→ Advanced Rate Statistics for NCAA Women’s Volleyball
Or Why Per Set Statistics are Bullsh*t
Question 1: How many points is a set in NCAA Division 1 Volleyball?
If you said twenty-five, you are wrong. If you said twenty-five except in a fifth set when it is only fifteen, you are wrong. If you said it depends, then congratulations you have won the game.
Question 2: Name each team that corresponds to the primary or secondary color referenced in the following table.
Hint: These figures are the average points per set for each Big Ten team last season.
Points Per Set
Answers are at the bottom.
This presents a significant issue when it comes to doing rate statistics. A four kill per set player at 41.12 points per set would average more than 4.3 kps if they had the same kill rate and played for the last team in the table averaging 44.29 points per set. A quick look at the current KPS table on NCAA Stats says that’s the difference between being 57th and 34th. A significant difference. Additionally, because the gap will widen linearly as the initial numbers grow, the result is that the players at the very top of the chart can be misrepresented to the highest degree. That’s simply unacceptable when trying to use a statistic to formulate any significant statistical argument.
And that’s not even the worst example I could come up with.
Per Set statistics are meaningless without additional context. The context that a person would need to supply to make those statistics worthwhile is tedious and time consuming to track and calculate. This results in volleyball fans and the media continually relying on and relaying statistics that in reality mean very little.
It needs to change, and that’s the purpose of this article and a couple of pages that I’ve now added to the site. While per set statistics are exceptionally flawed, points are not. In fact, points applied in the right way can be exceptionally accurate when calculating a rate statistic.
Here are the top ten players on the current(9/15/2018) stats.ncaa.org KPS leaders table.
Here is the same list, but instead of per set, the rates are per point in each team’s games.
There are differences and there can be extreme differences. In fact, with many of the common statistics volleyball fans and the media use, using points is inherently flawed. When measuring kill rates for players, total points in a match has an inherent flaw. Specifically, during any match there will inevitably be points wher a player who plays for all rotations will still have no chance to get a kill, namely aces and service errors.
AN: There are caveats beyond this as well. Not every player plays six rotations and there are points beyond aces and service errors during which a player would also by definition not have a chance to get a kill. Rotational errors are the specific issue in this case because I did not have the foresight to track them efficiently in my database and will need to do some significant redesign before I can efficiently account for those points.
Beyond using total points for a rate, simple subtraction can be used measure the rate at which a player gets a kill for every point in play.
This is the table for the statistic named Kills per Point-In-Play. Original name, I know.
It’s not even the same list as the original per point list. While this approach is not currently perfect, it’s still much better than using per set because the denominator of the statistic being calculated means the same thing across all players. The context per point statistics provide is important because without it volleyball statistics are very nearly meaningless. An instance of “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” if you will. Making even incremental progress toward better understanding and knowledge is important.
Measuring virtually every statistic by points played improves it drastically, but Aces and Service Errors per set make the least sense as a statistic. It is entirely possible to play a set in which a primary server will not serve during the set. In fact, in fifth sets, it actually isn”t all that rare. Luckily, NCAA Play-By-Play pages happen to track exactly who serves each point, a fortunate thing in this instance because those pages can be used to get per serve rates for aces, service errors, and service points.
AN: This(A primary server not getting the opportunity to serve.) actually happened to Lauren Stivrins in Set 3 of the Nebraska vs Missouri State less than three hours after I saved my latest draft of this article. Yeah, that happened.
These statistics and more have been made available on each team page as well as Division and Conference leaders. The leaders are available using the “View Complete Advanced Statistics Leaders” link on each division or conference page.
And that friends, is why per set statistics are bullsh*t.
Top to Bottom: Rutgers, Penn State, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, Northwestern, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Purdue, Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan
→ VERT Challenge Photo Gallery
→ My VolleyTalk Top 25 Vote for 08-27-2018
We have data now, but we have no context. That makes a lot of organizing extremely difficult at best and a fool’s errand at worst. So, I’ve given a lot of thought to some of these teams but very little to others. Alas, sometimes you just have to throw things at the board and see what sticks.
