Posted by: Larry Smith Jr. | January 15, 2010

The Starting Shortstop: An Introduction

This is the first post in what I hope will be a long-lasting foray into the World of blogging, which preferably will lead to bigger and better things  in due time.   I felt that in making my first post on this blog, instead of diving directly into what will be the main theme — Baseball — I would start by introducing you the reader to me, the author.   It is through this introduction that I hope you will get a better idea of the perspective from which I view the game, a sneak peek into my “credentials” as a commentator (not that one really needs much in the way of credentials to speak on any topic, but I’d like to consider myself a knowledgeable person and would like my readers to think the same of me), and even my writing style and passion for both the game and writing about it.

First, why I began the blog:

I have been blogging for a very long time.  Yet, I’ve never had an “official” or stable blog, and I’ve never had a blog focused on a single subject or loosely related group of subjects.   I started my first blog in 2001 using webspace that no longer is registered or exists to my knowledge.   It was on a free web host named “00server”, and it was more or less just chronicles of my everyday existence and the things that were on my mind.   Often, this included talk about the Detroit Tigers.   I did that for about two years and then started a similar blog on my MySpace page starting in the Summer of 2005.   I maintained that blog for about three-and-a-half years before a number of factors that I will not rehash here led me to stop blogging.   There is an outside possibility that I may soon resume my MySpace blog, but that specific blog is more about life in general and my life in particular.   While baseball is an occasional topic because it is a large part of my life, it is not the central focus of that blog, and so even if I made the choice to resume working on it, such a decision would not render this blog obsolete.

After I discontinued blogging via myspace, I generally replaced blogging via facebook updates.  I do not have a twitter account, but I’ve often used my facebook in a manner similar to twitter.  I’ve taken advantage of the larger character limit available on facebook and self-commenting my own statuses to distribute my thoughts in real-time.   I’ve used their notes system to write more well thought-out opinions and ideas.   Much like previous blogging experiences, while baseball has been a frequent part of my writing, it has not been the central focus.

One of the things I’ve gleaned from nine years of mostly continuous writing, is that I’ve kept most of my writing in places (00server, MySpace, Facebook) where it was unlikely to be seen or noticed, and while I would essentially dedicate roughly 1 in every 4 posts to a topic that pretty much anyone would like to read about (i.e. sports, politics, general philosophy), the focus of the blog would be so…….well, unfocused……that it was not worth the effort to promote or to put in a place where it would be more accessible.  

Within the last couple of months, I’ve had something of a “Come To Jesus” moment (or series of them), where I’ve realized how highly wasteful this has been.   I went to college and majored in Communication with the specific purpose of becoming a sportswriter or play-by-play announcer one day.  While there I was consistently denied by various local outlets in my quest to gain internships, and graduated in 2003 unable to find a job anywhere in the industry.  In the interim I’ve worked three separate jobs in two vastly different fields (neither of which is even remotely related to sports OR writing or any form or function of media) for three different employers, while diligently cranking out material for almost a decade that has been largely hidden away from the World.   What started as a small detour has become an interminably long one, with no end in the foreseeable future.   As I approach 29 years of age, I’ve made the decision that if I ever have a hope of achieving my ultimate goal in life — To in some regard work either within baseball or writing about it — It starts by actually positioning myself to have a body of work that is recognized as being of high quality, as I know I’m capable of producing.   And that friends, is why I have started this blog.   I’ve dedicated it to the topic that I have the most passion about, and hope to combine that passion with my greatest skill — The written word — To create a vehicle that will drive me to my dreams.   It may succeed, it may fail.   But it is my determination that it is my only hope.

Second, what I hope for the blog

Hopefully I can acquire a dedicated and intelligent readership that shares my passion, likes my posts, and loves to think about the game both statistically and analytically as well as fundamentally.  I want many posts that talk about the league wRC+ leaders, best baserunners by EqBRR, and best defenders by UZR/PMR/etc.    But baseball is about so much more than just numbers and statistics.   I want many posts about things like the way B.J. Upton runs.  Have any of you seen how he runs?  I mean really paid attention?  Next time the Tampa Bay Rays come to your town and he gets on base, I want you to watch him.  Look at him when he takes his lead off of first base.   Look at his feet.   I can say I’ve never quite seen a player who runs like him.  Maybe there has been another, but I haven’t seen it.    He stands straight up with both of his feet turned TOWARDS second base.   I remember seeing this for the first time and commenting to the person sitting next to me: “Look at that!  It’s amazing that he’s so fast and confident that he can position himself that way while running!   I would never do that when I ran the bases.  And that’s why I’m sitting here, and he’s out there.”    I want many posts about stadiums, and the beauty and history of the game.  I want to post about everything baseball.   It is my hope that I can do that.   This blog will have a decidedly Detroit Tigers lean, especially during the regular season, because that is the team I follow most closely by a wide margin and the team that I care the most about.  But I hope to be able to stick many varied baseball related topics over time.

