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inkwell.vue.383 : Emma Span, "90% of the Game is Half Mental"
permalink #0 of 95: Julie Sherman (julieswn) Tue 27 Apr 10 18:36
    
This week we welcome Emma Span to Inkwell.vue to discuss her new book,
"90% of the Game is Half Mental: And Other Tales From the Edge of
Baseball Fandom."

Emma Span has written about baseball for the Village Voice, Slate, the
New York Press, and a variety of popular blogs; yet when she appeared
on Jeopardy! in the fall of 2009, she missed an easy question about
Mickey Mantle (claiming that "the buzzer timing was really tricky").
She graduated from Yale University in 2003 and now lives in Brooklyn.
"90% of the Game Is Half Mental: And Other Tales From the Edge of
Baseball Fandom" is her first book.

Interviewing Emma is Steve Bjerklie <stevebj>:

Steve Bjerklie's earliest memory in life is of a bright, fogless
afternoon at the old Seals Stadium in San Francisco -- a rookie named
Willie McCovey hit one deep to right, over the head of Roberto
Clemente and then over the billboard-festooned fence while the giant
Hamm's beer glass beyond the outfield grandstand filled and overflowed
with golden neon. That was in 1959. Years later, when faced with the
sad truth that he wouldn't ever be able to hit a professional
curveball, Steve pitched himself into journalism. He's been a staff
writer, editor and freelancer for dozens of publications dating back to
1980; presently he is a New England correspondent for The Economist
and is also communications coordinator at Dartmouth-Hitchcock's Norris
Cotton Cancer Center in Hanover, NH. He's been on The Well since 1996.
  
inkwell.vue.383 : Emma Span, "90% of the Game is Half Mental"
permalink #1 of 95: Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Wed 28 Apr 10 05:11
    
Welcome to the WELL, Emma -- let's play ball!

I suppose we need to get at least one matter addressed right away. I'm
posting from northern New Hampshire, the rural heart of Red Sox
Nation. You are posting, I believe, from Brooklyn, which is perilously
close to the Bronx -- from, then, very, very near the center of hell
from the Red Sox point of view. How on earth do you stand it? 

More important, you are close to the same age my daughter Sarah is, so
we come from different generations of baseball fans. As it happens,
Sarah is a great lover of baseball too, and I'm anxious to pass along
your book to her. I think she will connect directly with a great many
of your sharp observations. 

Emma, in an early chapter you describe how baseball came into your
life through your father. That's an experience shared by perhaps a
majority of baseball fans, including me (and Sarah, for that matter),
and it's a profound one, I think. But beyond the tie to your dad, what
else about the game attracted you when you were young? 
  
inkwell.vue.383 : Emma Span, "90% of the Game is Half Mental"
permalink #2 of 95: Kathy (kathbran) Wed 28 Apr 10 16:46
    
I remember my mother taking my brother and me to Sacramento Solon
games when I was little.  

When I was older, my father followed the SF Giants, and we used to
listen to the games on the radio.  I still enjoy baseball on the radio.
  
inkwell.vue.383 : Emma Span, "90% of the Game is Half Mental"
permalink #3 of 95: Emma Span (emmakspan) Wed 28 Apr 10 23:26
    
Hi Steve, and everybody! I'm so glad to hear you think your daughter
might enjoy the book. And yes, I live in Brooklyn, a relatively
convenient subway ride from the Yankee Death Star.

When I first started paying attention to baseball, it was mostly
individual players that got me interested - the personalities (or, more
accurately, my perception of the personalities). First it was Bernie
Williams, soon after he first came up, around 1992 and 1993. I was 10
or 11, and I loved him because he had huge thick glasses and seemed
deeply shy, like me at that age. (Though unlike me, he would go on to
become a multimillionaire superstar). I was rooting for him personally
more than the Yankees as a whole. And later, it was Paul O'Neill, who
gets a decent amount of ink in the book. He was incredibly intense, and
mostly hated by opposing teams and fans - including you, Steve, I'd
imagine? - but I loved how much he clearly cared. You wanted him to do
well for his own sanity, if nothing else.

Finally, this is a bit of a cliche by now, but my first time at the
old Yankee Stadium really blew me away. People always go on about how
green the grass is, how blue the sky, how loud the fans, etc - but man,
that one's a cliche for a reason. That was 1995 (with Andy Pettitte
pitching, another of my favorites), and after that I was sold for life.

