THE SPORTS PHILOSOPHER: ‘It’s All in the Thumb, Baby’

October 25, 2010
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      The Giants won the pennant last week. 

      My Giants.   Won the pennant.


Cody "Babe" Ross

Cody "Babe" Ross


      Again as in just like eight years ago.   The only two times my favorite baseball team has captured the National League flag since the Berlin Wall fell.   Google the Berlin Wall.   You’ll see just how long it’s been.

      It wasn’t easy.   They barely made it.   And it took everything I had to get them there.

      Yeah, that’s right, I as in me.   Me!   No, I’m not kidding.   Every true sports fan thinks it was his energy, his support, his polished “rooting technique” that put his team over the top.   I’m no different.   And if anyone out there thinks that as rag-tag a bunch of unknown unwanted unshaven cast-offs as are the 2010 San Francisco Giants could possibly have stolen the National League pennant from the powerful Philadelphia Phillies without my considerable assistance, they don’t know sports.   Or at least they don’t love sports.

      (For the record, I grew my beard in 2004, long before this woolly-chinned bunch ever dreamed of playing in the World Series….)

      The only thing that has changed since 2002 is the evolution of my own rooting technique.   Back in ’02, the artistry of my rooting prowess consisted primarily of three things: yelling, drinking, and predicting sorrowfully that there was no way in the world that the Giants would ever get a hit, much less win anything.   That latter technique for predicting doom and then smiling smugly when the opposite would happily occur was conceived and patented by my brother Chris, and we collaborated to term it, long ago, “heavy despair”.   All things being equal, heavy despair is still the finest rooting tool ever employed by the modern sporting man.

      But back in ‘02, while it worked fine in the first two playoff rounds, heavy despair was not enough in the World Series against the Angels.   Worse than that, I wanted a World Series win so bad for the Giants and myself—neither of us having experienced that pleasure in my whole half-century of life—that when it came to the key moment of the crucible I couldn’t even watch it.   I cowered in the hallway while my son, only six years old at the time, watched with a child’s unspoiled sense of hope that fateful 8th inning of Game Six of the ’02 Fall Classic; two men on, Giants still ahead 5 to 4, Troy Glaus of the Angels at bat.   I literally couldn’t watch it.   And when my son’s squeaky, confused, defeated little voice yelled out, “Six to five!”, I knew that Glaus had doubled in two runs, and that all was lost.

      I realized my technique needed improvement for the 2010 playoffs.   Enter the power of TiVo.

      TiVo wasn’t around in 2002 (at least I hadn’t discovered it), or I’m convinced I could have made the difference for the ’02 Giants.   If I do say so myself, I have mastered the use of the TiVo portion of the remote control device for the purpose of influencing and controlling the action on the field.   Really.

      Allow me to explain.

      The first thing you have to do is press the “pause” button early in the game.   You know, in order to build up a bunch of recording time so that you can fast forward through the commercials.   This lessens the tension of having to wait around between innings, and also allows you the time to go to the kitchen and prepare a tasty snack.   I call this build-up of recorded action “compression”.   You need compression if you want to truly enjoy watching a sporting event.  (Just make sure you don’t answer any phone calls or texts during the game, ‘lest some dullard might accidentally reveal to you the score….)

      Another thing compression allows you to do is implement the “slo-mo” and “stop-action” features of your TiVo.   I enjoy doing this during pass plays of football games as well, to help guide the ball slowly and safely into the hands of my receivers, although it’s risky because all my family and friends hate me for it and call me awful names.   But slo-mo and stop-action are especially critical in baseball.   There’s too much riding on every pitch.   Your team members need that little extra something in a pinch….how else can one explain how Ryan Howard—one of the most feared and deadly power hitters in baseball—went through six full games against the Giants without a single RBI?   How else can one explain how the formerly anonymous Cody Ross—a chronic cast-off recently waived by the Marlins of all people—managed to hit not one but TWO home runs off of the great Roy “Doc” Halladay in the SAME GAME???

      I’ll tell you how.   It was me.

      Y’see, what I do is this: When a guy is up against one of my Giants pitchers I stop the recording just as the pitcher’s arm is going forward.   Then I use my right thumb (a very worn-out digit right about now, I assure you) to frantically and frenetically ease the ball forward, slowly, carefully, craftily, towards the catcher’s mitt.   Click click click click click.   I call this process “niggling”.   When Howard or Chase Utley or any of the key Phillies hitters would start to swing at the ball, I would slow it down even further, and then slowly and painstakingly niggle the ball just above or just below the bat.   Strike-out!   Works almost every time.   Howard, Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Jayson Werth, pretty much their entire all-star line-up of great hitters was rendered impotent by my right thumb.   In six games, I struck Howard out 12 times….

      My son Rob (now 14 years old, cynical, and chocked full of opinions) hates niggling.   Probably why he hates watching baseball with me.   The ball would be almost to Howard’s or Utley’s bat and I’d stop the tape and he’d yell out, “Dad!   Don’t niggle!   Please, Dad, no niggling!”   At least he uses the correct terminology….

      I calmly explain to him that it’s simply a necessary component of getting this particular brand of Giants to where they want to go.   Take the Cody Ross thing.   When Halladay threw the ball, I’d niggle the ball right onto the meat part of Cody’s bat, the ball would jump majestically out towards left field, and then I would stop the tape again and niggle the ball slowly and safely over the wall.   Just to make sure.   Another home run, courtesy of the Sports Philosopher!   Ross hit three home runs during the 6-game Phillies series.   They started calling him “Babe Ross”.   They should have been calling him “Tom Thumb”.   (my thumb)

      But he hit only three home runs over the entire 33 games he played for the Giants during the regular season, after they picked him up off of waivers.   Conversely, the Phillies hit only three home runs during the series, the same number that Ross hit by himself.   Ross batted 25 times in the series.   The Phillies had 221 combined at-bats.   Three homers each.   You figure it out.

      It’s going to take a mighty effort from the Giants and me to defeat the Texas Rangers in the World Series.   I’m going to have to employ every trick in the book to win it for them; compression, niggling, drinking, heavy despair, the works.   But I’m ready.   ‘Been soaking the thumb in Epsom salts all week, and I paid the DirecTV bill.   Bring it on.

      Truth is I’ll be glad when it’s over.   High-tech rooting is hard work.   So is being a Giants fan.   Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth all the stress and trouble, being so deeply invested in the fortunes of one particular team.   And then, almost immediately, I realize it is.   Though I don’t know exactly why.   I know it goes back to a man’s roots and youth and stuff like that, but I’d be lying if I said I knew exactly why baseball is still so important at my age.

      But it is.

      And I don’t know why it matters so much to me that the Giants finally, actually, win a World Series some day, at least while I’m still above ground.

      But it does.  

      It just does.

meet….The Sports Philosopher!image0028

Brad Eastland is an author, historian, film buff, undiscovered fictioneer, and protector of the sacred church of baseball— in no particular order.   Brad’s other recent columns for LaVerneOnline can be found in Sports under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’.    Brad has also written 4 novels and over 20 short-stories.    Samples of his best fiction work can be discovered within the fascinating links below:





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