SIOUX CITY -- So, I settled in to my recliner on a weekend night when it wasn’t essential to monitor all the chaos in our country.
Netflix and a 2012 sports movie I hadn’t yet seen seemed like a nice change of pace and it came as no surprise that Clint Eastwood’s “Trouble With The Curve” proved to be a good choice.
Filled with clichés? Yes.
Believable? Not really.
Hey, I’ve been grinding my way through W. Somerset Maugham’s highly literary “Of Human Bondage,” which bears the proclamation “The Greatest Novel of Our Time” across the top of the book jacket. And, no visible caveat alerts you that we’re talking England in 1915.
So, I was entitled to a less complex diversion. Which isn’t to mention that I’ve always had a bit of an interest in sports. Also, I like Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams and Justin Timberlake, who has rebounded nicely from his complicity in Janet Jackson’s publicity stunt at Super Bowl XXXVIII.
Here’s another story about an old dog who refuses to be taught new tricks. Clint Eastwood is the aging baseball scout whose biggest problem is, well, he’s going blind. He’s old-school all the way, professing to be able to hear critical sounds of the game that separate superior hitters and pitchers from the second-fiddle sorts.
Baseball notwithstanding, allow me to advance an adamant belief that older people, whose perspective is no longer foreign to me, are often much too stubborn when it comes to keeping up with the times.
Have you heard about “Watson,’’ the IBM computer with the seemingly limitless range of “A.I.,’’ or artificial intelligence? For several years now, billions of dollars have been spent feeding all the knowledge known to man into a machine that retains it all. Some fear it will one day be used for nefarious purposes and, of course, why wouldn’t it?
In the meantime, Watson has been able to keep some people alive with purely the medical folder in its memory banks. So far, the potential for good is thrilling. We should all keep trying to learn more, too.
Back to Clint Eastwood, we’re expected to believe a road-weary baseball scout has enough experience and instincts to do his job without benefit of modern technology. Literally millions of people my age and beyond are still bragging about how they’ve never learned so much as how to turn on a computer. None of my business, I know.
Still, if you page backward on the advances in our civilization, change is something you’re usually better off embracing. Those who still resist air-conditioning were probably a little uncomfortable the last few weeks. Those who saw no need for indoor plumbing? Well, you probably see where I’m going here.
Clint Eastwood’s “Gus Lobel,’’ an Atlanta Braves scout, didn’t “need” a computer. Then again, if you were still knocking around professional baseball in 2012 and maintained that attitude, no amount of time-honored knowledge was going to be enough, honestly.
Here’s the deal: All the experience and intangible tricks Eastwood’s veteran scout possessed are definitely useful. They’re just more useful if you add the capability to access the internet and consider the wealth of other information that is out there.
No secret, I believe baseball’s a great game, even though many younger people find it too slow. They don’t mind football, which I also enjoy enormously, yet football games at the NFL or Division I level all seem to stretch beyond three hours, as well.
By the way, learn the nuances of baseball and you’ll enjoy watching how stuff is happening constantly. Meanwhile, I’ve read that a 60-minute NFL game averages 127 plays that involve around 11 actual minutes worth of action. The rest is pretty much just standing or milling around.
Baseball’s biggest problem and also its greatest attribute is its remarkable unpredictability.
The computer will turn over rocks Gus Lobel and his scouting rivals never find. In this case, most of them did find a high school kid in North Carolina who was too obnoxious and too overrated for his own good. Of course, the human element takes it from here. Have a seat and give this youngster a look. Or, even, a listen.
We’ve had 25 years to peek into the tiny world of professional baseball, but most of you don’t realize that independent professional leagues are definitely part of all that. Three former first-round major league draft picks on this year’s Sioux City Explorers roster were pretty good clues. However, so was the diving, warning-track catch by X’s centerfielder Tony Campana a couple weeks ago, winding up on Sports Center’s “Plays Of The Day.’’
So, I’m 25 seasons into watching this stuff and it has helped me cement a hunch I’d had long before Ed Nottle got catcher Tom Carcione to sign the first Explorers contract back in 1993.
Baseball, you see, remains poorest in judging talent of all the major team sports. Another reminder of this came last week, when the Explorers released third baseman Josh Vitters, the No. 3 pick in the 2007 MLB Draft. Vitters got a signing bonus of over $3-million. He even made it to the Chicago Cubs for a time. However, there were so many long-term big leaguers chosen after him that it isn’t worth listing them all.
Suffice it to say that all of 45 selections later, the Cubs also drafted Josh Donaldson, who they traded away 13 months later -- packaged with three other prospects to get a couple of unspectacular pitchers. Which is how you go 108 years between World Series triumphs.
Baseball? There’s a good reason why baseball scouts aren’t as reliable as the people who advise pro football or basketball teams. I’ll try to state it as simply as possible, even if it isn’t simple at all.
In basketball and football, good coaches can teach even moderately talented kids to play good enough defense to prevent marginal players in either sport from being deceivingly special. Good coaching finds the weaknesses and exploits them. A LeBron James, on the other hand? There’s no amount of coaching that can conceal that kind of talent.
In baseball, it’s different. Ballparks vary in size. Pitchers have different skill sets and techniques. Hitters respond differently to different types of curveballs or sliders or even fastballs. Some kid with no prayer of reaching the majors may be able to retire a batter someone Clayton Kershaw struggles to get out. This is an “on any given day” sport if there ever was one.
A couple of weeks ago, a pitcher named Kurt Heyer helped the Explorers limit a power-laden St. Paul lineup to one run. Then, in his next two appearances in a row, Heyer couldn’t find the strike zone. Retiring just one batter in either start, a guy who spent the last three years with the Cardinals’ top two farm clubs was released.
The old saying insists nothing’s more difficult than hitting a round ball with a round bat. I’d say thanks to Abner Doubleday, but my computer insists the old Civil War general didn’t really invent baseball. The U.S. Congress in 1953 officially declared someone named Alexander Cartwright as the originator of The Game.