#TheBestOf… Visiting the ballpark

This is part of a series of articles in which I contribute to uniting our world by showing off a part of my own. A while back, I proposed writing articles to bring people together by showing us something special about your world that you want to share.

Today’s topic: the joys of taking in a baseball game.

I’m one of those fans that you’ll see at the ballpark keeping score!

One of my favorite activities is to take in a ballgame. It relaxes me, it’s fun (although I understand why a lot of people find baseball to be boring), and (for those of us who do “get” baseball) it can be mentally stimulating. I’m one of the people that you’ll see keeping score at a ballgame. People who find baseball to be boring often don’t understand that baseball is actually a chess match — the managers are making moves based on probability, and certain strategies are employed based on certain situations (e.g. what kind of pitch to throw, whether or not to steal a base, substituting a player, and so on). I’ve had a lifelong love affair with baseball, going all the way back to my early teens, and I will take in a ballgame whenever I have a chance to do so. I’ve even been known to schedule vacations around Major League Baseball schedules. I even wrote a previous article in which I talk about the ballparks and arenas that I’ve visited.

With that, there are things that I make sure I do whenever I visit a ballpark. Every ballpark is an experience, and with the number of different stadia around the country, each experience will be different.

  • Mingle with the fans around you. Fans are often representative of the local culture, and you can often experience a lot just by talking to fans. They can often tell you about things to experience, places to eat, and maybe talk a little about the history of the home team or the area that you’re visiting. Conversations with local fans can often be quite interesting. And often, you’ll speak the common language of baseball, even if you’re rooting for opposing teams!

    I once attended a game at Fenway Park (a dangerous place for a Yankee fan like me, I know), and I struck up a conversation with a lady sitting next to me. After a while, she said to me, “you’re from New York, aren’t you?” I said, “yeah, how’d you know?” She said, “something you said. You definitely have a New York accent.” To this day, it’s the only time I’ve ever been told that I have an accent of any kind!
  • Sample the ballpark fare. I mentioned in my previous #TheBestOf article that I make it a point to sample food that’s representative of an area that I’m visiting. The same holds for ballpark food. Most, if not all, ballparks have their standard hot dogs, of course, but a lot of ballparks will often have fare that’s representative of their locale. I’ve sampled, among other things, streak sandwiches and bacon on a stick (a friend who accompanied me to a game once said to me, “that’s not bacon, that’s a pork chop!”) at Yankee Stadium, Fenway Franks and hot cocoa at Fenway Park, coffee and garlic fries (not together, mind you!) at Safeco Field (now T-Mobile Park), and French fries at SkyDome (now Rogers Centre). Granted, a ballpark isn’t a four-Michelin-star restaurant, but a lot of concessions have come a long way since the days of a hot dog and a beer (although you can still get those).
Monument Park is one of my favorite places in Yankee Stadium to visit!
  • Explore any unique features of a ballpark. Not all ballparks are created equal. I love to explore ballparks, especially one that I’m visiting for the first time. Fenway has the Green Monster. Yankee Stadium has Monument Park and the Yankee Museum. Tropicana Field has the manta ray tank (I was going to mention the Ted Williams Museum, but was sad to see that it had been closed). Many ballparks have features that are usually worth checking out, and if they’re fan-accessible (Monument Park is one of my favorites), I suggest you go check it out!
  • Buy a souvenir. Any tourist will often get souvenirs unique to his or her trip. Ballparks are no different. I have a small collection of items from ballparks I’ve visited. I have caps, shirts, jerseys, and other swag for the Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners, Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore Orioles, Montreal Expos, and Colorado Rockies (and maybe a few others that I’ve missed). (Okay, as a Yankee fan, the only memorabilia I won’t buy is anything for the Boston Red Sox or New York Mets! ūüôā ) They all represent ballpark experiences I’ve had, and even though I’m a Yankee fan, I will wear these items proudly!*