Thanks for having me, I've heard so many good things about the Well,
and I'm looking forward to the discussion!
  
inkwell.vue.383 : Emma Span, "90% of the Game is Half Mental"
permalink #4 of 95: Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Thu 29 Apr 10 00:31
    
I think a lot of kids are first attracted to personalities in the
game, as you were. Now that you're older and wiser and know a thing or
two about mega-million salaries and steroid scandals and sleazeball
owners, etc. etc., is it still the personalities that attract you most
to baseball? Or is it something else?
  
inkwell.vue.383 : Emma Span, "90% of the Game is Half Mental"
permalink #5 of 95: Paula Span (pspan) Thu 29 Apr 10 07:38
    
And of course, you'll want to comment at length on how instrumental your
MOTHER (ahem) was in, well, okay, not in immersing you in baseball.  But in
giving you a deep love of literature and encouragement to write! Because of
reading all those books when you were little and reading all those stories
about anthropomorphic cats!  And taking you to...okay, I'll stop now.  For a
while.
Welcome to the WELL.
  
inkwell.vue.383 : Emma Span, "90% of the Game is Half Mental"
permalink #6 of 95: Gail (gail) Thu 29 Apr 10 08:18
    
Ooooh... we can talk about multi-generational writing families at some
point too!  Welcome, Emma.  Giants fan here.  I like Steve's question
because I ask myself the same thing -- what does baseball offer each
spring?
  
inkwell.vue.383 : Emma Span, "90% of the Game is Half Mental"
permalink #7 of 95: Paris in PDX (paris) Thu 29 Apr 10 09:44
    

So good to see you here, Emma!

I've read about 20 pages of your book, and am loving it.  
  
inkwell.vue.383 : Emma Span, "90% of the Game is Half Mental"
permalink #8 of 95: Maribeth Solomon (solomonchik) Thu 29 Apr 10 10:37
    
Looking forward to pre-reading and then letting live-in baseball
aficionados read your book emma, nice to see you here!
  
inkwell.vue.383 : Emma Span, "90% of the Game is Half Mental"
permalink #9 of 95: Amy Keyishian (superamyk) Thu 29 Apr 10 14:03
    
I'll be here with questions from both me and my husband, the baseball
geek! 
  
inkwell.vue.383 : Emma Span, "90% of the Game is Half Mental"
permalink #10 of 95: Lena M. Diethelm (lendie) Thu 29 Apr 10 14:39
    

Hi, Emma, loved your book.
  
inkwell.vue.383 : Emma Span, "90% of the Game is Half Mental"
permalink #11 of 95: Marge Wright (margew) Thu 29 Apr 10 16:00
    
I haven't read it yet, but it's neat to see you here on the Well, Emma!

Like Kathy I saw the Solons when I was a kid. More recently the late great
Sonoma County Crushers were the team.
  
inkwell.vue.383 : Emma Span, "90% of the Game is Half Mental"
permalink #12 of 95: Gail (gail) Thu 29 Apr 10 17:52
    
So sad to see the demise of the Crushers!  I guess real estate values
in wine country did in their ballpark eventually.  That was one amusing
unaffiliated minor league team. 

The San Jose Giants don't sound as cool, as a team name, but their
fine funky old ballpark is a must-do weekend destination for Bay Area
folks. 
  
inkwell.vue.383 : Emma Span, "90% of the Game is Half Mental"
permalink #13 of 95: Sam Delson (samiam) Thu 29 Apr 10 19:47
    
Emma,

I love Jeff Pearlman's blurb for your book, but what did he mean when
he wrote "Were this book a mustache, it would be Don Mattingly's—circa
1988"?
  
inkwell.vue.383 : Emma Span, "90% of the Game is Half Mental"
permalink #14 of 95: Emma Span (emmakspan) Thu 29 Apr 10 20:26
    <scribbled by julieswn Thu 29 Apr 10 21:30>
  
inkwell.vue.383 : Emma Span, "90% of the Game is Half Mental"
permalink #15 of 95: Emma Span (emmakspan) Thu 29 Apr 10 20:32
    
Oops, sorry for the re-post of last night's response! I guess I'm
still getting the hang of the Well... (my mom will now make fun of me,
since she's usually the one with technical difficulties). 

Steve, to answer your next question - the personalities are still
fairly fascinating to me, but probably a little less so now that I've
seen firsthand how manufactured they often are. That was the opening
for me when I was young, but now it's really just the game itself - the
details of pitching and hitting, seeing great athletes do their thing,
the daily drama of watching people struggle to succeed at the top of
their field, and the few hours of escapism a game can offer. Also, more
and more, it's the sociologically fascinating interaction between a
team and its fans (and media). Never a dull moment... 

