HomeTrending MLB NewsPlayer’s View: Consuming Baseball Then and Now — Part Two

Player’s View: Consuming Baseball Then and Now — Part Two

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Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

During spring training, I asked 10 current big leaguers how they followed the game growing up, and how that has changed since they began playing professionally. As expected, all of them noted significant differences. No longer fans following their favorite teams and players, they consume baseball in a distinctly different way, even as the mediums through which they take in the game remain much the same.

Following up on that March 8 piece, I asked a new subset of baseball professionals much the same question. Four are former players who are now managing, while two are former players who are now broadcast analysts. In each case, how they consume the game has evolved not once, but twice.

Here is what they had to say. Their answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.

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John Schneider, Toronto Blue Jays manager:

“For me, it’s always been similar. That maybe sounds funny, but whether it was as a fan, player, coach, or manager, I’ve always been interested in the strategy of the game. Being a catcher, you kind of look at a game that way naturally. What most fans want to see is their favorite players — you want them to hit home runs, things like that — and then as a manager, you’re always wondering what strings another manager might pull, or at least try to pull. So, it’s similar for me, but at the same time obviously a little different.

“Being a young kid growing up in New Jersey, I was a Yankees fan. Donnie [Mattingly] was one of my favorite players. But yeah, you watch games and think about who is coming up the next inning or two and how they’re going to beat the other team. I’ve always watched it that way.

“I still watch games now. If we’re playing at night and there is a day game… baseball is kind of always on. You’re always curious about how teams are lining up their batting orders, deploying their bullpens, or whatever it may be. You’re always trying to pick up little things. Do you play the infield in? Do you play them back? Why do you do it? Who’s coming up? Who’s available in the bullpen? I think when you do it every day, you kind of watch with that kind of eye.

“I read more now than I did as a kid. Back then, it was more watching than reading. I try to keep myself open to people who have had more and different experiences than me. Whether it’s a book, a podcast, or an interview, I try to take in all of those things, seeing what people are saying. I mean, growing up, I used to watch managers’ press conferences. I was that kind of nerd.”

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Kevin Cash, Tampa Bay Rays manager:

“Growing up, I was mostly playing, but I certainly watched WGN and TBS. Any time a playoff game came on, I’d watch. It was more that I was a fan of my favorite players, and then in the postseason I’d probably latch onto a team. Being from Tampa, we didn’t have a team yet, so it was pretty easy to be kind of a Braves fan. They were always on TV. I remember in school, any time we had a book project mine had something to do with a baseball story. Matt Christopher was an author. Catcher With a Glass Arm. I read that one.

“Once you start playing [professionally], it’s easy to consume yourself with your performance, your development. Do I see myself getting to the big leagues? What do I need to do? You’re really paying attention to the players ahead of you and how good they are. In the big leagues, they’re setting a high bar. You also don’t have a lot of time to watch games. Before MLB Network, it was watching Sports Center and Baseball Tonight. All that stuff. Highlights.

“How much [do I consume] now? I wish I was back in Little League. There are a lot of reports to be read, a lot of preparation. As a catcher, you’d balance it a little bit, because you tried to be really prepared, but it’s definitely different now. And I have much more appreciation for how challenging the game is, how hard the game is. Even as a player, I didn’t appreciate it nearly as much as I do now.”

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Alex Avila, MLB Network analyst:

“Growing up, I watched ESPN Baseball Tonight on a nightly basis. That’s how I got my baseball fix aside from watching the local broadcasts. I was in South Florida, so it was Florida Marlins, or I would watch the Cubs on WGN or the Braves on TBS. That’s how I consumed baseball as a kid. That and through magazines like Sports Illustrated.

“As a player, you look at it more from a competition standpoint. You’re trying to log information, knowing that you’re going to be facing that team, or that pitcher, or those hitters, at some point. Once I became a player, that’s more how I would watch games; I’d kind of be putting together scouting reports in my own head. Of course, when you’re at the ballpark, you have things to do to get ready. A lot of times, games would kind of be on [TV] in the background.

“It’s definitely different for me now. As a player, I’d consume games when I was at the ballpark, but went I got home, I would usually try to disconnect a little bit. Now I’m watching baseball almost 24/7. With the MLB app, I can get games that I want to see that aren’t broadcast locally. My wife jokes that I watch more baseball now than I ever did as a player.

“I can watch like a fan now, for sure. And I enjoy that. But there are certain things I’ll notice that a regular fan might not. If I’m watching a game with people who don’t have the knowledge or access that I had, they will ask me questions about something that might be happening — like the X’s and O’s. I kind of still watch it that way, but I enjoy it more as a fan.