    (*Well, okay, maybe except on days when the Yankees play them!)
  • Keep score. I regularly keep score at ballgames. A scorecard does a number of things. It makes you pay attention to whatever is happening on the field of play (and, if you’re new to baseball, it can help you better understand the game). It can be a conversation piece; often if other fans around me see that I’m keeping score, they’ll often ask me things like, “what did such-and-such batter do his last time at bat?” (I remember someone once said to me, “if you’re keeping score, you immediately become the god of that section where you’re sitting!”) And at the end of the game, your scorecard becomes another souvenir of the ballgame!
  • Admire the history and the architecture. It’s often said that sports are a reflection of society. As such, a great deal of history comes along with a ballclub. (If you want a good synopsis of the relationship between baseball and history, check out Ken Burns’ Baseball.) Understanding the history of a ballclub, as well as the architecture of the ballpark, often reflects the history of the municipality that it represents.
  • Enjoy the environment. There’s a reason why baseball is called “America’s Pastime.” For me, there’s something very satisfying and relaxing (or exhilarating, if an exciting play happens) about spending a beautiful summer day at the ballpark along with good friends (or even by myself), a scorecard, a hot dog, and a beer.
  • Visit the surrounding area. Areas surrounding ballparks can often be attractions in and of themselves, and they often provide great destinations after the game is over. Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is within easy walking distance from Camden Yards. Denver’s LoDo neighborhood is a stone’s throw from Coors Field. Fenway Park is right around the corner from Kenmore Square and Boston University. And Safeco Field/T-Mobile Park is only a short distance from Seattle’s Pioneer Square and the waterfront.

If you are as big of a baseball fan as I am (or even if you’re not), and if you like to travel, make sure you take in a ballgame. It will enhance your travel experience so much more!

Instant decisions


(Source: New York Times)

A NY Times recap of a ballgame got me thinking about instant decisions.

I watched this game on a TV at a restaurant where I was having dinner with my wife.¬† I remember watching Brett Gardner getting thrown out as he was caught in a rundown between third and home.¬† I remember thinking, “now the man on third is erased.¬† What were you thinking, Brett?”

As the Times article points out, it ended up being a fateful decision by (Orioles pitcher) Dylan Bundy.  Had he thrown the ball to the shortstop instead of his catcher, he potentially could have turned a double play to get his team out of the inning.  Instead, the Yankees, with an extra life, rallied in the inning to go up by a score of 5-0 (highlighted by a Tyler Wade grand slam).  The Yankees ended up winning, 9-0 (making me, a Yankee fan, happy).

But this article isn’t about the game.¬† It’s about the instant decision.¬† In this case, a quick decision ended up affecting the outcome of a ballgame.

Think about all the times in your life when you’ve had to make an instant decision on your feet.¬† We’ve all had them.¬† How did they turn out?¬† Good?¬† Bad?¬† Did they end up changing the course of your life, or were they just blips on your lifetime radar screen?

I’m sure there’s some kind of psychology as to how your background — upbringing, education, etc. — might play a role regarding the kinds of split-second decisions you make, but this is a subject about which I know nothing.¬† Rather, it got me thinking about the idea that quick decisions can have consequences.¬† In the scheme of things, many of them might not have any effect.¬† But depending on the time, place, and circumstances, such decision-making could have disastrous consequences — or result in the opportunity of a lifetime.

#BI101: An introduction to BI using baseball

Edit: This is the first of a series of articles (I hope!) in which I’m trying to teach myself about BI.¬† Any articles I write that are related to this, starting with this one, will be preceded with “#BI101” in the title.

As I stated in a previous article, one topic about which I’m interested in learning more is business intelligence (BI).¬† For those of you who are new to BI, it is a broad topic.¬† In a nutshell, it can probably be described as “consuming and interpreting data so it can be used for business decisions and/or applications.”

I’ll admit that I don’t know a lot about BI (at least the fine details, anyway).¬† I did work a previous job where I touched upon it; I was tasked with performing some data analysis, and I was introduced to concepts such as OLAP cubes and pivot tables.¬† I’ve gotten better at creating pivot tables — I’ve done a few of them using MS Excel — but I’ll admit that I’m still not completely comfortable with building cubes.¬† I suppose that’ll come as I delve further into this.

A while back, my friend, Paresh Motiwala, suggested that I submit a presentation for Boston SQL Saturday BI edition.¬† At the time, I said to him, “the only thing I know about BI is how to spell it!”¬† He said to me (something like), “hey, you know how to spell SQL, don’t you?”¬† Looking back at the link, I might have been able to submit (I didn’t realize, at the time, that they were running a professional development track).¬† That said, Paresh did indeed had a point.¬† As I often tell people, I am not necessarily a SQL expert — I know enough SQL to be dangerous — nevertheless, that does not stop me from applying to speak at SQL Saturday.¬† Likewise, as I dive further into this topic, I’m finding that I probably know more about BI than I’ve led myself to believe.¬† Still, there is always room for improvement.

To tackle this endeavor, once again, I decided to jump into this using a subject that I enjoy profusely: baseball.¬† Baseball is my favorite sport, and it is a great source of data for stat-heads, mathematicians, and data geeks.¬† I’ve always been of the opinion that if I’m going to learn something new, I should make it fun!