Third, Who am I to be talking about baseball?

Well, I believe I covered alot about my writing/blogging history in point #1, but this is who I am:  I began following baseball in 1986.   I was five years old then.  I’m sure my parents might be able to say more about exactly when they knew I loved baseball, and perhaps they will tell you it was before 1986.   However, I truly have no memories about baseball prior to 1986, and very few memories about anything else before that time as well.   I was born and raised in Detroit — That’s the actual Detroit city, not the suburbs — And lived there until 2008.  I grew up a fan of the Detroit Tigers and that is what I remain.  I have no memory of the 1984 championship, the team, the season, or the infamous celebration.  I have a very vivid memory of the 1987 division title winning team, and most specifically the final game of the season.  I remember where I was when the final out was made on October 4, 1987 (in the kitchen, watching on a small television while my parents were in an adjacent room).  That day remains one of my fondest baseball memories.   I also remember the 1986 playoffs very well, specifically the ALCS and the World Series, and I was watching when Bill Buckner made his error.

I began playing baseball in 1988.  I began my playing career as a second baseman in the Detroit Barney McCosky League.  The team’s manager was Linda Frost.  My Dad was an assistant coach as was Paul Able.   The next year I was moved to shortstop, though that is not where the title of my blog was derived.  I actually elected to name this blog “The shortstop” as a play on words:  I wanted to combine a baseball term with an action related to reading, and “short stop” fit the bill perfectly.   I spent most of my young playing days shuttling between shortstop and third base, depending on the needs of the team on the specific game in question.  I also spent most of my young playing days as a poor hitter who was afraid of getting hit by the baseball, who was a very good fielder.  On the rare occasion that I would reach base, I was a huge stolen base threat.  In every sport that I’ve ever played (either organized sports or pick-up games) I was generally the fastest or second-fastest player on the field.  This is actually still true to date, though at my age it ought to stop being true any day now.

Around the time I was 11 or 12 while playing third base I was hit hard in the mouth by a baseball that took a bad hop on one of Detroit’s many poorly maintained playing diamonds.  Shortly thereafter my fielding deteriorated sharply (again due to fear of being hit by the ball) and I pressed my Coach (at that time, my Dad) to move me to the outfield.   I eventually got my way, and found Center Field not only to my liking, but also a place where I could run and display my speed.   In addition, my Dad always stressed fundamental baseball and movement on every play to backup plays.  I found in Center Field there was alot of action to backup plays or players and I was more involved in the action.

When I was 13 I joined a travel team comprised of the All-Star players from our youth league.  Many of the guys on this team I’d played against for four or five years.   I was the starting Center Fielder on this team.  By this time my hitting had improved considerably after I got over my fear of getting hit, and while I was not a power threat, I could make good contact, run, and I was a decent fielder.   I was a low self-confidence player though, and easily rattled by errors or striking out in key situations.  Our team was highly successful, and eventually ended up playing in the play-in round for the Little League World Series in Fostoria, OH.   We were one win away from going to the regionals in Arizona.   What we were told at the time (I’m not sure if its actually true, but this is what we were told) is that at that time we were the closest team from Detroit (the actual Detroit, not metro Detroit) to making it to the regionals in well over a decade.   I probably peaked as a ballplayer in this season, I’d say.  I was not the best or second-best player on the team, but I was a starter and a notable contributor.  In that tournament we played against two players who would go on to NFL careers — Craig Krenzel (who was a star player at Ohio State) and Jim Sorgi.

At 14 I joined my high school team, and impressed the coach during the exhibition season.  He was so impressed in fact, that he routinely kept me for extra hitting practice as he worked on trying to convert me into a switch-hitter.  I ended up fairly severely injuring my back playing rec league basketball that year, and ended up not playing baseball as a result.  To date, I still wonder how my playing career might have turned out had I not transferred high schools after that year.    Yet, I did transfer high schools, and at my new high school the coach was considerably less impressed with me.   When I told him that the last coach was working on converting me to switch-hitting, he had me take no more than 10 swings left-handed before declaring the idea stupid and scrapping it.  It seemed to me from Day 1 that he was more concerned with being macho and hypercritical than helpful and constructive.  My personality doesn’t jibe well with that type in general, but at that time in my life specifically the worst thing that could have happened was for me to have a hypercritical coach.   I was not as confident of a person as today, and I could not handle rampant criticism from a coach who offered little in the way of positive reinforcement, ever.   Not only did my performance decline, but my overall interest in playing also declined.   My high school baseball experience at my second high school is easily the worst time I’ve ever had with the game at any level in any function — As a player or spectator.   He did just about everything possible to kill my love for the game, and I eventually quit playing at the end of the exhibition season of my Senior year.   That period of my life was when baseball was the least fun for me, and I did not really follow the sport much at any level, including the Tigers.   I generally operate  under the belief that most negative things in life are challenges that you can learn from and you should be happy for them, but in the case my old high school coach, I don’t really see a positive consequence from his appearing in my life.  I eventually quit playing because of him and for a period of roughly three years didn’t even like watching the game.    My Father — A State of Michigan award winning baseball coach — tends to believe that the skills I showed at 14 probably were good enough to play collegiately though maybe not at an elite program.   In any event, my high school coach remains one of my least favorite characters in the movie of my life, and so goes the story of my career as a baseball player.   I can still be periodically seen on softball fields playing below average defense, showing good power for my size, and still-outstanding speed on the base paths and in the field.   I’m no longer really physically capable of hitting a baseball (as opposed to softball) thrown any faster than 50 MPH, as I haven’t played competitively or even in pick-up fashion since I was 17 years old, and haven’t played with any sort of passion or enthusiasm since I was 15.

