So as you may have noticed, it's January.
Gone is the baseball season. Gone is the anticipation of your favorite team as the favorite to sign Robinson Cano, or Shin-Soo Choo, or even Phil Hughes. And if you happen to root for the teams who signed those players, there are still weeks to go until you can watch the brief snippet of video that comes with the spring training reporting days: baseball players, in impossibly bright sunshine, playing catch.
But right now, you don't even have that.
So what's a baseball junkie to do?
Fear not, friends. I've been through this many times. I know all too well the various methadones you can use to substitute for the Great American Heroin. Like with any other medical/psychological remedy, results may vary by individual. But here's the best I've come up with, in order of most effective to least effective.
(You'll notice the absence of baseball books. I find those only intensify my feelings of offseason baseball loss. So reading the very best work, whether Roger Angell's collections, Jim Brosnan's writing, or even the seminal Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, works best for me as companions to the actual season. That said, the February releases of Baseball Prospectus and John Sickels' annual prospect guides always brightens late winter.)
It's my second-favorite sport, and it is immensely fun to watch, interpret, and yes, cover. One reason I find it such a perfect baseball offseason coping mechanism is the schedule. I returned from the World Series in time to go cover opening night of the NBA. A week later, the college basketball season began.
And it'll last you: I've made a regular habit of watching the NCAA tournament at spring training, with the championship game usually happening right around Opening Day for MLB. This season is no different: we get a week of baseball ahead of the Final Four.
If you are so inclined, the NBA playoffs can last you into May, even June. If you're in New York, as I am, probably better off preparing for an end in April.
I don't want to try and sell you on basketball. You've probably heard of it already, and made up your own mind. That basketball is slightly behind baseball in overall pleasure provided is no criticism of Dr. Naismith's sport: it's like comparing another player to Mike Trout.
Anyhow, it's a huge help. I know there are people who try something similar with football, though the season is insufficient chronologically, offers one game a week, and might do this to the players you root for. There's soccer, though our domestic league mostly overlaps with baseball season, and a day trip to White Hart Lane is prohibitively expensive and time-consuming for Americans.
So it's basketball for me.
Back before I made the tactical error of marrying and having a family, I could pass through my winters by exclusively altering my reality, and playing ungodly amounts of Baseball Mogul. I still get to some of it, though the compelling nature of my wife and daughter have forced me to compromise a bit.
How Baseball Mogul, updated and improved each season, works: you take control of a franchise, any franchise, from 1901 to the present. You manage every element of the team's operations, from player movement and managing, to things like location, stadium, even price of concessions.
It's been my go-to game dating back to college. I've taken over the Brooklyn Dodgers in the late 1940s, and provided Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider and Gil Hodges with sufficient pitching to overtake the Yankees. I've seen how quickly I could turn the 1962 Mets into the 1969 Mets. I've taken on random reclamation projects, like the 1983 Pittsburgh Pirates, or seeing whether I can make the Boston Bees into a winner for Wally Berger and Danny MacFayden.
Then there's Diamond Mind Baseball, which lacks the franchise-building excitement of Baseball Mogul, but has arguably superior gameplay. When I play Diamond Mind, I can actually feel like I'm managing a game between the Mets and Phillies in May, and re-enact the overuse of Scott Rice, just like the professionals do it!
As I understand it, Out of the Park Baseball is also a wonderful alternate reality escape. I have yet to try it, though my recent purchase of a Mac could be the impetus to add it to the rotation.
And then there's Strat-O-Matic Baseball, the board game. It's lower-tech, but it's something I enjoy, perhaps as a member of the last generation who grew up before technology overtook board-based pursuits. After all, in my childhood, Strat-O-Matic's competitor was Micro League Baseball on the Commodore 64. I played a game with my father, 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers vs. 1955 Milwaukee Braves, on the afternoon Duke Snider died.
The games of hide-and-go-seek with my daughter are lovely. But really, the whole reason we have children is to one day play Strat-O-Matic Baseball with them. I'm ready when she is.
DVDs, audio and MLB Network reruns
As NBC once proudly told us, "If you haven't seen it, it's new to you!" Chances are, if you're in the kind of baseball junkie desperation I am, you've seen the games that matter, and even most of those that didn't. Still, like any great work of art (as opposed to, for instance, "Suddenly Susan"), subsequent viewings only enhance our understanding and deepen our aesthetic senses for future endeavors.
MLB Network's 20 Greatest Games start running again this week. My DVD collection of the 1986 playoffs is in fine working order. You can listen to Vin Scully call the ninth inning of Sandy Koufax's perfect game, via Youtube, anytime you want!
Are these games going to provide the sheer surprise of, say, David Freese on first watching in the 2011 World Series? Certainly not. But the 1.5 million people who purchased The Great Gatsby this year can't have all been reading it for the first time. A classic never dies.
My daughter and I have a playlist for the darkest, stormiest days of winter. Meet the Mets, naturally, though don't forget the criminally underrated "New York Mets" by Duke of Iron. Steve Goodman's "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request". "Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball", by Les Brown and his orchestra. Naturally, "Who's On First", Abbott and Costello.
Note: this music may lead to more acute pain over not attending a ballgame. It's really hard for this Mets fan to hear "Lazy Mary" by Lou Monte without feeling sunshine against my face and throwing my daughter up into the air.
Bouncing cat toys off the wall and coaching my two cats to field them in makeshift outfielder drills
Honestly, this one is cold comfort for the baseball offseason. My larger cat generally lacks enthusiasm for the game, playing the outfield with a kind of Derek Bell Operation Shutdown anti-intensity. My smaller cat lacks the ability to process and remember how the ball bounces from different angles, making for a kind of Lastings Milledge at Fenway Park effect.
Overall, the emotional substitution for baseball is fairly limited. In the end, though, that's true for virtually anything else in life. We soldier on, bravely watching for that bright red circle around the reporting date for our favorite team.
If you need me in the meantime, I'll be asking my wife whether I should go seven years on a Matt Harvey extension and showing my daughter Game 3 of the 1986 NLCS while my cats play another double into a triple.