Baseball Preview

Friday, June 22, 2007

I might kill two birds with one stone on Sunday and get the boxing out of the way too.

Last night, I attended a practice session with the Oxford Kings baseball team. On Sunday, I will be making my debut and ticking baseball off the Olympic list.

In 2005, the IOC voted to remove baseball from the Olympic programme for the 2012 Olympics. It remains an Olympic sport though and there will be votes in future that may see it reinstated to the programme. My list was drawn up at the end of the Athens games though, so I need to have a go at it.

Baseball is a bit of an Olympic tart. She turned up to a number of Olympic parties and flirted with everyone before disappearing for years at a time without so much as a word or a phone call.

She first showed up without an invite in 1904 but somehow blagged her way into the St Louis Olympics anyway. She then staggered in again eight years later in Stockholm when an American team played Sweden (and beat them 13-3). In Berlin in 1936, two American teams played each other for no apparent reason (or medal). In Helsinki in 1952, Baseball slipped quietly in the back door dressed as a Finn as two teams from the host nation played a modified version of the sport, which they imaginatively called Finnish Baseball. There was a one game exhibition between the US and Australia in Melbourne in 1956, and the Japanese then took on the yanks in a similar fashion in Tokyo in 1964.

After twenty years away, baseball returned and made an exhibition of herself in the 1984 games when someone got around to arranging a tournament in Los Angeles (Japan beat the US in the final). In 1988, she was upgraded from an “exhibition” to a “demonstration” sport (and the US beat Japan in the final). Finally, in Barcelona in 1992, the Olympic games made an honest woman (or “official sport”) of baseball.

Since the IOC started dishing out medals, Cuba has won three gold and a silver, the US has managed one gold and one bronze, and Japan has managed one silver and two bronze. Australia and Taiwan have each won one silver, while South Korea managed a bronze in 2000.

I’m not sure where I stand on baseball as an Olympic sport. One criterion I broadly apply is that if winning the gold medal at the Olympics isn’t the pinnacle of the sport, then the sport shouldn’t be in the Olympic games. That certainly applies to baseball. You can say what you like about the misnomer, but the World Series is where it’s at if you’re into baseball. The game is played and loved in many other countries of course, but I doubt there are many top class participants in those countries who would turn down the opportunity to play Major League Baseball if it arose.

I doubt any such opportunity will be doing much arising for me. The practice session last night was fine – I can catch the ball most of the time, I can throw the ball roughly where I was meaning to throw it most of the time, and I can hit the ball with the bat now and again - but as with all new sports, it’s hard to do those simple things when you’re also trying to remember which particular simple thing you’re supposed to be doing.

I haven’t played a game of baseball before, but I’ve played a little softball since I’ve lived in Oxford. My abiding memories of doing so involve people shouting at me “Stop running!” at moments when it seemed logical to me to be running very fast indeed, people shouting at me “Hold on to the ball!” at moments when it seemed logical to me to throw the ball as hard as I could to someone standing on a base, and people shouting at me “Run! For the love of Jesus, run!” when it seemed logical to me to just stand and admire the shot I had just hit.

In short, logic (or at least what passes for logic in my brain) has very little to do with baseball. I think on Sunday I’ll just turn up and try to do exactly what I’m told. It won’t be easy, but there’s a first time for everything I suppose.

I'll be hoping for as little of this kind of outcome as possible.

Happy Birthday, Paavo

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Spookily enough, having mentioned him on Monday, today would have been Paavo Nurmi's 110th birthday*. It feels like an omen, dragging me towards finishing the challenge next year at the Helsinki marathon.

There is an interesting article all about Nurmi and his amazing Olympic career on the IOC website. I highly recommend it, particularly for the video footage at the end [will launch a new media player].

There is also a profile of the Flying Finn here that's worth a read. Inspiring stuff. I might go for a run tonight.

*It's a shame he died in 1973. If he were still alive, he could have looked forward next year to confusing a radio D.J. in Northern Ireland who once infamously read a request on air "This one's for Mary, a hundred and eleven years old today! Amazing! Well done, Mary." He played the song and at the end of it rather sheepishly announced "That one was for Mary who, contrary to initial reports, is actually ill and not 111. Sorry about that, folks. Sorry, Mary."

Olympics 101

Monday, June 11, 2007

This challenge has its roots in being a bit rubbish. In a way, I was inspired to take it up in order to teach myself a lesson – that I’m not as good at all things sporting as I tend to think I am – but as it turns out, it has highlighted many other areas in which I am a bit rubbish.

I’m a bit rubbish at organising myself. I’m a bit rubbish at motivating myself. I’m a bit rubbish at getting on with it.

Strangely though, it’s something a bit rubbish that has inspired me to get back on this Olympic horse; compared to the new Olympic logo – sorry, brand – I feel quite professional, organised, and, let’s face it, not quite so rubbish.

New inspiration aside, I have been quite tempted for quite a while to admit defeat and just knock this all on the head.

The regular reader – or at least, the regular reader who hasn’t completely abandoned hope that I might write something new here (hi, mum) – will no doubt have worked out that my mood tends to swing more often than Tiger Woods on the practice ground. It’s a blessing and a curse. Without such mental highs, it would never have occurred to me to embark on anything quite so ambitious and foolish in the first place; without such mental lows, I would have completed many more events by now.

Today marks the beginning of the 147th week of the challenge. I have completed a mere 27 events so far, which means I am 63.5 events behind schedule and still have 101 events to complete before the next games in China. The opening ceremony in Beijing is scheduled for August 8th 2008, which is less than 60 weeks away.

I may have left myself too much to do – worse still, I might have let myself get boxed-in like some latter day Tom McKean – but all I can do is try, which, if memory serves, is all I ever set out to do in the first place.


There are a few events in the pipeline for the summer months already. On 15th July, I will be riding the 30km time trial with Kev on the roads in and around Oxford (if you want to join us, drop me a mail). On 11th August, Kev and I will be playing in a beach volleyball tournament in Gloucester (Kev can be my wingman anytime), and on 9th September, I will be running in the Anthony Nolan Trust Only Fools Run over the cross country course at Blenheim (instead of doing it on a horse, which, I have been reliably informed, would almost certainly result not only in my death, but quite possibly the death of the horse as well).

I’m also getting ahead of myself and trying to figure out how to finish the challenge in August of next year. The final event of the games is always the marathon, and I think it would make sense for me to do that last as well, not least because it’s the event I will need the most time to recover from. Doing a marathon in the UK in August perhaps isn’t overly wise though, so I’ve been looking at some alternative venues.

The most interesting ones so far are: Stockholm (you get to finish in the 1912 Olympic stadium), Reykjavik (should be nice and cool), Omsk (see Reykjavik), Helsinki (which also features an Olympic stadium finish) and the Isle of Man. A lot will probably depend on the timing of the events, but at the moment, I’m leaning towards Helsinki, not least because of the Paavo Nurmi connection. Any thoughts?