Baseball and the art of social maintenance

The Supermodel has observed something about me over the years: that by and large, I am not real comfortable in social situations. I know lots of people who are energized by them, who feel most comfortable when surrounded by people and interacting with them (actually, the Supermodel is one of them). And then at the other end of the spectrum … there’s me. Put me in a scenario where I have to be in constant contact with folks, and I’ll end up drained, uncomfortable and often more than a bit snippy. In short, I have the same personality as many other writers: kind of anti-social.

However, for almost every rule there is an exception. And today I had one of those exceptions.

The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) is an organization dedicated, in their words, to “bringing the history of baseball to life.” It’s a fun group centered on the study of a fun sport, populated by people who find not only that baseball is fun, but that studying it, researching it, and finding out obscure things about it is also fun. The organization’s existence has even led to the creation of a new word: “sabermetrics” (the analysis of baseball statistics). And in addition to facilitating the study of baseball, it also has local chapters who meet for further fellowship linked to their favorite (and our national) pastime.

That’s where the Supermodel and I were this afternoon – at a meeting of the Sacramento SABR chapter. She largely comes to support me, but usually ends up having fun herself. Today was no exception, as she got to sit next to and talk with Frances Pendleton, a group stalwart and an expert on the early years of baseball in the Sacramento area, as well as touch base with Dean Namanny, with whom she was in a fantasy baseball league for four years.

Meanwhile, I gave a presentation on a method for analyzing managers’ won-lost records and how they can be used to gauge whether a skipper will end up in the Hall of Fame (don’t ask unless you really want the details!). After my little spiel – I was just the opening act – former major league pitcher Don Carrithers, who lives just south of Sacramento in Elk Grove, talked for a while about his experiences in the big leagues. I also won the meeting’s trivia contest (taking home, as a prize, a copy of former manager Whitey Herzog’s autobiography, which was fitting). Next time, I’m going to be presenting the trivia contest, proof once again that no good deed goes unpunished. (Just kidding; I volunteered, as the chapter president needed a break from it.)

A good time was had by all, and I among them. I ended up talking with one person or another for at least a half-hour once the meeting dismissed, about everything from the old Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League to how steroids are affecting Hall of Fame voting to … heck, I forget what all. I did end up a bit tired, but it was more the contented/sleepy kind of tired than the uncomfortable/snappish/cranky kind.

I asked the Supermodel about it, and we came up with two factors that may account for my uncharacteristic joviality:

***I was dealing with a subject with which I’m knowledgeable.

I knew a lot of the people there, and trust them.

Simple as that. Familiar topic, familiar and supportive people – that’s all the “comfort zone” I need for at least a short burst of sociability. For a longer burst … I’d need to be someone else. I used to try that, but I was never much good at being anyone besides myself. (And for much of my life, I wasn’t great at being myself either, though I’ve got a handle on it now.) It took me a long time to discover that it wasn’t my fault or anyone else’s that social sitchies were difficult for me – it was just the way I was, and I had to learn to cope. As, to some extent, did everyone around me.

How often do we try to force people to fit into the society the way we do, and chew them out in one way or another when they don’t? I know I’ve got tooth marks all over me from well-meaning friends, bosses, pastors and who knows what all because I didn’t act like them. I also know I’ve left a few on others the same way, for the same reason. (Contact the Supermodel for examples.) We’re all willing to acknowledge that everyone is different … but sometimes we forget to live that out in our relationships with others. And that causes more friction than I suspect any of us fully realize.

I need to remind myself of this – probably daily – and maybe you do too. God has made us all with different personalities, different skill sets, different emotional tendencies. We will all have points where we need to step back from our interactions with someone and remember this. Then, instead of getting frustrated that they aren’t handling matters in the exact same fashion that we would, we need to see that it isn’t necessarily because they’re wrong and we’re right, or they aren’t trying hard enough, or they need a “change of attitude” (how many times have I heard that one?). They may be doing the best they can – in fact, they may be doing it better than us! – but are simply doing it differently. At bottom, we need to let love for them come before our own desire to win the battle … especially when the only battle is the one we’re creating by our insistence that our personality type is the “right” one.

Still, it’s nice to have confirmation that for a few hours at least, in the right circumstances, I can go along with the crowd and enjoy it. But afterward, I’m still going to need to hide in my office for a while to refill my tank.

(Guess where I’m writing this from? Right again!)


One Response to Baseball and the art of social maintenance

  1. Dean Namanny says:

    Hey Ray, I just got around to reading this (March 1st) and noticed you included my name in the article. It was a nicely written piece and I really enjoyed my time there at the SABR lunch. It was a lot more enjoyable than one I attended at the Oakland Colliseum – very boring. I kind of feel uncomfortable in social situations too. I can relate to that. I would not have thought that of you though. You always seem so verbal at the meetings I have attended with you, the first time being at a Fantasy Baseball draft down in Antioch quite a few years ago. Anyway,keep up the good work.
    Later Man, Dean

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