I don’t have much today. There are simply no connections between the pods in our directional graph. Some teams did stuff that I thought probably deserved some movement and got moved. Some teams did very little to prove or disprove my initial assumptions and stayed put. I was in Lincoln at VERT(Longer article to come.) and didn’t see much beyond the four teams that were there. I spent most of the rest of the weekend traveling to and from Lincoln. The official post on VolleyTalk courtesy of user vbprisoner can be found here. The AVCA’s vastly inferior poll can be found here.
Nebraska’s Place in the Fray
Tough to tell right now. The first match for Big Red was pretty different than the clean volleyball we’ve come to expect from the Huskers. However, with all the new players and the losses sustained by graduation and transfers, it wasn’t a totally unexpected start. Statistically, it wasn’t even that different from Nebraska’s appearance in the VERT Challenge in 2017. Obviously, I’m not expecting this team to win a National Championship. That is an unfair expectation at any time, and doubly unfair when half of the team is new to the program. It does; however, illustrate the incredible transition a team can make from opening day to tournament time.
That’s why they play the games. That’s why we watch the games.
→ ViPR Stat Lines of Week 2
The second week of volleyball season is in the books and this is who lit up the ViPR Win Probability Added sheet.
All-Around Division 1
Heather Hook of UNI takes the crown for the highest base score for WPA. She scored an impressive 2.2865 in UNI’s four set victory over USC. Getting the job done all over the court with 50 assists, 8 kills on 16 swings, 10 digs, 4 block assists and a service ace. I suspect a partridge in a pear tree may have been watching that performance. It was a performance which also takes the award for the highest accumulated score per set.
The highest per set attack score was produced by Green Bay’s Lydia DeWeese. Scoring eighteen true kills on thirty-one attempts with only two hitting errors in a competitive three set loss to Butler. All three sets were won with two point margins and the third set scored 56 total points.
Minnesota’s own Samantha Seliger Swenson takes home the award for the highest setter score. Samantha captured the award by slightly more than a thousandth per set, just edging Duquesne’s Dani Suiter. A comfortable three set sweep of Tennessee provided the stat line for Gopher setter.
Game Not Available
Swenson accumulated forty-nine assists in three sets during a performance game that saw Minnesota hit 0.396. More than a solid day at the office, but Swenson also added three kills, two blocks, and seven digs.
We come to the most fickle of skills the block. The domain of those later described as having a sense of the moment, or a penchant for delivering in the clutch. Lauren Frilling of Xavier takes home the prize this week. Her eight block performance scored 0.4963 on the stat sheet. Two solo blocks and four block assists in a four set loss to Miami of Ohio.
Aces and service points rule the serving score and Ivana Blazevic of Maryland Eastern Shore certainly acquired plenty of both. During Eastern Shore’s three set sweep of St. Francis Brooklyn, Blazevic served twenty-seven times and her team scored on twenty-two of them. Eight times the ball went over and did not come back. Ivana added thirty-six assists to her serving exhibition.
Game Not Available
Emily Lopes of CSU Bakersfield accumulated thirty-two digs in a four set match against Valparaiso. Averaging eight digs per set and doubling the total of the next person on the team placed Emily as the top performer in the Roadrunners victory.
That’s it for the week’s Top Performances. Congratulations to all of the standouts.
→ ViPR Stat Lines of the Week
Notable players of the week are a part of sports. The people who did the most or the strangest things. Well, the strangest might be hard to see in statistics, but the most we can find. So, the question of today’s post is, “Who had the highest ratings by ViPR this week?” A question we can most definitely answer.
All-Around Division 1
The player with the most eye-popping line of WPA for the week is Lindsey Ruddins from UC Santa Barbara. I don’t even want to spoil it before putting the game summary.
The stat line is no less impressive. Thirty-kills on eighty-three swings with only eight hitting errors and not a single kill came by way of an opposition block error. In addition, Lindsey put up 18 digs which accounted for almost a point of her score. That’s a day at any office.
