kids these days

Exit 235. Is it worth it for the game to lose its soul?

A couple years ago, I was watching a San Francisco Giants baseball game on TV.  The game was tied in extra innings (for my unbaseballed readers: if the game is tied at the end of the normal game length, they keep playing more innings until the game isn’t tied anymore at the end of an inning).  It is well known in baseball that some pitchers are better at pitching against certain types of batters; for example, pitchers tend to be better at getting out batters who bat with the same hand that the pitcher throws with.  Giants manager Bruce Bochy wanted to put in a left-handed pitcher (I don’t remember the names of any of the players involved here, nor do I remember the opponent) because the next batter was left-handed, but the existing right-handed pitcher would be preferable for the right-handed batters following this one.  Once a player is removed from the game, he may not re-enter the game, and being that this game had gone to extra innings, there were very few players left, especially pitchers, who could enter the game.

Something happened here that I had never seen in all the decades I’ve been watching baseball.  Instead of removing the pitcher, Bochy removed an outfielder from the game, and the right-handed pitcher moved to left field, where the upcoming left-handed batter would not be likely to hit the ball.  After that left-handed batter had finished his at-bat against the new left-handed pitcher, the right-handed pitcher came back to the mound to pitch, and a new outfielder entered the game.

Baseball, especially in leagues where no designated hitter is used, is a game of brilliant strategy.  This part of the game seems to be misunderstood these days by all but the most dedicated baseball fans.  For years, baseball executives have been pointing out that interest in the game is slowly declining, because younger generations see baseball as a slow and boring game.  I wouldn’t disagree with the slow part, but I disagree with the assumption that being slow is a bad thing.  I can go to a baseball game with someone and, because of the slow pace of the game, I don’t have to choose between spending time with my friend and paying attention to the game, as is the case sometimes with, say, basketball, where the ball is constantly moving and scoring happens often.  And, if you know enough to follow the strategy, baseball is not boring at all.  The number of strategic moves required to maximize the team’s chance of scoring, and the excitement of seeing whether or not a strategy succeeds, makes for a very exciting game.

Major League Baseball has proposed a number of rule changes for the 2020 season, and as far as I can tell, the brilliant strategy described above, in which the pitcher briefly moved to left field, would be against the rules for two reasons under the new rules.  Players would be designated as either pitchers or position players, prohibiting pitchers from playing any other position in the field.  This situation that I described would be uncommon, but it is fairly common to use pitchers as pinch runners late in the game, and this would seemingly be prohibited as well.  (For the unbaseballed: this means substituting a player when they are already on base, so if a slow player gets a hit, he might be removed from the game and replaced with a fast player to run the rest of the bases and have a better chance at scoring because of his speed.  I should also acknowledge that there are inconsistencies in the articles I’ve read about the rule changes, and I’m not 100% sure that using pitchers as pinch runners would be against the rules.)

But there is another rule that clearly would affect the game in profound ways: a pitcher will be required to pitch to a minimum of three batters.  In the scenario I described above, the pitcher only pitched to one batter, and this is far more common than any of the other unusual strategies I have described.  And this rule change affects so many aspects of the game beyond on-field strategy, extending to front-office decisions about which players a team chooses to sign and the value of pitchers in a trade or free agent signing.  Many pitchers have specifically built careers around being specialists who are brought in just to get one batter out, typically a batter of the same handedness.  This gives them an additional advantage of being usable in more games, since pitching to only one batter does not wear out their pitching arm or require resting over multiple games before pitching again.  Now, their skill sets will be rendered invalid with the stroke of a pen.

The justification for this rule change is to speed up the game.  Some of the proposals to speed up the game I’m perfectly okay with, like shortening slightly the breaks between innings.  But changing the strategy and the value of certain skill sets will change the game so fundamentally as to render it almost unrecognizable to some of us long-term fans.  And I’m not sure I buy the argument that the young have attention spans too short to appreciate baseball.  After all, younger fans have embraced soccer at levels heretofore unprecedented in the USA, and soccer is certainly a game requiring patience with so few goals being scored.  Or maybe the problem is that fewer kids are playing baseball, with other sports and activities such as competitive video gaming taking up their recreation time, so they never learn all the strategies involved with baseball.