One positive thing that did come out of my High School career though, was that in my final season (my junior year, 1998), our team went to the City Championship game that was played at the now-extinct Tiger Stadium.   Thus, I can legitimately claim to have played more games at Tiger Stadium than many current Major Leaguers, including most of the players currently on the Tigers.

After I quit playing, I spent a couple of years on the coaching staff of some of my Dad’s teams as an assistant and base coach in rec leagues coaching 9/10 year olds.  In the years since I stopped that (following the conclusion of my Dad’s coaching career), I’ve often considered lobbying a local high school coach to let me volunteer as an instructor/coach, but have often elected not to do so because in all the time I’ve been in the work force I have always worked jobs with odd hours.  Including now.   Such that I’m not certain how much time I could donate to being a dedicated member of a baseball team, especially with the rigorous schedules that the high schools play.  And so goes the brief story of my career as a coach.

I opened this section talking about my beginnings as a fan, and intentionally took the playing and coaching detour before coming back to this trunk of road.   As both a fan and a commentator, I have a strangely well-documented history relative to my professional achievement in the game (which to date, is none).   As early as 1992, my teachers noted my enthusiasm for the game.   In an evaluation sent home to my parents, my teacher wrote: “He likes sports and P.E.  He even likes to be creative with the sports statistics that he collects.”   This commentary followed a list of recreational books I’d read during the semester, of which 5 (out of 10 total) were baseball books.

In 1998, I got the opportunity via a Detroit Free Press contest open to High School journalism students to “cover” the Tigers for a game and I won the contest, getting as top prize my story published in the Detroit Free Press.   I still have four copies of that issue of the Free Press, one of which is in a frame larger than my the one for my college diploma.   The very next year, I was a runner-up in the same contest (I still to this day believe that the only reason I did not win, is because they did not want to give it to me two years in a row, sort of like the Heisman).  To this end, I can also claim that I’ve covered more games at Tiger Stadium (2) than many baseball writers.

In January 2003, Todd Schulz of the Lansing State Journal wrote an article about the Detroit Tigers struggle to attract fans after losing 106 games the previous year (little did he, me, or the Tigers know, that they were going to lose way more later that year) and I was featured prominently in the first pair of paragraphs of the article as an example of one of the few hardcore Tiger fans left.  His characterization of me in that article was such that he made me seem a little crazy.  Then again, I did literally walk quite a lengthy distance in the snow for a chance to meet with Tiger players like Carlos Pena, Brandon Inge, Nate Cornejo, Eric Eckenstaler, announcer Dan Dickerson (before he reached the iconic status in my life that he now holds), and Hall of Fame announcer Ernie Harwell.  And I did two days after meeting Pena, Inge, and Harwell at Tigerfest.   All three remembered me at the second event, which is what prompted Schulz to ask who I was in the first place.

In 2006, my You Tube Video of Magglio Ordonez’s series-clinching home run was the #1 Youtube sports video in the week that it was posted.

I’ve been to just about every form of baseball game there is at the professional level, having been to an in-season exhibition (between the Tigers and Reds in 1986), Grapefruit League spring training games (in 1989 and 2007), spring training games in MLB stadiums (between the Tigers and Braves in 2009), inter-league games, 16 inning games, games that end at 3:30 in the morning, All-Star games (2005), no hitters (2007, Justin Verlander), playoff games (2 ALDS games, 1 ALCS game, and 2 World Series games in 2006), AAA games, and single A games.   I’ve been to 24 different Major League stadiums to watch a game, although 4 of those are no longer in use.   And so goes the story of my career as a fan.

I’ve played more games in Tiger Stadium that some major leaguers and covered more games there than some writers.  I’ve been to games in 24 stadiums covering every one of baseball’s divisions (most thoroughly the NL Central) and I’ve personally attended most types of games that are imaginable, while watching hundreds (if not thousands) of others on television.   And so goes the story of my credentials when I write this blog.    That is the history that I present, and perspective that I come from, and the point of view that I bring to the table with my writing.  That of a person who has been dipped in the game since a very young age, and remained covered in it ever since, save for a brief period in my late teens.   I hope that you, the reader, can appreciate my perspective and enjoy reading my blog as much as I intend to enjoy writing it.



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