Thanks to everyone who's reading!
  
inkwell.vue.383 : Emma Span, "90% of the Game is Half Mental"
permalink #16 of 95: Emma Span (emmakspan) Thu 29 Apr 10 20:37
    
Also, Sam - Jeff Pearlman meant (I think) that if it were a mustache,
it would be a high-quality and distinctive mustache. Maybe not Keith
Hernandez 80s-great or Goose Gossage iconic, but still a classic. (At
least, that's how I chose to interpret it, and it's by far my favorite
blurb).
  
inkwell.vue.383 : Emma Span, "90% of the Game is Half Mental"
permalink #17 of 95: With catlike tread (sumac) Fri 30 Apr 10 01:42
    
At an earlier era of Yankees baseball I had a reaction similar to
your take on Bernie Williamns.

I had just gotten involved with a Yankees fan and had been hearing
all this stuff about Reggie Jackson, the straw that stirs the drink,
Mr. October, etc., and my impression was negative. But then the
Yankees fan had a game on TV (this all being in SF) and I saw that
Jackson wears glasses.  That changed everything.  (Though if
Jackson was deeply shy, he fooled me.)

Do you have any comment on the amazing play the other day in the
Iona-Fordham game...?
  
inkwell.vue.383 : Emma Span, "90% of the Game is Half Mental"
permalink #18 of 95: Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Fri 30 Apr 10 05:01
    
While you're mulling that great play, Emma, as I read your terrific
book I wondered if you've had much experience going to major-league
games in cities other than New York. (You went to games in Taiwan, of
course; there's a chapter about that.)

The reason I ask is because after I relocated from the San Francisco
Bay Area three years ago for northern New England, the difference in
fandom I found in New Hampshire was remarkable to me. There are lots of
great baseball fans in the Bay Area and some of them are quite
passionate, but in New England being a fan of the Red Sox is part of a
person's identity, like having my Norwegian ancestry reveleaed by my
last name. It's more than a religion; it's in the DNA. I also noticed
the same thing about the Boston Bruins, the hockey team. New Englanders
love the Celtics and the Patriots, too, but part of their very being
is with the Red Sox and Bruins. Loving the Red Sox just *is*.

The same is true in New York and in Chicago, St. Louis and Detroit.
(Perhaps Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, too; I'm less familiar with fan
support in those cities.) Out West, the fan passion for baseball teams
is... different. Not worse, not better, just not as... deep, I guess is
the word. San Francisco without the Giants or Oakland without the A's
is possible; Boston without the Red Sox and New York without the
Yankees is not. 

Or so it has seemed to me. I wonder if you've noticed anything
similar, since you're so attuned to passion for baseball.  
  
inkwell.vue.383 : Emma Span, "90% of the Game is Half Mental"
permalink #19 of 95: beneath the blue suburban skies (aud) Fri 30 Apr 10 09:07
    
hi Emma, i absolutely loved your book. let me start out by saying that as a
life-long Philadelphian who started going to games at the tender age of like
4 or something (with my grandfather, whose passion he managed to transfer to
me by being drawn to his radio, and painting the picture for me each Sunday
afternoon, usually while we were fishing somewhere), your passion feels so
familiar to me that even I, the any-team-from-NY-hater, was drawn in.

I'm going to hand it over to my oldest son, who has inherited my passion,
and who remains my favorite person to go to games with. I suspect he always
will be.

more later when i'm not at work ;)
  
inkwell.vue.383 : Emma Span, "90% of the Game is Half Mental"
permalink #20 of 95: Paris in PDX (paris) Fri 30 Apr 10 10:13
    

I've been a baseball fan since the summer of 1964.  I was living in 
Philadelphia at the time, and attended something like 25 home games at 
Connie Mack Stadium (where, as I used to say, you always sat behind a 
post, no matter where you sat).  I was lucky enough to see some amazing 
players including Willie Mays, Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax.  I still 
remember watching Jim Bunning (who has morphed into a right-wingnut) pitch 
a perfect game against the Mets on TV.

Moved to Boston and rooted for the Red Sox (against the Yankees, of 
course) and then to San Francisco, where I rooted for the Giants.  The 
closest major league team to us now is the Seattle Mariners, and I can't 
seem to muster the energy to care much about them, so I'm adrift without a 
baseball team to support these days!

