sports.

oookay
Guest
oookay

There is no focking way Brad Jacobs benches 3 hundo

oookay
Guest
oookay

…or the guy smaller than him

TDawg
Guest
TDawg

Yeah the front end for the Jacobs team are beasts. Curling is getting more athletic every year for both mens and womens, so teams are going to have to be fit to compete on world stage. But yeah curling is a great sport where big time players need to make big time shots and ladies who play are hella fine, the whole Homan team is smokin.

Kevin
Guest
Kevin

The Jacobs team (Canadian Olympians) are fitness freaks, and many of the other top teams in the world are invested pretty heavily in personal trainers and fitness as well – moreso than many baseball players. Rule changes over the last 20 years have also made the strategy incredibly more complicated and the shot-making much more demanding. I’m a fan of both baseball and curling for many of the same reasons. Watching the placement of stones as a curling team tries to induce mistakes out of an opponent is pretty analogous to watching a pitcher attack a hitter, and having the players mic’d during a game makes for great viewing and is totally unique among sports.

brett
Guest
brett

This is good analysis. It’s brilliant being able to hear every detail as teams talk out their decisions and develop their strategies. Also, apparently it’s a time-honoured tradition that the winners buy the losers a round after every match. How good is that?

All Hail Simba
Guest
All Hail Simba

curling using innings, baseball uses innings, whats not to like?

Billy
Guest
Billy

This actually seems like a good alternative to baseball in the winter. We need to make this thing more popular!

Also, it doesn’t surprise me that more and more curlers are putting an emphasis on fitness. Probably as more people do it and the pool becomes larger, it’ll be harder for less fit curlers to compete. It would seem to me though, by nature of the sport, “fitness” in curling probably has more to do with strength than foot speed, agility or endurance. Being strong probably helps with being a sweeper (the part where they melt the ice by brushing really fast with the brooms) since it would allow you to melt the ice faster and therefore guide the path of the stone more accurately. Not to mention, the stones are kinda heavy.

Very strong men can look like Matt Holliday. They can also look like Prince Fielder. But then there’s the strategy, and the precision of sliding the stone. This sport is pretty cool.

Tim
Guest
Tim

Endurance is actually really important, not so much for any individual game, but doing them continually for a long period of time. Even a regular five-game weekend bonspiel can be exhausting, i can’t imagine what two weeks in the Olympics must be like.

But by far the biggest thing is balance.

Grant
Guest
Grant

If there is one reason to like curling…everybody loves to drink at bars, everybody loves to play shuffleboard at bars, curling=shuffleboard. Enough said.

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