For three years, from mid-March until mid-May, I warmed the benches and bleachers of local ballparks and jotted, marked, noted and erased in small squares that determined the statistical value and performance of my favorite baseball team, the Olmsted Falls High School Bulldogs.
With help from players and the kind tolerance and patience of the coaches, I learned the importance of digits 1-9, Eís, Kís, WPís, broad lines, and slashes.
A flawless book, I cannot claim, and it was without a doubt secretly adjusted by more efficient and knowledgeable statisticians after leaving my lap. Nevertheless, I felt a part of the team and fell in love with the paradoxically charming spit, dirt, and banter of the dugout.
My team taught me how to save the seed and spit the shell of assorted flavored sunflower seeds, and I tried to imitate the deep, strong voices that artfully slurred "ay now Kid" in encouragement of teammates.
Baseball, like any art, has a jargon all its own.
I look back nostalgically on the most exhilarating and the most disappointing games; even of the most mundane games, the double-headers, and the rituals that accompanied them, I hold the fondest of memories.
Perhaps it is nostalgia that maintains lifetime, fanatic sports followers. For instance, as a Clevelander, I felt overly sad when Jacobs Field became Progressive Field, simply because the former had been the home of the Indians for as long as Iíve been a fan.
If nostalgia maintains them, what creates the stat-spitting, the apathetic, and the occasional fans?
It is aggression, competition, rivalry. Itís the synergy of the spectators and the performers, the food, the drinks, the lights, the music. Itís ritualistic - the anticipation of the seventh-inning stretch - and community driven.
Sports teams give people a sense of belonging. Whether that connection is made through habitual game attendance, extensive knowledge, or merely geographical location, a sense of community and linked interests are the driving forces behind the popularity of sports for players and spectators alike.
That sense of community creates pride, which brings logos, mascots, and team colors; loyalty, which brings support in times of lusterless performance; and rivalry, which allows for arguing, debating, and conversation between people from all over the country.
It is the rivalry that separates sporting events from other types of entertainment - Broadway shows, comedy shows, and concerts. The competition invites spectators to feel affected, and thus further connected, by the events taking place. As it drives the free market, it similarly drives the popularity of sports.
At WhatIfSports.com, we capture the essence of rivalry through SimLeagues, Dynasty Games, Dream Teams and even SimMatchup, while allowing users to discuss and debate the competition, the players, and approaches to game play. Combined, these create a thriving environment for wonder-lust sports fans everywhere.
The WIS Playbook is a collection of sports articles generated by authors from within the WhatIfSports community. Contributors will include Paul Bessire and Nicole Green of WhatIfSports.com, other guest writers and even registered WIS users. In the Playbook, you will find unique content that varies from our typical predictions and hypothetical matchups. If you are interested in submitting articles for the Playbook, please contact us through BtB@WhatIfSports.com.