Besides, the use of statistical analysis in baseball has exploded.  Baseball analytics is a big deal, ever since Bill James introduced sabermetrics (there is some debate as to whether James has enhanced or ruined baseball).  So what better way to introduce myself to BI concepts?

For starters, I came across some articles (listed below, for my own reference as much as anything else):

I also posted a related question in the SSC forums.¬† We’ll see what kind of responses (if any) I get to my query.

Let’s start with the basics — what is BI?

Since I’m using baseball to drive this concept, let’s use a baseball example to illustrate this.

Let’s say you’re (NY Yankees manager) Aaron Boone.¬† You’re down by a run with two outs in the bottom of the 9th.¬† You have Brett Gardner on first, Aaron Judge at bat, and you’re facing Craig Kimbrel on the mound.

What do you do?  How does BI come into play here?

Let’s talk a little about what BI is.¬† You have all these statistics available — Judge’s batting average, Kimbrel’s earned run average, Gardner’s stolen base percentage, and so on.¬† In years BS — “before sabermetrics” — a manager likely would have “gone with his gut,” decided that Judge is your best bet to hit the game-winning home run, and let him swing away.¬† But is this the best decision to make?

Let’s put this another way.¬† You have a plethora of data available at your fingertips.¬† BI represents the ability to analyze all this data and provide information that allows you to make a good decision.

If Aaron Boone (theoretically) had this data available at his fingertips (to my knowledge, Major League Baseball bans the use of electronic devices in the dugout during games), he could use the data to consider Kimbrel’s pitching tendencies, Judge’s career numbers against Kimbrel, and so on.¬† BI enables Boone to make the best possible decision based upon the information he has at hand.

I do want to make one important distinction.¬† In the above paragraphs, I used the words¬†data and¬†information.¬† These two words are¬†not interchangeable.¬† Data refers to the raw numbers that are generated by the players.¬† Information refers to the interpretation of that data.¬† Therein lies the heart of what BI is — it is the process of generating¬†information based upon¬†data.

What’s there to know about BI?

I’ve already mentioned some buzzwords, including OLAP, cubes, and pivot tables.¬† That’s just scratching the surface.¬† There’s also KPIs, reporting services, decision support systems, data mining, data warehousing, and a number of others that I haven’t thought of at this point (if you have any suggestions, please feel free to add them in the comments section below).¬† Other than including the Wikipedia definition links, I won’t delve too deeply into them now, especially when I’m trying to learn about these myself.

So why bother learning about BI?

I have my reasons for learning more about BI.¬† Among other things…

  • It is a way to keep myself technically relevant.¬† I’ve written before about how difficult it is to stay up-to-date with technology.¬† (For further reading regarding this, I highly recommend Eugene Meidinger’s article about keeping up with technology; he also has a related SQL Saturday presentation that I also highly recommend.)¬† I feel that BI is a subject I’m able to grasp, learn about, and contribute.¬† By learning about BI, I can continue making myself technically valuable, even as my other technical skills become increasingly obsolete.¬† Speaking of which…
  • It’s another adjustment.¬† Again, I’ve written before about making adjustments to keep myself professionally relevant.¬† If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that if you want to survive professionally, you need to learn to adjust to your environment.
  • It is a subject that interests me.¬† I’m sure that many of you, as kids, had “imaginary friends.”¬† (I’ll bet some adults have, too — just look at Lieutenant Kije and Captain Tuttle.)¬† When I was a kid, I actually had an imaginary¬†baseball team.¬† I went as far as to create an entire roster full of fictitious ballplayers, even coming up with full batting and pitching statistics for them.¬† My star player was a power-hitting second baseman who had won MVP awards in both the National and American leagues, winning several batting titles (including a Triple Crown) and leading my imaginary team to three World Series championships.¬† I figured, if my interest in statistics went that far back, there must be something behind it.¬† Granted, now that I’ve grown up older, I’m not as passionate about baseball statistics as I was as a kid, but some level of interest still remains, nevertheless.
  • It is a baseline for learning new things.¬† I’ve seen an increasing number of SQL Saturday presentations related to BI, such as PowerBI, reporting services, and R.¬† I’m recognizing that these potentially have value for my workplace.¬† But before I learn more about them, I also need to understand the fundamental baseline that they support.¬† I feel that I need to learn the “language” of BI before I can learn about the tools that support it.

So, hopefully, this article makes a good introduction (for both you and myself) for talking about BI.¬† I’ll try to write more as I learn new things.¬† We’ll see where this journey goes, and I hope you enjoy coming along for the ride.