Bruce Bochy and his strategic brilliance will not see these rule changes, since he is retiring at the end of the 2019 season.  But there is another generation of fans for whom the game will not be the same as it was before.  So how does baseball revitalize and reinvent itself for the younger generation?  I don’t know.  The world is a different place than it was a generation ago, and I realize that baseball has been through major rule changes before.  One theory I’ve heard is that MLB owners receive so much revenue from licensing deals that they have little financial incentive to put a winning team on the field, which makes some organizations perpetually not competitive. Maybe we need to look at that.  I don’t have a definite answer.  But is it worth it for the game to lose its soul over this?

Exit 115. Seriously, just stop arguing and have fun.

So apparently everyone is talking about Pokémon Go. Let’s establish some basics right away: First of all, I have never played Pokémon Go.  And if you have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m not an expert, but from what I can gather from talking to friends and reading about it, Pokémon Go is a game for smartphones where you actually walk around and explore the real world trying to find Pokémon.  Pokémon are characters from a series of video games, collectible card games, movies, and the like; they are little monsters that you can train to battle other Pokémon, or something like that.  The name was shortened from “Poketto Monsuta,” which is the Japanese transliteration of the English phrase “pocket monsters.”

The entire world has pretty much taken sides on Pokémon Go; either you love it or you hate it.  And as with many things, I’m somewhere in the middle.

I haven’t played it yet for a variety of reasons.  There are other things I’d rather do with my time at this point, and when the school year starts, this will be even more true.  Also, a lot of the most hardcore players are twentysomethings who played the early Pokémon video games and/or the Pokémon collectible card game in their childhood, and this new game gives them an opportunity to reenact those games in reality.  The Pokémon craze of the late 1990s and early 2000s was a little after my time, as far as video games go.  I have a small amount of experience with the card game, but this came far later, in my mid-thirties, during the time that I was in a really bad long distance relationship.  Acrux had learned the Pokémon card game from the kids she regularly babysat, and she wanted me to get a starter deck and learn the game.  I did so on my next visit, and she excitedly pointed out that, since players don’t actually take cards from other players in this game, we could play over Skype after I got home.  And, in the fashion typical of how things went in this so-called relationship, she never mentioned it again, and she always came up with some excuse why she didn’t have time whenever I brought up that I wanted to play.  The one time I did successfully beg her to find some time to play Pokémon with me over Skype, we only played one game, and I beat her in about five minutes.  I then played against her best friend, who was also there at the time, and that game took much longer… so the whole point of finally getting to spend some time with Acrux completely didn’t happen.  Frequent other non-Pokémon-related instances of her blowing me off when I wanted to spend time together is pretty much why we broke up, although that’s another story entirely.  The point I’m trying to make is that, unlike many of my friends who play, I don’t have those pleasant childhood memories of Pokémon.

But I’m not going to sit here and say that the game is evil, or anything like that.  If you play Pokémon Go, and you still prioritize your time so that you can be an adult and take care of your responsibilities (or in the case of children, do your homework), then good for you.  I’m glad you’re enjoying it.  I’m glad you’re getting outside, seeing the world around you, and making friends.  There seems to be a segment of the population who believes that any adult who plays video games, regardless of the surrounding circumstances, is inherently immature, childish, and irresponsible.  As much as I don’t always like to admit it, the world has changed, and video games are not children’s toys anymore.  I see nothing inherently more immature about an adult who plays video games compared to an adult who spends the same amount of time golfing, fishing, or watching TV.  Hobbies are great as long as they don’t interfere with your life unreasonably.

