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Gerry Nicholls

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Baseball Brainwashing Gone Wrong

Posted: 09/16/11 04:21 PM ET

My son and I love both love the sport of baseball but unfortunately we don't love it in the same way.

And for me that's a cause for real grief.

To understand what I mean, you need to know I am a baseball zealot. And when I had a son, I was determined that he too would share my passion for the greatest of all sports, whether he liked it or not.

So when he was barely able to walk I put a fielder's mitt on his tiny hand; instead of cartoons he watched videos of Blue Jays World Series games, and at three-years-old he was using a plastic bat to whack the whiffle balls I tossed to him hour after hour in the backyard.

And yes, in the process I took a few vicious liners off various parts of my anatomy, but it was worth it, my efforts seemed to pay off. Indeed, my son went on to become an all-star pitcher in little league.

But for some reason my baseball brainwashing was not a complete success. Yes, he loved the game, but he loved it the wrong way.

The right way to love baseball, of course, is to embrace the game's traditions and myths and legends.

Anyone who has ever seen the baseball movies The Natural or Field of Dreams knows what I am talking about.

Baseball is not about today; it's about yesterday. It's about Bobby Thomson's "shot heard 'round the world," or Babe Ruth calling his home run, or George Brett's pine tar bat.

But my son cares nothing for the game's history or hallowed traditions. He doesn't care that the Dodgers once played in Brooklyn or that Ted Williams' nickname was the Splendid Splinter.

If anything he is more than ready to dump the game's grand customs in the name of rationality.

He likes the horrendous idea of a "wild card" team making the playoffs. In fact, he wants (horror of horrors) to add more teams to post-season.

He also supports such heresies as interleague play, the designated hitter rule and using video replays to review an umpire's call.

Where, oh where did I go wrong?

The problem is my son understands the game, but not its soul. And this is clearly manifested in his approach to statistics.

To my mind, if you want to know if a hitter is any good there are only three stats that really matter: batting average, home runs and runs batted in. For a pitcher, it's wins and losses, earned run average and strike outs. That's the way it's been since the days of Abner Doubleday.

But my son only talks about statistics you need a PhD in physics to understand. We will be watching a game and I will say something like "John Jones is a great hitter; he has a batting average of .290."

In response my son will roll his eyes and say, "His 'isolated power' stats are weak, plus his 'super linear weights' and 'wins above replacement' numbers are a joke."

I nod sagely in response, but what I am really thinking is: "Isn't a 'super linear weight' some sort of exercise machine?"

And he is always talking about other weird-sounding stats like Batting Runs Above Average, (B.R.A.A.) which is not to be confused with Batting Runs Above Replacement (B.R.A.R.) or Batting Average on Ball In Play (B.A.B.I.P.).

My reaction is always W.H.A.T.? And he uses phrases like "regression analysis" and "Pythagorean formulas." It's like conversing with Mr. Spock.

The sad fact is, for my son baseball isn't a grand romantic narrative, it's a cold, sterile mathematical equation.

In short, we love the same sport, but not the same game.

By the way, I named my son Nolan, after Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan who holds the record for most career strike outs. Is my son happy with the name?

Nope. As he recently put it, "Why didn't you name me after a pitcher with a better walks to strike out ratio?