Tag Archives: red sox

Seeking Outliers on a Normal Distribution

With all our freaks, geeks, and future politicians/sex solicitors, Harvard doesn’t really have a reputation for churning out “normal” people.  Most people believe that all Harvard students do in college is sleep and study, which doesn’t allow for any social interaction whatsoever.  Some of this is well-founded.  At our senior trip to a Red Sox game, I saw a girl furiously doing her math homework, calculator and all, right there in the bleachers of Fenway Park.  Harvard 1, Normal 0.

Most Harvard people, though, do come out pretty well-adjusted after college.  Unlike popular perception, we don’t always wear our elitist blazers with cashmere sweaters tied around our necks.  We don’t drink alcohol out of lab beakers and carry TI-83s to calculate our BACs (we do that in our heads). We still get shwastey-faced and make bad decisions at shady bars with unattractive strangers.

In fact, to show how normal we really are, let me tell you about “Chase”, a fellow Harvard grad from Jersey.

Chase is just another twenty-something with a steady job, a sweet girlfriend, and a gregarious personality.  He’s a very nice guy with good intentions.  But, he’s also crazy.  Crazy in a totally normal, Florida State way.

Even though I would best describe him as an “acquaintance,” I’ve seen Chase get drunk, get in fights, and get naked and run through the streets.  I’ve seen him projectile vomit, pass out, and ice-luge goldfish (multiple times, though not necessarily in that order).  At the Harvard-Yale tailgate on Saturday, I saw Chase operating at his very best: funneling Buds and leading raucous cheers about how much Yale sucks.

See?  At Harvard, we do have typical, jock-ish frat boys with high tolerances and low inhibitions.  So, you can say it: Harvard–they’re just like us!  (Notice how I reference popular mag Us Weekly to show how normal I am.)

Then again, as much as we love “normal” people (like Sarah Palin), perhaps we do need our leaders to deviate from the normal distribution.  I think I speak for everyone when I say that I don’t want our President crushing beers on his head while memorizing the nuclear codes.

“Do you realize,” my friend mused, as we watched Chase shotgun another Bud, “That Chase could be the Republican senator of New Jersey one day?”

At least it’s just Jersey.

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Reprising their Role in Baseball’s Greek Tragedy

This season, I haven’t followed the Red Sox as ardently as I have in the past.  But given that they were in town, and playing the Yankees this weekend, I decided I would watch all four games.  So I watched.  I cringed.  And I, along with the Red Sox, suffered.

Prior to 2004, the story of the Red Sox had always been that of a Greek tragedy.  The villains were Buckner and Boone and the curse of the Bambino.  You knew it was going to end badly.  You knew that the Sox would get your hopes up, only to be crushed in the end.  Season after season, it was a hopeless cause–like world peace.  You wanted it to happen, but you knew that in the end, darker forces (the Yankees, the Taliban) would always be in the way. 

But then, 2004 happened.  We won the world championship, beat the Yankees, and eradicated the dreaded “Curse”.  Then, in 2007, we did it again.  Suddenly, the Red Sox franchise was associated with winning.  It was a strange feeling.

losersThus, I watched the Sox play this weekend, fully expecting that we would win (at least one)…  But we lost the first three games.  And around 11:15ish tonight, the Yankees blew away our 2-1 lead and scored four runs in the bottom of the 8th.  5-2, Yankees, and we were down to our last inning.  (The collective “we” is what makes it all the more heartbreaking, especially since I feel the pain even though I have no control over the outcome of the game, no matter how much I yell at the players through the TV.)  Yet, while I instinctively knew that I should skip the inevitable conclusion of the 9th inning, that tiny glimmer of ’04/’07 hope kept me watching.  Damn, Red Sox.  I’d have an easier time turning away from a train wreck.

Of course, we got the tying run to the plate against Mariano Rivera, and then lost.  Losers once again.

So, in my postgame huff, I started to write about how much I hated the Yankees.  My first line was: “Rooting for the Yankees is like encouraging the rich kids to steal food from the homeless.”  But I figured that a rant about the haves vs. the have-nots would be somewhat unfair, given the Red Sox’s payroll. (Although it is $80 million less than that of the Yankees, or should I say, Bankees. Ha, ha.  Thanks, TARP backlash.)

Instead, I’ve realized that as much as I do, legitimately, hate the Yankees (after all, they steal from the homeless), I’m starting to hate on the Red Sox too.  I hate J.D. Drew and the $14 million we pay him to hit singles.  I hate how Big Papi’s (potential) PED use has cast doubt over the legitimacy of those world championships.  I hate that I believe the Sox can win all the time — it was so much easier when I’d already prepared myself for failure.  And I hate Tek’s balky knees, Beckett’s facial hair, all Red Sox shortstops, and how sweaty Youk gets during the games.  I appreciate the effort, but it’s nasty.

