News From Terre Haute, Indiana

From the Press Box

July 31, 2010

From the Press Box: The perfect age to be a baseball geek

TERRE HAUTE — A few weeks ago, I turned 39. Ugh.

I shouldn’t imply that I’m in some neurotic existential crisis about it. I’ve never been hung up too much on age for myself or anyone else. Still, it’s mid-life and along with it, those mid-life questions creep into your mind more and more. Resistance is futile.

It’s not about whether I should get a Ferrari (moot point … I can’t afford it), a motorcycle (see Ferrari, can’t afford, etc.) or a tattoo (Ha! I’m so pale, you’d be able to see them from space), I’m talking about the ones that keep you up at night.

Is the world I’m leaving my kids as good as it should be? Is the world going to be a better place for them? What am I doing to make sure better things do happen? I’ll admit, I don’t always like my answers to some of those questions.

So maybe I do have a little bit of mid-life angst. But there’s one thing about being 39 that can’t be topped.

It’s the perfect age to be a baseball geek.

I should know. I am an inveterate baseball geek.

I will lay my baseball geek credentials on the table against anyone. I will out-geek you all.

I think 39 is perfect, because when you’re 39, you’re young enough to remember most of the minutiae of your youth. You also have the perspective to look back on your baseball past — as well as the baseball geeky happenings of the present — with a trained eye. You can separate the geek wheat from the geek chaff.

Or at least that’s what I tell myself. Another theory is that as the seasons pile up it just gives you more years to lose yourself in it.

To wit, my favorite Red Sox caps were the red ones they wore in the 1970s. In the 1970s? Whoa, that’s not specific enough for a baseball geek, the Bosox wore them from 1975-78. Only a true baseball geek knows that.

It’s about arguing with like-minded geeky friends about whether Wayne Krenchicki or Biff Pocoroba had a better utility player’s name. It’s about being anal-retentive to the nth degree about baseball’s history. It’s about spending quality time browsing old box scores on baseballreference.com.

Not all of it grabs me. I’ve never been into the autograph-seeking thing, but I “get” why some people do. Somehow, I’ve avoided fantasy baseball over the years, which is probably a good thing for the home life and my work ethic.

Then again, I just channel those passions in a different direction, such as editing my favorite baseball video game to put historical players in. Just recently, I made all-1980s rosters for each team without repeating any players on any clubs. If that means Floyd Rayford starts at third base for the 1980s Baltimore Orioles, well, sue me.

See … I told you I was a geek.

There’s only one thing better than being a 39-year-old baseball geek. It’s being a 39-year-old baseball geek dad.

The other day I walked by my daughter’s room and she had her small collection of baseball cards out. She had all of her cards spread out over her bed and was organizing them into their respective teams … just like I used to do.

I had a gleam in my eye. It goes without saying that baseball cards are the alpha, beta and omega of the baseball geek universe. It was also at that point that I realized I had some unorganized cards of my own sitting in a box in my basement.

The cards — nearly all of them 1981 and 1982 Topps — had been lost to history for nearly a quarter-century.

Back then, I used to climb on top of our 1973 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station wagon — yes, it had royal blue paint and wood paneling … accept no substitutes — and I would organize my cards in the perfectly proportioned luggage rack on the roof.

One day, they disappeared. I always presumed I left the cards on the roof and they lay forever rotting in a Topps tomb in some roadside ditch. However, when my grandma died in 2005, it turned out I had left them there on a visit and she had kept them for 23 years. When they came to light, it was as if I had rediscovered my personal Lost City of Gold.

They had been sitting in that same box in the five years since. Seeing a potential daddy-daughter baseball geek moment, I asked her if she’d help me organize my cards and she gladly accepted.

It was then that I gave her a primer on the world of baseball cards. She learned all about “doubles,” the stats on the backs of the cards, that each card has its own number, that baseball packs used to have gum in them back when her old man was a lad. That woe be to the unfortunate soul who got a checklist card in his pack. I gave her my doubles of any Hall of Famers I came across.

She gobbled it all up and she wanted a few packs of her own. So I indulged. I even got her one of those packs that includes the nuevo gum, though Topps wraps it in an hyper-protective plastic layer so as to avoid any sugar smudge on potential rookie cards. Value, schmalue, what a ripoff!

As she opened her cards, she got a few doubles and she gave them to me. She said since I had all older cards, that maybe I wanted some newer ones.

Maybe the world will be a better place after all. As long as it’s safe for baseball geeks.

Todd Golden is sports editor of the Terre Haute Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or todd.golden@tribstar.com. Check out Golden’s blog at blogs.tribstar.com/downinthevalley.

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