However, if you’re going to play Pokémon Go, stop acting like an idiot and/or a jerk.  Don’t dart out into traffic or jump off a cliff because there is a Pokémon there.  And don’t go around saying that this game is only for adults who grew up playing Pokémon as children.  No, it’s not.  Let the n00bz have their fun.  And if you just jumped on the Pokémon bandwagon recently, don’t act like you know everything, because there are people who have been into Pokémon a lot longer than you.  All of you, seriously, just stop arguing and have fun.

I haven’t ruled out playing Pokémon Go in the future.  I recently saw a coworker who is around my age playing.  She said that, since she is a middle school teacher, like me, she wanted to become familiar with the game so as to understand what the students are all going to be talking about this year.  At that age, it is important for the students to feel like their teachers can relate to them, and I totally get that.  So we’ll see.

P.S.: Do me a favor and stop calling them Pokermanz.  That’s just annoying.

Exit 104. There is a common thread.

I was recently asked to speak at an Alumni Night for my alma mater’s chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.  Instead of the usual talk by an actual IV staff worker, they had four people speaking: an older alumnus (that’s me), a recent graduate, a current senior, and a current freshman.  This was planned as part of a theme centered around God’s work on the campus across the generations.

I have mentioned my involvement with this group before, but it was not without its share of ups and downs.  I had a variety of disagreements with the way the group was set up over the years.  (I’m not going to get into what those disagreements were, specifically, since this is not the point of what I’m trying to say here.)  For a few months in 1997, I even went so far as to attend another church’s college group a few times, because I was frustrated with the way certain things were done at IV.  I jokingly referred to this at the time as my Rebellious Period.  But I eventually came back, reasoning that this group was still much more of a force of good in the world, and because I was still benefiting and growing from the teaching, Bible studies, and service opportunities.

The group has changed quite a bit since the last time I attended a non-alumni group meeting, which would have been around 2000.  (I was done with school by then, but I still had younger friends still involved with IV, so I showed up every once in a while.)  Some of the changes they have made are the kind of things I wasn’t sure I agreed with back in my day.  In some important ways, the group had a very different feel from what it was like in the late ’90s.

But I did not feel uncomfortable there at all, because there is a common thread.  And that common thread is Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ died for all of our sins.  Although he came in the context of a specific time period and culture, he came to bring people of every culture to God, throughout all of history.  A number of students came up to me afterward and told me that they really related to the story I told.  Most of these students did not come from backgrounds like mine.  They grew up in a different time period, being born around the same time that I got involved with IV as a university student.  But they have all known the kind of alienation I felt that night in the story that I told, and they all understood how much it meant to me to find out that my friends were praying for me.

As Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”  (Matthew 24:35)

Exit 60. A wedding hashtag combines two things that I already hate: weddings and hashtags.

A friend who recently got engaged was taking suggestions on her Facebook page for wedding hashtags.  That got me thinking, why do I hate the idea of wedding hashtags so much?  On the surface, the answer seems simple.  A wedding hashtag combines two things that I already hate: weddings and hashtags.

But no, it’s not quite that simple.  And any of you who are currently planning a wedding, and planning to invite me, please don’t take me off your invitation list because I said I hate weddings.  I didn’t mean it that way, and I totally want to come to your wedding.  Keep reading; I’ll explain.

In 2007, I was at a wedding for some friends from church.  I was in kind of a grumpy mood that day as it was.  I have mixed feelings about weddings in general.  Weddings are supposed to be a happy occasion.  Everyone seems to have that phase in their mid-20s when all their friends get married, and they get invited to weddings every few months.  After I went through that phase, I moved at age 24, made new friends who weren’t married, and went through that phase all over again.  Then I moved again at age 29, and went through several of these cycles: make new friends, watch these friends get married, watch them move on with their lives and not spend time with me anymore, and repeat.  GOTO 10.  And through all of that, I never got my chance.  I’ve been to approximately 40 weddings in my lifetime, and each one represented close friends who I was about to lose because they discovered this strange alien phenomenon called love that was going to take them into a new phase of their lives that required leaving all their old single friends like me behind.  I’m happy for my friends who get married, but I can’t shake the feeling in the back of my head that I’ve just lost two friends, and that I’m missing out on this next phase of my life.