Lastly, I hate myself a little bit too — I hate how I’ve wasted so much time caring.  This time could have been spent on world peace. 

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Why Red Sox Nation Loves A-Rod

They say that when you grow up in Boston, it’s in your blood. It seeps into your mind, your heart, and your soul. There is no denying it, and there is no cure. In life, you may change jobs, political affiliations, or even genders, but you will always, always be a Boston Red Sox fan.

The Red Sox are an institution in Boston. This is a city that bleeds red in October. It is a city that jams thirty-thousand-plus people into a green concrete box on game days. It is a city that goes crazy when the Sox win, and self-immolates when the Sox lose. If you were walking the streets of Boston today, and asked a stranger about the three happiest moments of his life, the first two would be some variation of the typical answer: when my children were born, owning my first home, the day of my wedding, the day of my divorce, etc. However, the third happiest moment would likely be repeated by most everyone you meet: the “Sawx” winning the 2004 World Series. Seriously: everyone. Or at least 90%.

But even though us Boston fans are undoubtedly consumed by our sports teams, this fanaticism isn’t limited to Massholes. In fact, there are some places that may even be worse. After all, grown men wear dresses and pig snouts to support the Redskins in Washington. Detroit fans help out their basketball team by sucker punching opposing players. And infamous Cubs fan Steve Bartman received death threats before he was forced into hiding… all because he interfered with a foul ball.

Some might think that our country’s infatuation with sports is strange: you have millions of people on the edge of their seats, fixating over an event they can’t control, with participants they don’t really know, in a game they’ve probably never played. Even though we may give ourselves credit for our team’s victory (“during the whole game, I didn’t move my right arm, because the last time I did, Favre threw an interception”)… really, telekinesis has yet to hit NFL playbooks.

So why are we so obsessed? Why do we set aside our Sundays, neglect our work, and force our arms to go numb? Why do we let two-point conversions and last-second threes and outcomes (over which we have no control) impact our mood?

Why do we allow the fate of a foul ball decide how homicidal we want to be today?

Well, what else is there to do? I’d rather watch a baseball game than turn on the news to another bank bailout. I’d prefer to fill out my brackets than pore over my shrinking 401(k). The country needs a diversion right about now, however minor or fleeting it may be. We need sports now more than ever before.

a-rodFortunately, there are some among us who recognize this, and have stepped up to go above and beyond their vocation. To Alex Rodriguez: your recent revelations (of steroid use, of infidelity, of loving yourself a little too much) have not only distracted us from the dire financial crisis, but they have also reinforced all of New England’s fervor for baseball. For as it is with the symbiotic nature of sports, loving the Sox is also about inherently hating the Yankees. And it’s pretty easy to hate on the Yanks these days… I mean, come on: just look in the mirror.

Part of this post was excerpted from a previous post by the same author, from September 17, 2008: “I’m Voting for the Candidate Who Agrees That the Yankees Suck”

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Random Thoughts on… Optimism

About six years ago, I went to a Red Sox game with my father.  He had gotten tickets from a co-worker who didn’t want them anymore, and had sold them to my dad for a small profit.  To be honest, I wasn’t that excited to be going to the game.  Back then, I felt that professional athletes were egotistical, overrated, and undependable as role models; there were far too many of them landing in the news, on their way to jail or rehab.  Plus, the Red Sox weren’t going to be in the playoffs, Pedro was out, and already the players seemed to be squabbling about their multi-million dollar contracts.  I felt that I was just too old to get excited about over-glorified athletes playing a game.  It was just baseball. 

When we got to Fenway Park (after surviving the mosh pit on the Green Line), there was a mother and her young son in the row behind us.  The boy was about eight years old, dressed in full Red Sox attire, and ready to catch foul balls with a baseball glove.  Once the game started, the little boy was absolutely captivated.  He would sit as close as possible to the field with his elbows on his knees and whisper words of encouragement to the players three hundred feet away.  His enthusiasm was infectious; I found myself at the edge of my seat, springing up every time a foul ball came our way.  But by the ninth inning, all my hope had capitulated into moping about another Red Sox disaster.  Fair-weather fans in front of us were in their element.  “You guys suuuccck!  Jeez Nomah, you pay off the ump for that call?”  When the game finally ended, I heard the kid sigh and slump back in his seat.  “Man, that last hit was so hard, I thought it was gonna get through.”  His attention to the sport, his optimism and hope-that made me admire him yet feel sorry for him at the same time. 

