above: some photos from my venture back into collecting cards!
In the "About the Author" section of this site (which you should go read), I briefly mentioned that I am a collector of baseball cards. I want to take some time today and tell you all about how I got back into the hobby. I've honestly been surprised at how deeply I've allowed myself to dive into buying and collecting cards.
To say that this pandemic situation is a weird time would be an understatement. I can't speak for anyone else, but for me, it has changed the way I think on a deep level. Frankly speaking, it's opened up some doorways to dark rooms in my head. In my aforementioned "About the Author" (seriously go read it), I talked about the Summer of 2016, when I was at my lowest point. The thing that started my ascension out of that metaphorical hole was baseball. In much the same way, the greatest game on Earth and my love for it are comforting me through these unusual days. That was really the catalyst for my return to collecting cards.
One day, navigating the mental minefield, I was thinking about the 1990 Donruss baseball cards. The design is honestly one of my favorites ever, and that particular set had a profound impact on my knowledge and love of the game at a young age. It didn't take long for me to wander to Google to start scouring the internet for unopened packs to open, just to offer a little joy to my presently mundane existence. Much to my excitement, I discovered how easy it is to find unopened packs and factory sealed boxes of nearly any set of baseball cards one could think of. I hastily purchased a box of 1991 Donruss cards. Full disclosure, they were mislabeled as 1990 Donruss, but it was such an impulse buy, I didn't notice until after I had completed the transaction. Nonetheless, I was still elated. Once I received the box, opened it up and discovered 36 packs worth of nostalgia, I was hooked.
Since then, I've continued to buy unopened boxes and packs of my favorite card sets from my childhood. In addition, I have started to find the welcoming, passionate community of collectors who buy, sell, and trade baseball cards online. I've even started to buy some cards knowing what I'm getting. It's been really cool to find some great relics of not only my childhood, but also years that predate me. I think those are my favorites, the retro and vintage cards. Picking up this hobby again, after years of hiatus from it, has truly been a beam of light in an otherwise dark time.
If you want to connect with me to talk about the hobby or even trade, hit me up on twitter @baseballsmymuse
UPDATE: Since the original publishing of this post, it has been brought to my attention that Gift Ngoepe does not endorse the documentary "Hope: One in a Billion" and claims that the filmmaker exploited his story and lied about his intentions for the footage. You can see Gift's post/statement on the matter here
On April 26, 2017, three years ago, Gift Ngoepe became the first player born in continental Africa to suit up in the major leagues when he made his debut for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Ngoepe singled up the middle in his first big league at bat off of star Chicago Cubs pitcher Jon Lester. I read on Twitter that today marked the anniversary of Gift's history-making major league debut, and I immediately thought of "Hope: One in a Billion", the excellent documentary I had watched on Netflix about baseball in Africa and how Gift Ngoepe overcame its obstacles to succeed at the World's highest level of baseball. I've received quite a bit of positive feedback from a tweet about the documentary and decided to watch it once again this evening.
Much of the film consists of interview segments with former coaches, teammates, and executives from Ngoepe's career. They illustrate Gift's work ethic despite the "humble surroundings" he grew up in and the fact that he rarely played with men his own age, fitting in with much older players. The documentary even includes home video footage from the clubhouse of the Randburg Mets near Johannesburg, South Africa with which Gift once played as they celebrate his first major league appearance and subsequent hit. In addition, Ngoepe is heavily involved in the telling of his own story. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about these interviews is Gift Ngoepe's awareness of what his time in the majors represented for his home country and all of baseball in Africa, yet he seems to wear far more gratitude than pressure.
"Hope: One in a Billion" has a second element outside of the story of Gift Ngoepe's journey to the Pittsburgh Pirates. The film also tells the story of the current baseball climate in South Africa. Through interviews with a teenage player named Mohammad, his mother, and his coach, "Hope" paints a picture of the challenges for young ball players in South Africa, where baseball is still a developing game of interest. From under funded teams to lack of nutrition, the young men who choose baseball over life on gritty streets face adversity that many in the United States could not possibly fathom.
Unfortunately, Gift Ngoepe struggled offensively and therefore has had little success at the big league level and has since played independent baseball in the US and in the Australian Baseball League. In spite of all this, he will always be the first player born on the continent of Africa to put on a major league uniform. He will live in the annals of baseball history forever, and "Hope: One in a Billion" offers just what its name offers: hope in a dark time for our game and our world. I can't recommend it highly enough.
Be sure to give "Hope: One in a Billion" a watch on Netflix and hit me up on Twitter @baseballsmymuse to let me know what you think!
