The following is a work of fiction, duh.
In 2007, the American Association of Psychologists purchased ads on scorecards at various baseball stadiums to promote Psychology Awareness Week. The special scorecards included a column for players’ personality types next to the column for fielding position. Fans loved it, and so teams kept printing cards with the extra column. Presently, there’s a debate in the blogosphere concerning whether such columns should be filled in with the Goldsmith or the Myers-Briggs types, or via the Enneagram of Personality. I prefer the Enneagram myself: because the motivations of each type are clearly sketched out, it’s easy to discern which player is which type.
But then I began asking myself tougher questions: Is a Type 2 (Helper) likely to take more pitches in an At-Bat than a Type 7 (Enthusiast)? Is said Helper more likely to take more pitches when he is in an extreme relaxed state (when he will act more like a Type 4 Individualist than normal) or when he is in an extreme stressed state (when he will act more like a Type 8 Challenger)? Before I moved in with the Team and began collecting significant qualitative data to correlate with its daily on-field performance, these questions were impossible to answer.
So that’s just the scorecards — they gave me the idea for what kinds of questions to ask when the time came, if the time ever came, which it did.
More important is this past winter, when I live-blogged/tweeted a community event the Team put on at the local Holidome. There were autograph lines and Q&A’s and baseball-related carnival games (I topped 70 MPH in the Fast Pitch for the first time ever and then celebrated by eating one of every available sausage variety, which wasn’t all of the ones from the full stadium menu, but was still pretty impressive). There was a huge cake in the shape of the Team’s logo. All the players donned baker’s hats and signed their names on the cake using pastry bags full of frosting. Underprivileged youths gave thumbs up from under small chef’s caps of their own.
I worked up the nerve to approach the Third Baseman [3B], who had signed his name first and then slinked off to a corner behind the cake. He had a rep for brooding, being bookish, reading political history and sociology. So I figured we could chat—I like those things, too. I had actually hoped that I might find him wandering down a corridor, stewing.
“What’s next?” I said, sidling.
He took me in. I must have seemed strange: I was wearing this little apparatus that suspended my laptop in front of me—so I could walk and type. In my backpack I had a six-volt lantern battery that I could attach to my laptop’s power cord. I’d made this all myself using a basic knowledge of physics. At the time I worried I annoyed 3B, but I think he was on the defensive because he was confused but intrigued by what I was doing—that fits with his being an Investigator .
“I know, right?” he said.
“No, I mean, what will happen now? Like, who will eat the cake. Is it a real cake.”
“It’s real. I think they’re going to cut it up and sell it. I don’t like that, though. I thought to put it in the clubhouse, let us scratch away at it throughout the course of the season.”
“By ‘us’ you mean the players? The team?”
“Well, the regular season’s still four months away.”
“But it would be kinda cool. Like, every time you win, you get to eat a slice, but when you lose, you just have to stare at it and think about the bad pitches you swung at.”
“Yeah. Classic reinforcement. When you do good, they make you happy so that you don’t overthink what you did, just keep doing it.” He kept watching the cake, the people; he sniffed the air. I thought he’d saunter away at any minute, like I was never there. “But doesn’t that suggest that the very act of thinking is unpleasant?” He wore an unkempt goatee and had a missing tooth that was very visible when he grinned.
“Sure. Do you think that most people find thinking unpleasant?”
“Sure. But maybe they shouldn’t have to think about cake.”
I didn’t follow.
“But you’re right. The cake would be rotten by the time the season started. I guess it’s better to sell it, raise some money for these kids,” he said, waving his hand, palm up, at the crowd
I leaned back as if under a limbo bar, so my laptop’s camera could frame up the cake. I tweeted, Big-ass Team cake for charity, signed in frosting by our all-stars.
3B hadn’t walked away, so I asked, “Say, can I ask how you’re feeling right now?”
“Great. Best shape of my life. Twenty pounds of muscles added this off-season already. My reconstructed knee
feels like new.”
“No, no. Not to be a pest, but I’m not that kind of press. I’m a blogger, a non-mainstream analyst. You don’t have to bullshit me.”
“Oh. I should have put that together. I like your little apparatus there. Where’s that cord lead?”