During high school, I used to coach a program for little kids around the ages of four to ten.  In the spring, we played baseball.  I watched these determined, diligent young kids try their absolute hardest: they ran out every hit, whether it was a clean single or a little flub in front of the plate.  When they came into the game, they mimicked Nomar’s meticulous tidying of his batting gloves, even if they had none.  Sometimes I felt an obligation to talk to them about sportsmanship and playing the game right.  The way I saw professional athletes in those days was something I hoped they wouldn’t see until they got much older.

But those kids played the game because it was fun for them and they liked it.  They would brag to each other about who could hit it the farthest, who could run the fastest.  They talked about what it would be like in the major leagues.  Back then, some parents came up to me and thanked me for working with their children.  They’d say that they were surprised, because I was a teenager and they thought all teenagers just liked to rebel against their parents.  One mother actually asked me if I was coaching because I was sentenced to community service.  I tried to tell the parents that not all teenagers were like the stereotype, but I’m not sure most of them believed me.  I could tell by their nervous looks that they were dreading the day their little angel turns sixteen. 

As I reflected over the numerous Sunday afternoons, I realized that although I had never done anything overly spectacular, the kids still looked up to me with the same reverence they bestowed on their sports heroes.  Six years later, I understand their parents’ unyielding watch and nervous glances.  I had believed that children were naïve to put faith in a character I reasoned to be unworthy.  I had presumed that what I read in the news about some professional athletes were vices of all pro athletes, yet I had scoffed at the parents who had assumed I was just like the teenage stereotype.  It seems we get more cynical of the world as we get older, and we no longer have faith in our once-reasonable dreams or our once-adored role models.  We lose the trusting nature and unconditional optimism we had as children.

Cormac McCarthy wrote in All the Pretty Horses, “…It was good that God kept the truths of life from the young as they were starting out or else they’d have no heart to start at all.”  Sometimes I want to warn kids today, with their high-flying expectations, so that they won’t be disappointed if they stumble upon failure.  I want to warn them against investing too much trust in their role models, since no one is without fault.  But, now that the kids I coached are teenagers themselves, I don’t want them to lose their ability to hope, their capacity to dream.  I don’t want them to stop cheering when their team is down 7-0 in the bottom of the seventh.  I want them to try out for their high school baseball teams, root unconditionally for their beloved Sox, and encourage the new generation of the possibilities out here, in a world that is sometimes far too cynical.  I hope they’ll never look at one bad apple and assume the rest have gone bad as well.  I hope they’ll have the heart to relive their childhood dreams, even if they don’t believe in them anymore.  I hope I will too.  Perhaps then the truths of life would not have to be hidden from children at all, but embodied in their heart, in their spirit, in their optimism.

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Tuesdays Suck… And I Have Evidence

While most people may not admit it, we all share an innate love for numbers. Everyone has a favorite number, an unlucky number, and an entirely neutral feeling about the remaining number of numbers. Numbers are everywhere: Google is a real number, i is an imaginary number, 1 is the loneliest number, and Ocho Cinco is a football player. There is even a TV show called Numb3rs, which appropriately airs on Friday nights, giving all us number geeks an excuse to get together, hold parties, and serve… pi (sorry). But in truth, numbers today are as popular as chocolates, fireworks, Thanksgiving, and toilet seat covers. We use numbers to do everything, from measuring the height of mountains, to the strength of earthquakes, to the ratio of blood to alcohol in Amy Winehouse’s body (have we talked about negative numbers yet?).

Similarly, as much as we love numbers, we also love ourselves. Now, I’m not trying to throw Dr. Phil on us here, but I think we can all agree that there are a few people who may suffer slightly from narcissism. A few. Typically we use numbers to judge other people: calling someone a 1 on a binary scale means “I’d hit that,” while a 7 on a ten-point scale means “maybe after a few drinks”. However, we rarely use numbers to learn more about ourselves. Therefore, to capture our universal love for numbers, and our singular love for ourselves, I propose the following:

The Happiness Scale.

The Happiness Scale is simple. It is a percentage, from 0% to 100%, of your happiness at a point in time. 0% means that you are absolutely miserable: friends are obligated to listen to you rant, feed you chocolates, and hide all sharp objects. 100% means that you are giddy, exuberant, and bursting with joy. 50%? Well, it’s just an average day; you’re not hugging strangers on the street, but you’re not contemplating a bridge jump, either.

So, at some point every day, make a note of how happy you are at that moment. You may have just learned of a promotion, or you may have just spilled coffee on your pants, but either way, record the date, the time, and your happiness score. If you are extra ambitious, you could even provide a breakdown of how you got to that point. For example:

70%: Had great fajitas for dinner

-60%: Realized I gained 5 lbs over the weekend

10%: Monday, 8:33 pm

Then, armed with your happiness data, the magic of numbers can turn this exercise into an insightful, Chicken Soup for the Soul-like guide for daily fulfillment. Should you avoid all human contact on Tuesdays? Are you extra cranky after 5 pm? Does your happiness drop with the stock market, the weather, or a Red Sox loss? With your scores, you can take week-over-week averages, calculate means and medians by day, and make pretty bar charts like the one below. You can identify patterns, plot out trends, and perhaps run a regression or two to predict how next week will turn out (if you are worried about endogeneity in your independent variable, you should build a -10% handicap into your daily score immediately).

