An advertisement for a trip to Hawaii in 2022

During this bowl season I have enjoyed the steady diet of college football sandwiched in between commercials. However, the media timeouts have allowed me to read about one sport while watching another.

Two friends gave me wonderful baseball books for Christmas. The one I’ve completed thus far is Zack Hample’s concise, insightful and entertaining Watching Baseball Smarter: A Professional Fan’s Guide for Beginners, Semi-Experts, and Deeply Serious Geeks (2007, Vintage Books).

For longtime fans who know the nuances of the National Pastime, it is more inspiration than new information. But there are many good reminders of unusual rules and odd occurrences as well as fresh observations to consider.

While games like baseball, football and basketball are called “team sports,” some athletes seem more concerned about personal success. It has something to do with those numerous dollar signs that can show up at contract negotiation time.

Hample recalls two separate approaches to wrapping up batting titles. Perhaps the best hitter of the ’80s, Wade Boggs, would sit out of season-ending games to protect his batting average if it was safely at the top of the league.

In 1941, on the other hand, Ted Williams came to the last day of the season hitting .3996 which would be rounded off to an amazing .400 batting average. But instead of sitting out, he played in both games of the closing doubleheader and went 6-for-8, bringing his batting average to .406, a mark not challenged by any player since.

Does any of this have application for the new year? Perhaps.

One, true fans will find a way to enjoy a taste of baseball even during the winter holidays. In addition to reading the two books, I caught some of Ken Burns’ wonderful baseball documentary on MLB channel on Christmas day.

Between segments he commented that it was the perfect sequel to his series on the Civil War because “you can learn more about (U.S.) history from watching baseball than you can from studying traditional history.” (Wish I’d had that helpful piece of information to share with my mother when I was a kid.)

Two, taking a risk and succeeding (like Ted Williams) must be much more gratifying than playing it safe (like Boggs) and taking home another trophy.

Three, whether on a sports team or in any shared community, it is helpful to affirm: “We’re in this together.” The joy of shared experiences is often sacrificed in the pursuit of personal achievement.

Now back to bowl games … and inspiring commercials like the one about losing weight at Taco Bell.

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