The reception for this wedding in 2007 was at a different location from the ceremony.  I got there a little later than most of the people I knew; seating was not preassigned, and everyone I knew had already found a table, and there was no room left at that table for me.  Given the way I had been feeling that morning, that was enough to set me off; I quietly walked back outside and sat on a bench.  An older friend from church (not older as in old, but older as in around my parents’ age rather than close to the age of the bride and groom) sat next to me and asked what was wrong.  I told him.  “Go home,” he said.  “If you really don’t want to be here, just go home.”  I thought about it.  I almost did go home.  But then I said, “No.  I’m not going to go home.  This day isn’t about me and all of my issues.  It’s the bride and groom’s special day, and if they think I’m an important enough part of their lives that they wanted to share their special day with me, then it would just be selfish for me to turn my back on them because of my own issues.”  So I went back inside, and I was determined to have fun at that wedding reception.  And I did.  And ever since then, I’ve taken that attitude whenever I’ve been to a wedding.

As for hashtags, let’s review first, especially for the benefit of my readers who aren’t up on the latest social media trends.  A hashtag is a number sign (called a hash in British English) followed by some string of letters and numbers (no spaces or punctuation) intended to group or categorize a caption, status update, etc.  Hashtags in their current form started as a function of Twitter and later spread to other social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.  They can be used in mid-sentence, such as “Is anyone watching this #SFGiants game right now?”, or as postscripts, such as “Home run!!! #SFGiants”  The original intended function of a hashtag is to group or categorize posts.  In my examples, clicking on “#SFGiants” wil bring up other posts that contain the hashtag #SFGiants, which would presumably be posts about the San Francisco Giants baseball team.

The problem with hashtags, in my opinion, is their gratuitous overuse.  Let’s say you go to a Giants game and take a self portrait (that’s what the word “selfie” actually means, by the way, so if someone else is taking a picture of you, it’s not a selfie) with the scoreboard and the view of the San Francisco Bay in the background.  Your properly tagged caption might say something like “At the game today!  #SFGiants  #SanFrancisco #baseball”  An improperly tagged caption might say something like “At the game today!  #icanseethebaybehindme  #lookatthathugeshipunderthebridge  #ihavegreathairtoday  #busterposeyhasaniceass  #iwantgarlicfries  #cutehair  #omgitotallylookcutetoday  #selfie  #hashtag”  For one thing, that is hard to read.  The English language has spaces and capital letters and punctuation for precisely that reason; please use them.  Spaces and punctuation aren’t allowed in hashtags, I know, but capital letters are, and that would significantly improve the readability of this caption.  More importantly, though, most of those things shouldn’t even be hashtags.  Remember, the point of a hashtag is to make your post searchable.  I guarantee you, very few people, quite possibly no one, is out there searching for “lookatthathugeshipunderthebridge.”  It’s way too specific.  If you wanted to categorize your pictures of ships under bridges, use something more succinct and easier to find like “#ship” or “#bridge.”  If you wanted to categorize your selfies with great hair, use “#greathair.”  That’s how it’s supposed to work.

So, back to the original topic, wedding hashtags.  When the kids these days get married, they make up a hashtag specifically for their wedding, and tell all their friends to use it when posting statuses and pictures related to the wedding.  To me, this seems kind of narcissistic.  Do they really expect people worldwide to be searching for their wedding?  And do they always need to come up with something cute and sappy?  Can’t it just be their names and the word “wedding” or something like that?  Some keep their hashtags simple like that, I know.  But I’ve seen others that just want to make me barf.  I’m not going to give examples here, because I don’t want to alienate my friends who have done that.