You could do this exercise alone, or with your friends, as it’s always comforting to know that someone else is having a crappier day than you. In essence, incorporating the Happiness Scale is just like maintaining an easier, more manageable diary–there’s just one entry, and only one question: “At this moment, where are you at on the scale?”

And even if you don’t do this on a daily basis, the Happiness Scale can still spice up your dinner table conversations. After all, the scale is not just for mathletes who like pi jokes, but for everyone who needs a little self-introspection now and then. So instead of asking “What’s up?” or “What’s going on?” (and getting the requisite “Not much, you?” response), ask your friends and family about where they’re at. You never know when “not much” actually turns into something interesting: “Well, I’d say 50%. I got a piece of debris stuck in my eye so I had to wear a pirate’s patch all day. But on the bright side, I saved three baby seals from drowning without risking infection to my cornea… So I’d say it was an average day.”

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I’m Voting for the Candidate Who Agrees that the Yankees Suck

They say that when you grow up in Boston, it’s in your blood. It seeps into your mind, your heart, and your soul. There is no denying it, and there is no cure. In life, you may change jobs, political affiliations, or even genders, but you will always, always be a Boston Red Sox fan.

The Red Sox are an institution in Boston. This is a city that bleeds red in October. It is a city that jams thirty-thousand-plus people into a green concrete box on game days. It is a city that goes crazy when the Red Sox win, and self-immolates when the Red Sox lose. If you were walking the streets of Boston today, and asked a stranger about the three happiest moments of his life, the first two would be some variation of the typical answer: when my children were born, owning my first home, the day of my wedding, the day of my divorce, etc. However, the third happiest moment would likely be repeated by most everyone you meet: the Red Sox winning the 2004 World Series. Seriously: everyone. Or at least 90%.

But even though us Boston fans are undoubtedly consumed by our sports teams, this fanaticism isn’t limited to Massholes. In fact, there are some places that may even be worse. After all, grown men wear dresses and pig snouts to support the Redskins in Washington. Detroit fans help out their basketball team by sucker punching opposing players. And infamous Cubs fan Steve Bartman received death threats before he was forced into hiding… all because he interfered with a foul ball.

Some might think that our country’s infatuation with sports is strange: you have millions of people on the edge of their seats, fixating over an event they can’t control, with participants they don’t really know, in a game they’ve probably never played. Even though we may give ourselves credit for our team’s victory (“during the whole game, I didn’t move my right arm, because the last time I did, Favre threw an interception”)… really, telekinesis has yet to hit NFL playbooks.

So why are we so obsessed? Why do we set aside our Sundays, neglect our work, and force our arms to go numb? Why do we let two-point conversions and last-second threes and outcomes (over which we have no control) impact our mood? Why do we allow the fate of a foul ball decide how homicidal we want to be today?

Much of it has to do with the sense of community that comes with being a sports fan. Our teams serve as a common thread between fans, an easy conversation starter, and a way for us to showcase our townie pride and bash on our rivals. Our allegiances also grow stronger if there is a common enemy: for Bostonians, we collectively cringe when Peyton Manning’s 17th commercial comes on, and we all agree that the Yankees do indeed, suck. The rivalry is what makes is interesting, and it’s what draws us to our teams even more.

Finally, I’d like to go off on a somewhat-related tangent: As November nears, all of us will be forced to choose allegiances in another competition between opposing rivals. In this contest, however, the implications are far worse than a weekly depression because the Dolphins lost again. Instead, we have to wait four years to turn this one around. And while we eagerly anticipate the next Sox game at Fenway, our engagement with the upcoming election is minimal, at best. Not too many people plan on packing the bars to watch the debates. Not too many anticipate dressing up as a gun-toting book Nazi to support their favorite Russia expert. Very few people are on the edge of their seats.

So, a suggestion: As sports are so popular, let’s try it with politics. For this election, let’s get some form-fitting red and blue jerseys, and see how well our candidates do under pressure. How are Obama’s skills on the basketball court? Can Palin can shoot a moose with a bow and arrow? The ultimate decider could be an American Gladiators course, the true test of patriotism and strength. I want to see Biden battling it out with Siren. I want to see Palin jousting with Mayhem. I want to see McCain get lit up by Justice. If this doesn’t get people interested in the election… well, at least they’ll have football on Sundays to get them through the next four years.

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