A few months ago I submitted my senior thesis: 60 pages exploring the media portrayal of Latino baseball players, with a specific focus on the memorialization of Roberto Clemente and its subsequent influence on future Latin players. I follow one of my primary critics on Twitter, and two days after my submission he posted a link to apply for a Yoseloff Scholarship to attend the annual SABR convention in Miami. Each year the convention has a theme, often based off the host city, and this year’s theme was Latinos in baseball. Despite a sleep deficit of approximately two months I applied, on the basis of being able to continue my research in this field, and was awarded a scholarship that covered everything except the meals during my stay. These scholarships are offered for the SABR convention, and the SABR Analytics convention, and can be awarded to any current student (or recent grad) in high school, college, or graduate school.
Rather than break this down into a day-by-day account, because then we’d really get into some LLLJ, I’ve highlighted a few topics from the convention that I thought were especially interesting. I’ll put them in bullet points for ease of skimming, but they will not be numbered because this site is a place of Serious Journalism (and because my original draft "13 Crazy Things That Happened at the SABR Convention…and 1 Thing That Didn’t But Totally Should Have" was vetoed).
· If you’re reading this I’m going to assume that it’s not the first piece you’ve read on Lookout Landing and, therefore, you are well aware of the eccentricities associated with baseball fanatics, particularly those who write about this maddening sport. It was the best people watching I’ve seen since being trapped in the Frankfurt airport for seven hours, but also an incredible opportunity to be surrounded by people all united by one common interest. The baseball community is not without its quirks but it its, by all accounts, a fun group to be a part of.
· SABR is fighting a similar battle to Major League Baseball, in that their present primary demographic is both aging and homogenous (the opening remarks for the business meeting had both bald jokes, and Yankees jokes, in the first five minutes to give you a sense of the audience). Of the approximately 450 attendees in Miami, I can say with almost total certainty that I was one of less than 15 folks who were under the age of 25. To their credit, SABR has recognized these problems and recently formed a new diversity strategy committee headed by Emily Hawks, a member of SABR’s Board of Directors and a fellow Mariners fan. Efforts have also been made to work with MLB’s Diversity Initiative, including projects with ESPN Deportes and the recent publication of a bilingual book about baseball in Cuba
· In light of recent controversy swirling around Yasiel Puig’s relationship with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Cuban Media Panel proved to be particularly insightful. As one panelist noted, when asked about the perceived attitude problems of some Cuban players, "they don’t know how the rules work in other countries" and are allowed to get away with a lot in Cuba by virtue of their athleticism. Another panelist cited international shoplifting incidents with players currently playing in the Majors, and the way the Cuban government obscured those issues with vague statements without holding the players accountable. (Surprisingly little was said about the lack of effort by MLB teams to assist Cuban players with their transition into a new cultural mode. I'm planning to write my own thoughts on the matter later on.)
· There were a number of independent research presentations given throughout the convention, but one of the most well-attended was Allison Levin’s "Boys Will Be Boys: The Implicit Acceptance of Domestic Violence in Baseball". Rather than make an argument about the punishment for perpetrators, she instead sought to focus on the rhetoric of the media when discussing those accused of domestic violence and how that compares to the rhetoric surrounding the usage of PEDs. Most startlingly, in citing media database scans, she noted that one in four articles about Alex Rodriguez referenced PEDs, while one in two hundred articles about Chapman included references to domestic violence.
· SABR did an incredible job of assembling speakers for their panels and throughout those three days I had the opportunity to sit a few feet away from people like Ozzie Guillen, Jeff Conine, Marlins GM Michael Hill, Don Mattingly, Andre Dawson, and many more. But for someone who grew up in the Bay Area, and who’s baseball fandom was ushered in by Barry Bonds’ pursuit of the home run record, the opportunity to sit a few rows away and hear him speak was far and away the highlight. He was charismatic and well-spoken, with a kindness and enthusiasm that my self-righteous ten year old self would have been surprised by (remember when you could vote about what to do with his record breaking home run ball? I was one of the obnoxious kids that was adamant that it needed to go into the Hall with a big, red asterisk on it).
· Be grateful for Safeco Field. Watching a game at Marlins Park is essentially like watching an NBA game inside a strobe-lit snow globe. Somehow the air constantly smelled just a little too sweet, their male cheerleaders (yes, there were cheerleaders) wore baseball pants, the hype horn was used approximately once every 12 minutes, and Billy the Marlin is as terrifying a mascot as I’ve ever seen. If possible, the home run sculpture in center field is even more absurd in person. I could have gone my whole lifetime without seeing Fernando Rodney again, but it was kind of fun to see him and Ichiro shagging balls together during BP. And hey, I got to see Ichiro’s pre-at bat calisthenics again, so it wasn’t all bad.
I came home with a renewed appreciation for the Seattle Mariners, an unbelievable amount of new baseball knowledge, and a giant photo of Ichiro’s head on a stick, which completely terrifies my puppy. Next year’s SABR convention will be held in New York and, especially if you’re in the area, I’d definitely encourage you to attend.
*Note: I never did see Pitbull, although it is entirely possible that he may have been undercover at the convention; his bald head would have given him the ultimate camouflage. I am, however, certain that he was one of the architects for Marlins Park.