Friday, February 7, 2014

No. 118 – Little By Little

Performer: Robert Plant
Songwriters: Robert Plant, Jezz Woodroffe
Original Release: Shaken ‘n’ Stirred
Year: 1985
Definitive Version: Live in Dallas, 1985.

I’ve been a member of the Society for American Baseball Research off and on since 1986. I joined for the research manuals, but I never attended a SABR function.

That changed in 2002. That year I decided to attend the annual convention as a way to touch base with representatives of the various baseball publishing companies to float the minor-league book idea I’d come up with in the past year. I also wanted to attend the minor-league research committee meeting to meet up with like-minded folks and see if I could glean anything from them.

The SABR convention was held in June that year in Boston, a city with which I had some familiarity. The convention would be held at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel downtown, and I reserved a room there, ensuring that I wouldn’t have to drive around Boston, which was good, and that my car wouldn’t be broken in to, like before, which was better.

A SABR convention is a seamhead’s delight. It’s what you think it would be: an endless procession of research presentations, esteemed speakers and baseball, baseball, baseball. There’s a SABR store where you can buy not only SABR books but books authored by various SABR members. And there’s a business area, which consists of non-retail vendors for services, analytical systems and, of course, publishers.

I introduced myself to a few of the editors manning the McFarlane table. McFarlane is a small concern but a household name to anyone interested in publishing a book on baseball, and they seemed interested in my idea, although I wasn’t anywhere close to presenting a formal proposal. We exchanged business cards—Scott made up some cards noting me as editor of BBT—and I promised they’d be hearing from me. (A decade later, I maintain that promise.)

The rest of the time was spent attending in one baseball-related meeting or another. The annual trivia contest was fun, although I got wiped out early. If you think you know baseball trivia, attend a SABR convention. I guarantee you you’re a piker. I was a piker and I know more about baseball then anyone I know.

The minor-league committee meeting was much more fruitful. It was cool to meet men whose names I was starting to recognize from my research, including Bob McConnell, who was the committee chairman and a true giant in the field.

The big event of any SABR convention, as you might imagine, is a baseball game, and any chance to see a game at the Fens was OK by me. It was a perfect evening, so I hiked from the hotel to the park instead of taking the T. Along the way, restaurants set up tables outside, getting ready for the inevitable crush of people during and after the game.

It was great to be back at Fenway Park for any reason, but I was going with a purpose—much like the entire trip itself. Beforehand, I’d heard about something called The Fenway Project. It was supposed to be a collection of accounts of the game from all of the SABR members. I didn’t know what form it was to take, but it sounded interesting, so when I went to the game, I took my mitt and a reporter’s notebook to jot down thoughts.

I didn’t need my mitt—I sat in the last row of the right-center bleachers—but I needed my pencil to keep score. I ended up sitting—or, rather, standing—next to a long-time Sox fan, and we bantered the whole game, which the Braves won 4-2 over the Bosox.

After the game, I went back to the hotel and learned that what The Fenway Project was supposed to be was a book. The editors wanted everyone who went to the game to write down some facet that appealed to them and submit it. The deadline was TBD.

Well, I could do this. I’d written accounts of various baseball games for my website, so I did my basic Will-goes-to-the-game account. I started working on it on the plane ride home, while the details still were fresh. I submitted my essay a month or so later, knowing it was pretty long—and apologizing for it. The editor said no problem and that he’d get back to me.

A few months later, he not only said it wasn’t too long but that it was great with a capital G, and he wanted to use it to lead off the game section of the book. Really? No kidding around here? No kidding. Also no pay—it was a volunteer effort, and all revenues would go to SABR—but I didn’t care about that.

And so it was that in 2004 I became an official baseball author—another reason why that was an awesome year. The Fenway Project was published, and my essay—run almost as I submitted it—in fact leads off the game section. (Other sections include before the game and history, for example.)

So my Boston adventure had a happy ending, even though when I left Boston at the end of the convention, I felt anything but for reasons I’ll explain another time.

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