Last night, I did something I had not done in over a month. I set an alarm. Today, I awoke before 6 am, long before the sunrise here in Johnson City, Tennessee. I wanted to be fully caffeinated and in mid-morning form before a 6:30 am Eastern time first pitch between the Uni Lions and the visiting Rakuten Monkeys at Tanain stadium in Tainan City, Tawain. It sounds a little crazy, but I had heard alot of the buzz of the CPBL's English language broadcasts and am, frankly, starved for live baseball.
The league has expanded their English broadcast schedule, and I decided to give it a go and become a Rakuten Monkeys fan. I mean, let's be real. Why wouldn't I cheer on a baseball team called the Monkeys? I was delighted to learn that the Monkeys are the CPBL's version of the 90's Yankees, dominating the league over the last 8 years. That was perhaps never more evident than today, as the Monkeys defeated the Uni Lions by a score of 14-4.
The Eleven Sports broadcast was well done and easily accessible via their Twitter. The visuals were very professional, and I thoroughly enjoyed the commentary of Rod Chen and Keith Chiang. I especially appreciated Keith's expert analysis and the duo's conversations about Tawianese food and culture. They did a superb job of relating the CPBL game to that of Major League Baseball in the States.
The CPBL is currently playing games with no fans in the stands, but you wouldn't know it from the exuberant cheerleaders, colorful mascots, and upbeat music. To me, it was reminiscent of the US minor league experience. That was my initial impression. It was fun! It was a different cultural affair than American baseball, but that is in no way negative. It was still baseball. It was good baseball, and again, it was FUN baseball.
I am planning on making these early mornings a part of my quarantine regimen. The CPBL understands that they are the only league offering live professional baseball in the world, and they are doing what they can to reach as much of a global audience as possible. Kudos to the league, Eleven Sports, and everyone involved in bringing the greatest game in the world to us all!
Be sure to follow me on Twitter @baseballsmymuse to join the conversation as I follow my new favorite ball club, the Rakuten Monkeys!
So, the timing of "Baseball is my Muse" becoming a realized vision has very much to do with the coronavirus/COVID-19 outbreak. I have found that the thing that I miss the most about "normal" life is baseball (duh). Subsequently, baseball is the one thing getting me through the madness of current affairs. Therefore, I thought it fitting that my first entry into this virtual journal should be about how I'm coping in the alternate universe without baseball we have found ourselves in.
In the early days of quarantine, I found myself seeking out baseball documentaries. I had started the Ken Burns Baseball series just before the pandemic outbreak and completed it very shortly into being stuck at home. I'm certainly glad I was finally able to give Mr. Burns's documentary a watch and have recently been considering starting it over and watching it through again. I've rewatched "The Battered Bastards of Baseball", "Fastball", "No-No: A Dockumentary", and "Jordan Rides the Bus", among others. Battered Bastards is one of my absolute favorites. The story of Bing Russell and the Portland Mavericks is inspiring to say the least, and the film tells said story really, really well.
After I couldn't find access (well, easy access) to any other baseball docs, I switched my efforts to fictional baseball films. "Bull Durham", "Field of Dreams", "Major League", "Major League 2", and "For Love of the Game" have all been on my TV screen the last month or so, some more than once. Another fictional work that is baseball related I would recommend is the IFC TV series, "Brockmire". It tells the story of a broken, humiliated major-league broadcaster's return to America and to the game he loves. Hank Azaria is beyond believable and the storytelling is fantastic, but be forewarned, it's not a program you can watch with the kids (haha)!
Something else I've been doing to pass the time and make life seem less dreary and dark during this time has been baseball card collecting. It has made the days go by with a little less darkness and a more light. In addition, it has kept me from staring at a screen all day, which as we all know can't be good for the eyes. I've found a small online community of traders and collectors, and that has been really nice as well. Who would've thought 6 weeks ago that human connection would be something we'd be so starved for?
I miss baseball. Alot. So much so that I have an alarm set for 6am tomorrow so I can try to catch a CPBL game from Taiwan. I miss watching my beloved Dodgers on TV. I miss going to the ballpark for minor league fun and shenanigans, but I have been doing what I can to remember what baseball means to me and that we will have it again someday. This is all temporary, I truly believe that. A day will come when we'll all be able to once again pack a bag, throw it in the car, and venture to a random ballpark in a random town, eat a hot dog, drink a beer, and watch the greatest game on Earth. Who knows? Maybe this time away will make the next ballpark adventure that much sweeter!
I would love to know how you are coping without baseball! Let me know in the comments or via Twitter or E-mail!