Following a line of reasoning current among some federal officials that coronavirus would go away if we merely stopped testing, I had an emotional breakthrough today in looking back at my youth baseball career. I didn’t realize it until now but, had we not kept statistics, as a teenager I was rocketing on a trajectory that would carry me to major league baseball stardom and, almost certainly, enshrinement at Cooperstown.
As a kid, I kept meticulous stats on my performances, noting every at bat, hit and walk, recording every time I got hit by a pitch or reached base on an error. I wasn’t quite as faithful in logging putouts, assists and errors in the field, but I did note the highlights and low-lights in my diaries.
The statistics were never publicized, but I always knew when I was slumping (1-for-May, e.g.) or on a rare hot streak (5 for 12 over the last three games).
Singed into memory is the spectacle of my last organized hardball game, the town championship for “E League,” a step up on the age brackets from Pony League. I was approaching my 16th birthday and hitting my weight on the season: .135.
By merely not keeping records of the times I struck out, my average that season would have been a Ted Williams-topping .407. Why stop there? I actually batted 1.000, and the Cleveland Indians won another pennant.
Back to reality.
I didn’t over-obsess on the batting average because my on-base percentage (something rarely calculated during the Nixon White House years) was probably in the neighborhood of .350. I often reached base, and as I recall I often batted second in the lineup.
That championship game, played on a bright, sunny Sunday afternoon in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, had an extra element of drama. Not only was is it the final game of the season, but batting orders were being announced to the crowd of family and friends via a bullhorn.
I remember standing in the on-deck circle, loosening up with a bat while wearing one of those heavy batting helmets with ear protection flaps on both side. This should be fun, I thought: our names are being broadcast to the crowd, just as in the big leagues!
Then I realized the announcer was noting batting averages, and I cringed. I leaned the bat against my leg and put fingers in both helmet ear holes as my name was announced:
“Batting second, the shortstop, hitting .135, Danny … Day.”
Averages be damned. I played one of the finest games of my life, cutting off a rally with a leaping grab of a liner at shortstop and smashing a ground-rule double with the bases loaded. I was named the most valuable player of the game, and I have the certificate to prove it.
After the game, my parents drove me back to the University of Akron, where I was in the midst of a summer clinic for my high school debate team. This was a cross-over point in my life: going all-in with debate, where I made varsity as a sophomore, instead of baseball, where I didn’t make the team.
Debate would put me on a trajectory to a career in journalism, where I kept score on public officials and institutions. Just as in baseball, numbers don’t tell the whole story. But they help us understand what we’re up against, whether it’s 6-foot-4 southpaw throwing smoke or an international pandemic threatening our lives.