That’s impressive, but it was also a five set match. How about the person who scored the highest WPA per set in a match. That award goes to Indiana State’s Laura Gross in their three set win over the Big East’s DePaul.
A three set WPA score of 1.8990 translates to 0.633 added for each set played. The line is again impressive with nineteen kills on thirty-five attacks and five errors with eighteen digs added for good measure. A stellar night to be sure.
Those are the all-around players this week, but let’s see some specialists.
Specialists of Division 1
Amanda Carroll of Florida Gulf Coast takes home the prize for the highest attack score per set with a twenty-three kill performance. She took forty-one swings and committed only two hitting errors. Take a look at the game summary.
No, your eyes do not deceive you. Amanda scored more than a point higher than anyone else in the match. Her attack score of 1.4179 was more than double the next player’s attack score. A dominating night for the lady from FGCU.
Brooke Short of Louisiana Tech takes home the award for the highest setting score per set in a four set loss to North Dakota. Despite the loss, Brooke put up forty-seven assists in four sets and added twenty digs, six kills, and an ace just for good measure.
In terms of Win Probability Added, blocking is a notoriously fickle skill. A player may have ten blocks in a game, but if those blocks don’t come in high leverage situations, the players block score won’t pop off the page. So whose block score does pop off the page? That would be Marshall’s own Addisyn Rowe. It’s extremely rare for a block score to be the impetus of a player making the Top Performances list, but take a gander at the summary for UMKC’s sweep of Marshall.
Addisyn converted three solo blocks and two block assists into 0.4819 of Win Probability Added. That’s spectacular. Timely blocks make huge changes to the game.
Serving is another skill that is both difficult to grade and fickle besides. Aces are easy to grade but like blocks must be timely as well. What about consistently good serves. Long serving runs don’t usually score that well either because they put the game out of reach and after the first couple of points usually don’t score that highly for the server. That means timely aces and consistent serving are the only two ways to really hit it big on the service line. Well, long runs may not always score that well, but they certainly help.
Penn State’s own Bryanna Weiskircher scored twenty-four Service Points on twenty-eight Serves against an overmatched Tennessee-Martin team. Each time she put the ball in the air, there was an 85.7% chance it would land on UT Martin’s side of the court.
How about those pesky back row players? How made the other team cry out in frustration by always getting there when an attack went anywhere near them. The award for the highest digging score was just too good to spoil.
No, that isn’t a typo. At least I don’t think it is. Forty digs. In a four set match. Forty. Lauryn Cruz of Chicago State takes home the prize for the most bonkers stat line this weekend in a four set loss to Evansville. Add to that eighteen kills on fifty-eight swings. Not all was well for Lauryn with ten hitting errors, a service error, and a reception error but forty digs were enough to put Lauryn on the list this week.
As a fan of a blue blood, I feel compelled to mention that digs tend to favor teams that aren’t facing elite hitters, but that’s a token argument at best.
Well done to all of this weekends standouts.
AN: Exact grades may change from the time of writing. Each game is analyzed every time new ratings are calculated.
→ The Challenge of Olympia
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
J.R.R. Tolkien The Fellowship of the Ring
The Dichotomy of the Modern Olympiad
I love the Olympics. It’s one of the few sporting events not directly connected to Nebraska that I circle on my calendar. I hate the IOC. I detest the IOC. The bribes. The blatant money grabs. The patented voluntary ignorance of every important social issue that humanity encounters on a day to day basis. I could spend an entire article retreading all the amazing, extraordinary, disgusting, and morally questionable things the Olympics and the IOC have gifted the world. However, those topics have been well documented by people much more distinguished than I am or will be.
The topic is one that sometimes makes me uncomfortable because, despite all of the shady things that continually surround the Olympics, I know that I will follow the events religiously. I will watch streams. I will watch evening coverage. I will watch replays. I will follow events on Twitter. I will, for sixteen days, bore my coworkers and father to figurative death talking about the Olympics.
It’s the Olympics.
For better and worse, it’s the Olympics.