“I read a lot from the media when I was a player, kind of gauging what people were saying about our team, but also opposing teams. That was a good way to get information on them. Now I’m reading all the time, keeping up with all the different things going on throughout the game. It’s part of my job. I’ll read what the beat writers are writing to help give me a gist of what’s happening with teams that I’ll be talking about.”

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Brian Anderson, Tampa Bay Rays TV analyst:

“I grew up in Northeast Ohio, in Geneva, and I think the Indians were maybe on TV 30-35 times a year, so I listened a lot on the radio. Our house was right across from a tire shop my father owned — a little tire shop — and when he would get off work at five o’clock, we’d go out to play baseball. We’d put the radio on and listen to Herb Score call the game while we were out there playing. As I got older and the TV packages got a little bit bigger, then you were able to see more on TV, but my early childhood memories of following baseball was box scores in the Ashtabula Star Beacon the following morning and radio calls the night before.

“To this day, when we go to Cleveland and they play an old clip on the Jumbotron, and I hear Herb Score’s voice, I’m eight years old again. It’s incredible. And when I played for them in 1996-97, he still was working. To have him calling a game that I was pitching blew my mind. It was such a cool thing.

“When I played for Arizona, you’d get to the ballpark and the East Coast games had started. Some would be on in the clubhouse. You wouldn’t sit there and watch a game, but you’d catch snippets here and there. I remember sitting there watching Kerry Wood when he struck out 20. As it began to build, everybody started to gather around, seeing how high he could get with the number of strikeouts.

“Now I get to consume just about every single Rays game; I take off maybe 12 or 13 a year. I’m watching our game intently while it’s going on, but I do find myself going home and flipping on the package from time to time, and will fall asleep to a West Coast game. I’ll maybe watch on an off day, too. At some point, you want to get away from it a little bit, but sometimes you get a good matchup and think, ‘I kind of want to watch that.’

“I watch because of my interest in the game. Having played the game at this level — I was fortunate enough to for pitch for 13 seasons — I’m not a fan anymore. Now, I want the Rays to do well. Of course. You build relationships with the guys downstairs. The coaching staff. You want them to do well. You want them to win the championship. But it’s not like a fan. If they have a tough loss, I’m just going to go home to bed. I’m not a fan anymore. I mean, am I a fan of the Cleveland Browns? Absolutely. Am I a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs? Absolutely. When they lose games it bothers me. Baseball? No. I hope certain teams and certain individuals do well, and I like good stories, but I don’t live and die with it like I used to. Not at all.”

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Bob Melvin, San Francisco Giants manager:

“Growing up, I knew every batting average. I could tell you the starting lineup for probably every team in the big leagues. Even coming up [as a player], watching the game the way I did, that was the case. Getting into coaching, I could tell you every coach on every team as well. There’s a lot more turnover now, from year to year. Guys aren’t staying with teams as long as they did before. There used to be five- or six-man coaching staffs, and now some are 10, 12, 14. So now I try to prioritize what is important to me. I won’t look at the box scores every single day; I’ll focus on the team we’re playing, and maybe the team we’re playing next. I try to minimize that, because there is a lot of noise. There are a lot of things to read out there. I try to streamline now.

“Being a player, you’re still a baseball fan. I probably watched and read more than I do now. But it did start to taper off after awhile. Once you become a little more experienced it becomes, ‘The only thing that’s really importance is this game, this series.’ Who you play next gets put on the back burner. The further you go along, the more you try to minimize all the noise that’s out there.

“Now, you’re getting every game. It’s not just the Saturday Game of the Week. Radio… probably not as much, even though I enjoy listening to baseball on the radio. We have guys here like Jon Miller who are fantastic. But there are so many outlets, so many articles, and so many different spins on things. There is so much analysis now. It feels like there is a lot to digest and comprehend. So again, I try to streamline it to what I think is important to me.”

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Craig Counsell, Chicago Cubs manager:

“The news has changed. TV has changed. There was no MLB Network. Every game wasn’t on in your clubhouse in the afternoon. You just didn’t see players as much, especially in the other league. As a player, I didn’t have knowledge of the entire league, because it wasn’t until the end of my playing days that you could watch every game. Getting to watch the players that we didn’t get to play against that much, like in the American League, was always fun.

“I did [consume a lot of baseball] as a kid, because my dad worked for the Brewers. He worked in the office. He was the Director of Community Relations, but he also wrote for their magazine, threw batting practice and was their video guy. He would be in the clubhouse nearly every day and I would tag along with him.

“I read Baseball Digest. Baseball Weekly was a big deal. I’d ride my bike to the grocery store to get Baseball Weekly when it came out, I believe on Wednesdays. Those were the two publications that I kind of remember. Once I became a player, I consumed less. Now [as a manager] I don’t really read about historical things in the game so much as I try to learn new things that are coming into the game. I do read FanGraphs.”

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