My best friend lives in Massachusetts, and though he’s not around on a daily basis, his influence is tremendous.
Even from a distance, he’s quite the enabler and has been trafficking baseball loot to me for years.
He likes to send packages stuffed with baseball cards, and I squeal with delight when I open the mailbox to find an otherwise nondescript yellow envelope with his hand-drawn version of the MLB logo on the outside of the package.
Recently, one of those envelopes contained a disc filled with photos that chronicle the past three seasons of baseball, which I scrolled in great delight as I saw images of Varitek blocking home plate, Josh Spence in a Yoda backpack, and that kid from Philadelphia who got tased.
We’ve sent each other Starting Lineup figures, talked about statistics, and enjoyed ice cream in baseball helmets at Fenway and US Cellular on our yearly vacation to see each other (it’s his turn to visit, don’t think I’ve forgotten).
The ultimate gift that my BBFF (baseball best friend forever) has sent was a hand-made T-shirt with the New Bedford Bay Sox logo on it. This ringer tee features a whale (which we’ve nicknamed Fudgy) swinging a bat, which is arguably the cutest thing I have ever seen.
After Fudgy arrived in the mail, I started to pay more attention to my BBFF’s escapades in minor league and independent league baseball in Massachusetts, which seemed to be frequent and involved teams I had never heard of.
I’d get picture-texts with captions that did not make a ton of sense because I was not aware there were so many baseball options in one state.
“Headed to a Paw Sox game!”
“Enjoying a beer with the Bay Sox!”
“Beautiful night for a Brockton Rox game!”
“Cape Cod League game tonight!”
After half a dozen of these text messages, I innocently made the comment that it seemed that Massachusetts had a LOT of baseballs.
I mean, Chicago has a lot of baseballs… after all, we have two major league teams and some other teams in the distant suburbs (which admittedly I have never attended because the suburbs are ‘far away’ as I like to describe them).
But as the texts increased, I started to think he was messing with me.
The Brewster Whitecaps? Bourne Braves? Yeah, sure. Those are real teams.
North Adams Steeple Cats? What the hell is a Steeple Cat*?
And when I thought he was finished, he just kept going, raising my suspicion that either these teams were made up or that or that every square inch of Massachusetts was actually covered by baseball fields.
Perhaps the thing I love most about my BBFF is his attention to detail. If you ask him a question, he’s going to make sure that your question has been thoroughly answered through a detailed explanation, perhaps a link to supplemental reading, and in this case… a carefully crafted infographic.
I love infographics. Every picture tells a story, but especially when you include words. Since I was doubting that this much baseball actually existed in Massachusetts, the BBFF made this incredibly helpful infographic that resulted in just one conclusion: there is, in fact, an (expletive deleted)-ton** of baseball in Massachusetts.
This infographic captures the precise location of all of the baseball teams in the state, including their league affiliation, their founding date, and most importantly: their logo/mascot. The pennants at the bottom also indicate their accolades as league champions, which surely makes Massachusetts the winningest state in terms of baseball championships.
I’ve taken this infographic as a bit of a challenge: I’d like to attend a game of every team in Massachusetts, including the ones that I am still not sure to exist (Falmouth Commodores? Does Lionel Richie play there?).
This trip would not be just for posterity, but I’m sure it’d be a great adventure for me and the BBFF.
Consider it officially a part of the baseball bucket list, Nick.
* I googled this, and apparently a Steeple Cat is a cartoon cat that looks like an elder statesman holding a baseball bat. Seriously, I still have no idea what a Steeple Cat is, and I’m not sure if it’s one word or two words. I also don’t know if Cat is capitalized or not.
** This is an inexact measurement, containing a four-letter word starting with ‘S’ that is often used when one wants to express the fact that there is indeed a lot of something. i.e. “there are an (expletive deleted)-ton of asterisked words in this article…perhaps you should write for Grantland.”
It is fair to say I enjoy the competition.
I knew I liked competing from a young age, but in many ways I internalized competition. As a child athlete, of course, I wanted to win games, but overall I think I was more interested in morphing myself into the best athlete I could.
That meant hours in the weight room in high school, even though the guys in there spread rumors that I was a lesbian and said horrible things to my face involving four-letter words, I kept going because I had weight-lifting goals that I knew would translate to better performance on the field. Apparently, varsity baseball players find it intimidating when a girl can bench press more than they can.
It also meant Saturdays in a freezing gymnasium in Wisconsin working on catching skills. Setting up a couple of feet from the wall on the hard gym floor, while softball and baseball pitchers twice my age hurled fastballs and changeups in my direction. I hated the noise my shin guards made when sliding across the wood floor, just as much as the time I had to spend after practice scrubbing the area behind the plastic home plate to remove all of the scuff marks I had created diving for pitches. If I couldn’t stop the ball with my glove, it would bounce off the wall and come back and hit me. After several fastballs to the back of the head, I became very good at catching things.
And though I am intelligent, all of the academic competitions of my childhood came with keeping my grades above average and staying engaged in the classroom, instead of reading Johnny Bench biographies and issues of Sports Illustrated. My fear for crowds made me an early departure from the spelling bee. I knew how to spell the words, but I was more interested in sitting down in the auditorium than standing on stage.