HuskerGeek Importance Score
A simple and completely subjective scoring system for how important this sport is to my Olympic experience, with slight adjustments based on how important those sections are for Team USA as well.
Wait, that’s in the Olympics?
I changed the channel when NBC was showing that 5 weeks ago. I remember.
Huh, we should be better at this sport.
NBC, why is this on my television instead of the basketball game?
We kind of need to do well in this sport.
USA! USA! USA!
Oh, come on ref! My grandma could have called that one and she’s dead!
We need to win here. We need to win here.
USA has to dominate here. China could get more medals if we don’t!
HuskerGeek Importance Score(10): 12
Any discussion of the Olympics has to begin with basketball for me. The Dream Team and the Redeem Team. The Year We Don’t Speak Of. The sport that makes or breaks my Olympic experience.
This year seems like a transition year for the Men’s National Team. Carmelo Anthony stands as the old man on the team, and his Olympics should be celebrated. This is his fourth Olympic team. Anthony has dedicated more time to USA Basketball than any other player in history. That has to mean something. Each year he’s been a key cog in the machine. He should not be a footnote this time around. He’s become the old man of the team and, quite frankly, it looks like he’s taken to the role just fine.
What makes me nervous this year? This time around, the two best players in the world, Lebron and Steph, stay home. Anytime the best player(s) in the world stay home, it makes me nervous. However, they leave a talented but young team behind to take the trip to Rio, a team that I suspect will toss up around 330 three pointers. They should cruise to the finals.
Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski have brought USA Basketball back from the depths, and I believe they will succeed once again.
That brings us to the Women’s National Team. They’ll win the Gold Medal. It won’t be close.
Why am I so sure? Name the best 5 female basketball players.
Assuming that you could name five, I’m going to bet at least four were on the following list.
Elena Delle Donne
Ladies and gentlemen, the 2016 Team USA Women’s Olympic Basketball Team.
Sixteen countries qualify by accumulated points in the world golf rankings by their top six golfers.
Teams are seven players. Selected by the country in question by whatever means they choose.
Single elimination tournament.
3 Four ball matches for each day’s competition. No ties. Sudden death until the match is decided.
Win two of three and advance. Survive and advance.
That’s it. That fixes the format. Golf doesn’t need an individual tournament at the Olympics. Players (particularly the men) don’t need to play for themselves at the Olympics. They need to play for their country. For glory. The four day Olympic tournament is always going to be a weak field, even when the top players play. However, anything can happen in match play. Anyone can beat anyone. Don’t try to make Olympic golf the fifth major. Try to make it the Ryder Cup.
HuskerGeek Importance Score(10) – Indoor: 8.5
HuskerGeek Importance Score(10) – Beach: 8
Another sport that I need to touch on. This time I won’t really focus on the Men’s team which is very good in its own right, but on the Women’s national team. Currently ranked #1 in the world, the women’s team features three former Huskers (You knew I was going to mention that.), and will need to tackle a team that just might be better and will be playing on its own home turf. Brazil’s own team is coming off of a World Grand Prix championship win over the United States in five sets. Momentum favors the home team, and overcoming the competition will be no small task for Team USA. China also looms large, having handily beaten the Americans not so long ago, even if the last two contests have gone the way of the USA.
Strategically, the USA is setup to play an extremely balanced game. Back row defense will be paramount to the team’s success because the offensive firepower might not be what it once was. Middles Foluke Akinradewo and Rachael Adams will need be the offensive powers we’ve seen in the WGP, and the Husker back row will need to play spectacular defensively for the USA to take the Gold Medal. It’s certainly possible, but the deck is stacked the other way.
The Beach is only lower in importance because the US Women have been so dominant in the event. Kerri Walsh Jennings returns with a new teammate in April Ross, but the expectations remain the same. Gold.
Among the USA’s best hopes are Jordan Burroughs, Kyle Snyder, and Adeline Gray. Burroughs is the defending Olympic champion at 74 kg and has 3 additional World Championships to his name. Another former Husker, Burroughs might be the best freestyle wrestler in the world at any weight class. His quickness and athleticism are a must see.