I realized something about wedding hashtags, though:  I can’t really complain, because this is a perfectly legitimate use of a hashtag.  A hashtag specifically for posts and pictures from a wedding creates an easy way to see posts and pictures on that same topic, and this is what hashtags are supposed to be for.  Maybe the whole world won’t be searching for that topic, but the bride and groom and their family and friends might.  And as for being narcissistic, it’s a wedding we’re talking about here, and the bride and groom have a right to be the centers of attention for that one day.  Like I said, if I don’t like it, I’m just being selfish.  I have my own issues to deal with, and I shouldn’t take them out on two other people who deserve to have a special day.

So if you’re planning a wedding, and you want me to be there, invite me.  I’ll be there.  Go ahead and make up a hashtag too.  I won’t use it, but that’s only because I generally don’t use hashtags at all, not because I’m going to stop you from celebrating your wedding your way.

Exit 47. I’ve got the same combination on my luggage!

Yesterday, I had two hours to kill away from my own neighborhood.  And when I say kill, I don’t mean this in a negative way, I mean I was looking forward to the peace and quiet.  The last week or so, I’ve been having a craving for a certain major national restaurant chain that I hadn’t been to since August, if I’m remembering right.  (In case you’re wondering, It’s the one that doesn’t rhyme with “bottle” and requires a Rectum of the Gods to eat there safely.)  Anyway, I knew of a location of this particular dining establishment that was on the way to where I needed to be next, so I went in and headed for the bathroom, only to find that the bathroom had a keypad lock on it.  Presumably this is there to keep non-customers from using the bathroom.  I got in line, made my order, and asked about the bathroom, if she had to unlock it from there or if customers could have the combination.  “1-2-3-4-5,” she said.

Of course, I replied with what should be the automatic standard reply from most people my age who appreciate science fiction and off-the-wall comedy: “That’s amazing!  I’ve got the same combination on my luggage!

Then I paused and asked her, “Did you get that reference?”

“No,” she replied, as I expected.  So I told her briefly about the movie Spaceballs, a comedy satirizing Star Wars and the science fiction blockbusters of that era and style, how the bad guys are trying to force the good guys into giving up a combination that ends up being 1-2-3-4-5.  (Click the link above to see the scene.)  “Is it an old movie?” she asked.

“1987,” I said.

“Yeah, I wasn’t even born yet,” she replied.

Of course, as I’ve gotten older, moments like this have happened more and more to the point of just making me laugh now.  I’ve gotten used to being older than many of the people I come in contact with.  It’s important to realize that younger people grew up in a different world than me, and this has much deeper implications than not getting my movie references, but that is another topic for another time.

What I can do is offer to share my cultural references without being condescending toward the other individual, as I did with the girl from the restaurant above.  This is also why I invite people over for classic retro video games.  Some of my friends are younger than some of the consoles and computers I have, but we all have a lot of fun with it.  After all, this really isn’t all that different from students in school reading classic literature as part of their education.  Of course, there is a very legitimate argument that Spaceballs and Super Mario Bros. are not exactly on the level of culture as Shakespeare, but some of the creative works that are considered part of the canon of Western culture today were not taken seriously in their own time.

I used to coach Academic Decathlon.  Each year’s events are arranged around a central theme, with the topics of study all connected to some subject, part of the world, or era in history.  A few years ago, the theme was World War I, and among the topics were the art and music of that time period.  Some of the works students were required to study were not exactly considered high class at the time, such as Take Me Out To The Ball Game, Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag, and Duchamp’s Fountain.  It got me thinking… what if Academic Decathlon students 100 years from now are studying our time in history?  Will the music section of the curriculum include timeless classics like Gangnam Style and The Fox?  Will the students learn about priceless works of art like the photograph of Grumpy Cat and Lady Gaga’s meat dress?  Will Go The F*** To Sleep be one of the literature selections?  It certainly will be interesting to see what history will have to say about this generation, but I’m sure every generation has said the same kind of thing about themselves.  All I can do now is keep finding that balance, passing on the memories of the past without anchoring my life to them, acknowledging that the past made me who I am while freeing myself of its chains.