Emma, I just read another fifty pages of your book and it keeps getting 
better and better.  
  
inkwell.vue.383 : Emma Span, "90% of the Game is Half Mental"
permalink #21 of 95: beneath the blue suburban skies (aud) Sat 1 May 10 09:25
    
and how much do I hate Jim Bunning now??? what a nutjob he is. but i
remember that game too. I spent my formative games at Connie Mack as well.
still remember how _green_ it was. and yeah, the posts.

last night after that pathetic display by my team i wasn't much in the mood
to discuss baseball.


so Emma, 9/30/07 the date which Mets fans want to forget, was one of those
baseball days I want to remember forever. my 50th birthday. #50 on the
mound, which I took as a good omen. my beloved Phils win the division, after
getting hot at the right time. yeah, we blew it in the first round but that
day. man. so great. and i was there with my son, and we'll talk about it
forever.

when i got to your chapter on 2007 of course i knew what was coming. too bad
you didn't do that last year, you still wouldn't have any Mets love but
unfortunately (at our expense) there was plenty for the Yankees.

i still marvel over the fact that your style captivated me so well that i
was reading about NY baseball...
  
inkwell.vue.383 : Emma Span, "90% of the Game is Half Mental"
permalink #22 of 95: Emma Span (emmakspan) Sat 1 May 10 11:47
    
Steve, I've actually gotten to surprisingly few stadiums outside of
New York - a bunch in Florida, for spring training, and Milwaukee and
Camden Yards, but I've never even been to Fenway or Philadelphia! It's
something I hope to correct soon... it's a longtime dream of mine to
drive cross country and hit all 30 ballparks.

But I've read enough, and talked to enough other fans from all over,
to realize that the intensity in New York really is different here (and
in Boston, and maybe a few other places). It's a positive as well as a
negative... enthusiastic, involved fans are great, but the
accompanying scrutiny and occasional hysteria can be too much
sometimes. 
  
inkwell.vue.383 : Emma Span, "90% of the Game is Half Mental"
permalink #23 of 95: Paris in PDX (paris) Sat 1 May 10 12:13
    

Fenway Park is a must-see, for sure.  When I first moved to Boston, we 
could walk to Fenway, and often decided to get tickets at the last minute 
when it looked like they might be available.  We stopped doing that when 
we were seated in the bleachers and some guys were snorting coke from a 
mirror in the row in front of us.  From that point on, we bought in 
advance and opted for more expensive seats.
  
inkwell.vue.383 : Emma Span, "90% of the Game is Half Mental"
permalink #24 of 95: Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Sun 2 May 10 07:32
    
>>> It's a positive as well as a negative... enthusiastic, involved
fans are great, but the accompanying scrutiny and occasional hysteria
can be too much sometimes. <<<

A smart point, Emma, and I fully agree. 

Still, the first I went to games in New York and Boston, years ago, I
was struck by the extraordinary baseball knowledge of the fans around
me. Since then I've had the same experience in Detroit and I know it
would be the same in St. Louis. (Chicago? No, because going to a Cubs
game has become an "event," so the stands are crowded with folks who
who are there because it's the thing to do.)

Emma, you write entertainingly, as well as a little sadly at points,
about your brief career as a sports writer for the Village Voice. I
very much enjoyed how you described the reality of being a woman in the
locker room and how you often protected yourself with your notebook. I
also like your description of the bizarre waiting game writers must
play with athletes in the locker room, and the sometimes strange
protocols that are in effect.

Something you didn't write about in the book, however, is what it was
like to cover hockey, basketball and football, which I gather you have
no great passion for, for the Voice. Tell us about that experience. 
  
inkwell.vue.383 : Emma Span, "90% of the Game is Half Mental"
permalink #25 of 95: Emma Span (emmakspan) Sun 2 May 10 11:16
    
Thanks, Steve! Yes, that was something I wish I'd gotten to write more
about, actually, but I thought it interrupted the flow too much.
I had kind of a whirlwind tour through the other New York City sports
the winter of '06-'07 - I wrote about the Knicks, Rangers, Jets,
Giants, and even the short-lived NY indoor lacrosse team, the New York
Titans. 

The Knicks would have been fun, since I'm a basketball fan, but it was
the lowest ebb of the Isiah Thomas era and everyone around the team
was tense and miserable. (And of course the issue of where to put your
eyes is even more pressing when you are surrounded by people who are 7
feet tall, if you see what I'm saying). The Rangers were refreshing
because they were actually happy to have reporters around - they wished
they had more media coverage - and players tended to be friendly,
either because they weren't as sick of answering questions or because
they're mostly European, Canadian, or Midwestern. 

Football was the worst. It was a combination of factors - it's the
sport I know least about, so I didn't really know what to ask anyone
and was afraid of looking ignorant; that part was my fault. But the
players were also a bit more hostile. The Giants and Jets locker rooms
were the only places where I felt outright unwelcome, though a lot of
that was more a vibe than anything concrete I could complain about.

With what we're finding out about the long term effects of concussions
on NFL players, I can hardly make myself watch games anymore. It feels
way too bloodthirsty.
  

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