HuskerGeek Importance Score(10): 10
USA Swimming has been the premier national aquatic program for more than fifty years, and always has stars to burn. This year is no different and there will be several people who are a must see. One is obvious and has been a mainstay for more than fifteen years. We’ll save him for the end. Another is a newcomer and nearly swims in a different pool than the rest of the world. Those are only two of the stars in the spectacular night sky that is USA Swimming.
There are far too many medal hopefuls to mention, and I would only embarrass myself by trying. Crowd favorite Missy Franklin will be in attendance, as will a recently hobbled Ryan Lochte. A plethora of new and returning stars on both sides will make the trip to Rio, but I suspect all eyes will eventually turn toward two.
If you don’t know that name, you should. The best female distance swimmer in the world, and it isn’t close. Leah Smith knew she was having the race of her life in the women’s 400 Free at the Olympic trials. How did she know? “I’ve never been able to see her feet before,” Smith said. “That was exciting.” The “her” she was referring to was Katie Ledecky. Smith bettered her personal best by three seconds and still lost by two. Such is the world of Katie Ledecky. The 400 isn’t even her best race. That’s the 800 where she has broken the World Record. Four times. I should qualify that the 800 is Ledecky’s best race in the Olympics. The 1500 Free is inexplicably only a Men’s event at the Olympics. Ledecky has broken that World Record too. Five times. She broke it twice at the 2015 World Championships.
How do we quantify Phelps at this point? He’s the best all around swimmer of all time. Holds the most Olympic Medals, the most Gold Medals, the most Gold Medals in a single Olympics. The GOAT. How do we look at Phelps now? We will, of course, evaluate him in the context of Baseball movies.
Sydney Phelps: Ken Strout (For Love of the Game)
The wide-eyed rookie. Trying to play spoiler in someone else’s story. Not quite successful, but maybe it’s the start of something.
London Phelps: Shoeless Joe Jackson (Field Of Dreams)
The fallen legend. Not the unbeatable force he once was, but poke the bear and you’ll find out he still has it.
Rio Phelps: Billy Chapel (For Love of the Game)
The aging star trying to push the sun back into the sky for one last day of summer.
Phelps has done everything better than anyone else in his sport. Now he’ll try to show the world that greatness doesn’t just fade with age.
That Sport That Americans Only Pay Attention To Sometimes
HuskerGeek Importance Score(10): See above. Actually it was a 5. It’s USA Soccer.
That other form of Football. Soccer.
The American women are a dynasty. Three time World Cup Champions. Four time Olympic Gold Medalists. They will set out with the Gold Medal in mind and any other result probably isn’t good enough.
The American men are different. As an American sports fan, I can’t describe the strangeness of how the Men’s National Soccer Team seems to be viewed by the rest of the international community. Judging by various Reddit threads in /r/soccer, they seem to be viewed as the plucky underdog. Always trying to finish the Cinderella season and always trying to play above their level. I can’t describe how bizarre that is. I’ve always viewed the USA as the Evil Empire of international athletics. Two thousand six hundred and eighty-one Olympic Medals. Six hundred more than the next two countries combined. Ten different athletes with 10 or more Olympic Medals. All of that and our biggest sport doesn’t even compete on an international stage. I’m sure there are those that delight in our men’s soccer team always coming up a little bit short and I don’t blame them at all, but there are so many others that I see rooting for one of our very few underdog teams and consoling us when we inevitably fall. And it all comes in a sport, that we care about so much less than everyone else. I would best describe the phenomenon as a group of classmates trying to console the captain of the football team after he gets a B+ in Home Economics.
HuskerGeek Importance Score(10) Artistic: 10
HuskerGeek Importance Score(10) Rhythmic: 4
HuskerGeek Importance Score(10) Trampoline: 2
The United States has yet to medal in either Rhythmic or Trampoline since they were introduced in the Olympics and most people probably forget that they exist unless NBC decides to show them live so they can tape delay the Men’s 100m Freestyle Finals. As such, I will pretend that they don’t exist. Moving on.