I never really cared for trophies, nor did I rush home to put every A I got on the refrigerator. I suppose that humble attitude followed me to adulthood, where I am finding there are really two ways to categorize people and their love of competition: the ones who internalize their successes, and those who make everyone around them miserable with their boastful attitude for every achievement.
As an awkward and shy child, who bloomed into an even more awkward and shy adult, I’m a master of internalizing competition.
I put myself through graduate school as some sort of self-competition. The challenge? Finish two degrees in fields that I found interesting, but were extremely challenging beyond my entering skill-set. As someone who was never quite sure that going to college, in general, was a good idea, it was a bit of a stretch, not to mention I decided to study Finance–which began as another competition: could a severe dyslexic become the master of all things numerical? I’m not sure what happened along the way, but fortunately for my wallet and self-esteem, I found that I do love numbers and spreadsheets. And while I can analyze data with the best of them, if you give me your telephone number orally, I will struggle to write down the numbers in the correct order.
I did finish those degrees–and since I am seemingly finished collecting college degrees like trading cards, I found a job post-graduation. But the job never became an opportunity to beg for congratulations and attaboys. Sure, I mentioned it on Facebook and Twitter. I told some close friends I would be leaving Chicago–but beyond that, I don’t think anyone really knows what I do for a living… not because they are not interested, but because I become a bumbling mess when someone asks me to describe what I do for a living. Not because my work isn’t challenging and interesting, but I got the job and education for myself–not to impress someone else.
I use my business card holders for baseball cards. I wish I were joking, but when someone asked me for a business card the other day at a coffee shop, upon seeing my work ID, I reached in my bag, fumbling for the new business card holder that I received as a gift recently, I pulled it out to find it full of 2011 Topps Heritage Cards. I suppose in some situations it’s best to be confident in ones’ abilities and titles–because I don’t think he would believe that I was actually Jon Lester, from Tacoma, Washington with a 3.53 career ERA. Resourcefully I wrote my work email address on his coffee-sleeve. A memorable and awkward experience, which seems to categorize most of my interactions, really.
And for those who know me well, they know that being overweight has always been a struggle. And though I have always been active and focused on being healthy, it wasn’t until last October that I had the support I needed medically to focus on that. And that meant running daily, at least five miles, even on days when I felt my legs would fall off and I felt like puking. And it meant no longer drinking beer, partaking in Chicago’s deep dish traditions, and no more late night runs to Margie’s for ice cream. And fifty pounds lighter, I feel good about all of the hard work I put in to improve my health. And while I’m slowly working back into a work-out routine after unexpected back surgery, only a few close friends realize I have been so fixated on improving my well-being…. because sometimes the only person we are competing against is ourselves, Orville Redenbacher, and his friends, Ben and Jerry.
For me, in most situations, it’s enough to be proud of myself.
Sometimes there is a propensity, on my lowest and most insecure days, to reach out and seek validation that my decisions are on the right track, but I am struggling in a world where I am surrounded by people who must continually assert how fabulous and wonderful they are.
Have you ever met someone who went to Harvard? While I have a small sample size and as an aspiring statistician I should be warned of making conclusions for such, but it seems that within the first five minutes of conversation, somehow, it’s going to come out that they went to Harvard. Perhaps I mention I like the Red Sox, and they mention that they used to go to games when they could sneak away from their demanding class schedule at Harvard. Or perhaps we are having a conversation about the weather, in which they pipe up about how cold winters can be in Cambridge, on the campus of the university they attended (which by the way is called Harvard). Or even still, maybe it’s in the signature line of the emails they send. Which seems absurd, but I have seen it happen.
What came first? The education or the attitude of competition that they were somehow better than everyone else? (and I’m sure someone reading this is an incredibly humble ivy-league graduate…who wants to leave a comment telling me that not everyone from those schools would respond this way, but then you’d have to mention you went to Harvard, thus furthering my point).
But the art of competitively throwing every achievement in someone’s face can start on any level.
Perhaps you are a really good cook and insist on sharing your recipes even though no one is listening.
Or maybe you too have lost weight and feel the need to shove your new workout routine and diet down everyone’s throat, when weight-loss is really just as simple as burning more calories than you eat.
And I am sure your toddler is incredibly advanced for his/her age, which is exhibited by the fact that they do something that is so ridiculously cute that you must alert anyone who will listen because it is important that toddlers are good at things.
And yes… your blog has a lot of unique hits a day, the shampoo you use really does smell better than anyone else’s, and the guys that pass on the streets really are smiling at you because you are the prettiest girl that has walked by all day (not because you have something stuck in your teeth).
It is human nature to want to be good at things. I’d also submit that it is probably human nature to want to share your victories with others, especially when your victories can be weighed against your peers and you can rightfully claim yourself as the most spectacular person to ever be spectacular… but what is it all for?
And in the age of humblebrags, blatant brags, and arm sprains for perpetually patting oneself on the back, it is important to remember that the best source of competition comes from within: in those events where the victories are for no one other than yourself.
The next time you get a promotion, your toddler makes exceptional macaroni art, or you finish a marathon you’ve been training months to finish…. do us all a favor: pop the cork on a bottle of champagne, pour yourself a victory glass, and think about what the accomplishment means to you personally, rather than demanding everyone around you to partake in the celebration…. because the person whose life is affected by your wonderfulness is your own, not those around you.