“To a car battery wired to a regulator, wired to a standard outlet.”
“Sweet. You rig that up yourself?”
“Yes sir. My laptop’s my baby.”
“One of those types. I get it now.”
“I’m focused on player psychology as tool for projecting on-field performance. Which is why I asked how you feel right now. I’m collecting data.” I wasn’t really doing that yet, but I saw the opportunity to.
“I feel pretty good, actually. A little pensive being back in this city during the winter. There’s a different side to it I never see.”
“You wanna go get coffee or something?
“You don’t have more data to gather?”
“Coffee is data,” I said. “Broham,” I added.
There was the missing tooth. What a softy.
At coffee, I found out that 3B had only gotten into baseball in high school because of “parental pressure.”
“Like, there was a history or expectation of athleticism in your family?” I asked.
“Well, in junior high I liked to walk in the woods, skip stones, read books I’d checked out at the library. I wanted to know everything — how to do everything, too. Thinking and doing. But I’d never played sports. Neither had my father, but he liked the Yankees, blah blah blah. One day, sort of out of nowhere, he said to me, ‘You wouldn’t know what to do on a baseball diamond if Yogi Berra explained it to you long hand!’ It was that word ‘know’ that got to me. I pedaled right to the library, checked out The Science of Hitting by Ted Williams. I wanted to know: What was there to hitting? What made a good hitter? I wanted to know from all angles — what fans thought made a good hitter, what reporters thought, what coaches thought. But there was also the science of it. That was knowing. So I went out for the high school team at the end of the summer.”
Because he was very good, 3B kept playing in the hopes of supporting his family, which had needed the money. But even after his million-dollar signing bonus out of high school, he stuck with it because he felt that baseball was a game that constantly changed, with each pitch, each season, each generation. He cited sabermetrics and advancements in biomechanical analysis, though he admitted that all that he knew about the latter came from a snarky article on Slate and from listening to Tim Lincecum’s father rant at spring training one year.
“I’m not going to sit here and talk about how I resent the label of ‘dumb jock’ or something like that. I been through the minors, man. I’ve roomed with all kinds of dumb people. But lately I’ve wondered what it’d be like to be a mind behind the game.”
“You mean like a manager?” I goaded.
“No! Hell no.” We shared a laugh. “I mean a general manager or something like that.” He was eating soup, kept trying to arrange the vegetables into the shape of a galaxy it seemed. Then, when he was hungry enough, took a spoonful. “Or hell, man. Even a blogger, a real stathead, get paid to break down the game and make sense of it all — something bigger than my own swing.”
“Um, I don’t get paid.”
“You will one day.”
I wanted to be 3B’s friend right then, but I controlled it.
“Hey, shit. I gotta go.” I really did. “I gotta look for a place to live. If you ever want to chat again…”
“You need a place to live?”
“Yeah. My lease is up, getting kicked out of my flat.”
“I guess I didn’t even tell you this. The entire Team is moving in together for spring training, bought some mansion for us down in Phoenix that [the Ace] and [the Catcher] picked out. Team-building or something. I don’t know. But look, we got space. If you want a room, for February and March, I’m sure it’d be no problem. I bet you could even gather data.”
“Are you serious?”
“Sure, yeah, you wouldn’t even have to pay rent.”
“No, I mean the whole Team is living in one house?” I’d heard of lots of other stuff managers had players do to ‘build chemistry.’ I don’t know for sure what the Manager said; I wasn’t there in his office. Never have been. I’ve never been in a major league locker room, never held a radar gun. But—I checked later—based on the data collected about the Manager over the years—and it’s a significant sample—he fit a type. His top comparable managers had all encouraged close pitcher-catcher relations, emotional team-building based in the secular ideals of Awareness of the Other and Awareness of Context. His top comparable managers had encouraged hunting excursions, taking turns being wingmen at nightclubs, wardrobe coordination, etc. Now, there was this.
“Yes. Can you believe it?”
“Well, I guess we wait for spring training.”
“No, I meant it like, ‘what’ll they think of next’.”
“I know, right? Come on. I’m meeting the Manager for a drink, actually. You can meet him. Think up a spiel in the car on the way there.”
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