Artistic gymnastics is much more important for the United States. It is one of the key places the U. S. will need to score medals in order to maintain a lead over China. Both countries are extremely strong in these events and each medal for the one is a lost opportunity for the other.
Many of the United States hopes will be placed on the Women’s team which will undoubtedly enter Rio as a strong favorite. Team USA is led by Simone Biles who has been the best gymnast in the world for years. Biles has won 3 All-Around, 2 Team, and 5 Event World Titles. She will be a heavy favorite in All-Around, Beam, and Floor. Joining Biles are Fierce Five members Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman, and newcomers Madison Kocian and Laurie Hernandez. Douglas returns as the defending Olympic All-Around Gold medalist. Raisman returns as the defending Olympic champion on Floor with continued medal hopes. Kocian joins the team as the current Co-World Champion on Bars. Hernandez rounds out the team having earned second place at the US Olympic Trials behind only Simone Biles, an impressive feat considering the competition.
The Men’s team will enter Rio with less fanfare and significantly lowered expectations. In most events as a team, they will probably be on the outside looking in. A good showing could push them onto the team podium and several of them will push for event medals.
Track and Field
HuskerGeek Importance Score(10): 9.5
While Usain Bolt is the star of the track, the United States will pick up medals across the board in both Men’s and Women’s events. Justin Gatlin will continue his chase for Bolt’s crown in the 100; LaShawn Merrit will join him in the 200. Ashton Eaton returns in the Decathlon with his eyes on the Gold Medal. Long Jump, Triple Jump, High Jump, Pole Vault, Hurdles, and on down the line. Track and Field has been a strength for the United States, and the 2016 Rio incarnation is no different.
The women’s team is just as good, and probably better. They will attempt to bring home multiple medals in a variety of events. From runner Allyson Felix to shot putter Michelle Carter, this team will pull dozens of medals off the awards table.
HuskerGeek Importance Score(10): 3
Many of the best boxers in history have been American, but most previews I’ve seen don’t have a great number of Team USA members factoring into the medal stand. In truth, I don’t know enough about boxing to disagree and so I won’t.
HuskerGeek Importance Score(10): 9
China will dominate in diving. They will. The importance of this discipline isn’t so much that the USA grabs a hand-full of medals, but more that they don’t fall too far behind.
HuskerGeek Importance Score(10): 3
Handball isn’t important. It’s just … not. We have basketball and probably consequently, suck at handball. Still, why aren’t we better at this?
HuskerGeek Importance Score(10): 7
The Bryan brothers and the Williams sisters. Every medal counts, and this is a good place for the US to pick up a few on China. All three doubles events will have American teams that expect to be on top of the medal stand.
Canoeing, Cycling, Equestrian, Fencing, Field Hockey, Judo, Modern Pentathlon, Rowing, Rugby, Sailing, Shooting, Table Tennis, Taekwondo, Triathlon, Water Polo, Weightlifting
HuskerGeek Importance Score(10): 1
Oh, who am I kidding?
HuskerGeek Importance Score(10): 10
USA! USA! USA!
This is the one time every four years where Americans get to flaunt our athletic dominance over the rest of the world. We are the Evil Empire and we like it. Recently; however, we have faced down opposition to our reign. The sleeping giant of the far east has dedicated years to toppling us off the throne. China approaches. Fueled by a population three times larger, and trained near from birth at Olympic training facilities, they have come.
Let them come.
I have often told those who would listen that I would watch competitive spitting if Nebraska was involved. For two weeks every four years, the Olympics is that for my inner ‘Murican. I get to watch sports that I care nothing about and cheer as if Nebraska was playing in the National Championship game. The Olympics are both the best and the worst in sport. For two weeks, I will forget the worst and immerse myself in the best.
The earliest memory I have of the Olympics is the iconic torch lighting in Barcelona. The flamed arrow (which probably(definitely) didn’t actually light the torch) shooting up into the Olympic Cauldron and signaling the beginning. From there, it has been a myriad of triumphs and close calls and moments we agree to never speak of again(2004 Men’s Basketball). I remember the Dream Team. I remember Basketball so perfect that it nearly defied description. I remember the anticipation of the Long Jump. I remember how my dad described Bob Beamon’s 29’ long jump in 1968. I remember 1996. I remember Muhammad Ali’s shaking body lighting the torch. I remember the Magnificent Seven. I remember Shannon Miller on Beam. I remember Kerri Strug on Vault. I remember Bela Karolyi carrying her up onto the podium. I remember Michael Johnson in the 200. I remember Dan O’Brien and the Decathlon. And on. And on.
The Olympics have given me, and I expect most people, some of the most indelible memories of sport that we have, moments so perfect that they defy description when we recount them later. How do we describe Usain Bolt winning a 100m sprint by a margin thought impossible? How do we describe Jason Lezak swimming a 100m relay anchor leg seconds faster than he had ever swum before? How do we describe Jordan Burroughs leaping into the stands after completing his journey to Gold? How do we describe any of it?
For two weeks every four years, I can put away my dislike of the politics and simply watch as history unfolds. I can’t remember half the Super Bowls I’ve watched. I can’t remember half of the NBA finals, or NCAA Tournaments, or World Series, or Masters, or US Opens. But I remember every Olympics. Maybe it’s a just a fading image of a two week event, but I remember every single one.
→ The American Game
“I believe in the church of baseball.” Annie Savoy in “Bull Durham”
It doesn’t get any better than opening day. It’s spring. The grass is green, and nowhere greener than on the infield. Can anyone be truly pessimistic about their team, the team they’ve loved since, well, since they knew what baseball is, and was and we hope will always be, on opening day?
Take me, for instance. I’ve been a Braves fan since 1958. I was 10 years old and the Braves were in the World Series. I hardly knew what the World Series was, but the Braves were there, the Braves of Henry Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Warren Spann, and Lew Burdette. And Del Crandall. And Johnny Logan. They were the heroes when I was 10. Not Willie Mays. Not Duke Snider. Not even Mickey Mantle. Why? Who knows? Logic has very little to do with being a fan when you’re 10. But now I’m 68 and it’s Opening Day and the Braves look to be terrible. Yet I’ll be watching this summer. It’s what I do.
There is nothing in sports better than being in a pennant race. The Braves won’t be in the pennant race. But Kansas City will be, or should be. I’ll be rooting for the Royals, even if they do play that inferior type of ball—the American League with it’s disgusting designated hitter. As Crash Davis says, “I believe there should be a constitutional amendment banning Astroturf and the designated hitter.” I love the style of ball the Royals play. There is a joy, an enthusiasm in their play. It doesn’t hurt that Alex Gordon is in Kansas City (where he should be.)
Opening Day. The grass. Walking into the ballpark and seeing the grass and the dirt and hearing the crack of bat on ball. The dance of taking infield. It’s an art form. The beauty of baseball is that it’s slow. There’s plenty of time to savor the sights and sounds and smells. Baseball, more than any sport I know, is a sensual experience.
Baseball is our game, the American game. Walt Whitman (By now you must recognize that I love “Bull Durham.” ) misquoted, but the sentiment is there.
I love baseball, whether it’s the major leagues or watching kids play. When I was working on my Masters, I often went to the park to watch kids play ball in the summer. It’s the same game. College baseball is fun too. So is minor league ball.
There will always be baseball.
Hope springs eternal, even for this Braves fan. Wait ’til next year.
I don’t have any quarrels with the current rankings. They have been consistent with their criteria so far. Winning has consistently been their top criteria and in a season with less than 15 games, that’s absolutely understandable. Several members of the media have intimated that they are not giving the Big 12 the respect it deserves. However, the Big 12’s own backloaded schedule provides adequate reasoning for their low ratings so far. If all of your important games come in the last three weeks, don’t be surprised when the committee is unimpressed until that time. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have ample time to climb into the Top 4, and Baylor probably needs a little help. However, given that Ohio State has gotten the benefit of the eye test, I can see why both the media and fans of the Big 12 are calling foul.