Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Game 11: Arguing Our Way Westward

Rockies 9, Brewers 6

Note: This post has nothing to do with the Rockies game. Some reflection on that will come in the quick-hit section at the bottom. One of our goals on this trip had been to discuss the dynamics of a sports roadtrip at a personal level. I hope that our personal story here at least leans slightly toward the universal. Also, this post is followed up with a small summary of our off-day trip to the Field of Dreams ballfield in Iowa, so please read onto the next page if you are interested. 

During the fifth inning of what had become a lackluster game at Coors Field in Denver tonight, I realized that the four of us on this roadtrip argue a lot. More accurately, I realized that argument is our dominant form of interaction, and that the subjects of argument range endlessly.

At the time, this endless range was showing itself, as our argument was among the silliest imaginable. We were discussing whether or not it would be possible to coast on a bicycle from Denver, where we had just arrived, to the Colorado-Nebraska border, some 150 or so miles east, from which we had driven. The question had come up when we realized that we had gotten to Denver, the Mile High City, without going over any big mountains, but rather by going on "150 miles of gradual uphill," almost just a slanted upward plain. Or that's how it was first described. But, if it was really all gradual uphill, somebody could coast the whole way to Nebraska. And to the intuitive mind, that seems unlikely. So, naturally, after the claim was made, it was questioned ("You couldn't actually do that, there were some hills, it was just generally uphill."), and then immediately defended ("Actually, he might be right, those little uphills all came after bigger downhills.").

Then all bets were off, and the reasons for each side came flying in.
"As long as you start with a big enough downhill, and you're bike is low friction, the downward trend will be enough to keep you going. It's physics."
"But you have to brake in certain places, to maintain control, and to turn."
"I don't even know if that would be a problem, can you remember a single hill we went over?"
"There was that one by the water"
"Yeah but that came right after a downhill."
"What makes you think you could even bike on that road? It's a highway."
And so on, for ten minutes, until we were micro-analyzing the logic of each side, looking to latch on to the slightest contradiction to settle the matter. In this case, there was no settlement; we remain split on the question.

The point isn't the argument, though. This much was probably clear from the content of the dialogue above; who really cares if you can coast from Denver to Oklahoma? None of us did. The point is, that didn't matter. This is just what we do. All the time.

It doesn't take much for it to start. Somebody will make a claim, like the "all uphill" claim above, or will look up from a moment of thought and say, "I wonder if..." or "Do you think...", completing his sentence with some hypothetical or speculation about anything in the world. Then we align based on our initial reaction, explain why we have so aligned, and the argument begins. The most common topic is baseball--comparing players, evaluating trades, explaining trends--but just about anything can serve as our subject.  Take some examples:

  • Today in the car, I told Damon I thought Matt Holliday, the Cardinals outfielder, was underrated, and that he was one of the top ten or fifteen hitters of his era. Damon wasn't so sure, and opened the question up to the car. For the next hour, we were bringing up names of other top hitters, discussing their careers, looking at their statistics online, and trying to see how much we could agree upon in our evaluations. For example, there was no dissent on the claim that Holliday was below Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, and David Ortiz over that time. After that, there were some questions. By the end of the discussion, though, we had agreed that Holliday had to be considered at least one of the top ten hitters of the era. In the meantime, we discussed the value of at least twenty other of the great hitters of the past decade. 
  • At the Twins game on Saturday, Damon and Craig took opposite sides of the question of the best hitter in Minnesota's lineup. Craig believed it was Joe Mauer, who is hitting well over .300 and has been consistently great for the Twins. Damon said it had to be Josh Willingham, the breakout player who is leading the Twins in every power category, and is near the top of the league in home runs (29) and runs batted in (85). After their initial shock at the other's position, the two discussed everything about the two players: their positional values, their wins above replacement, their projections over the next half season, and their projections going forward in their careers. Craig agreed that Willingham had better statistics over the first two-thirds of this season, but maintained that Mauer was the better hitter going forward. 
  • About a week ago, Damon was reading Grantland columnist Bill Barnwell's advice to bettors on the upcoming NFL season. Damon told me that Barnwell picked the "under" on a line of 12.5 wins for the Patriots, on the basis that it is unlikely any team lives up to that sort of preseason hype. I took offense, being a Patriots fan, and also thinking that Barnwell's reasoning was flawed. I said that I would agree with that reasoning for most teams, but not the Patriots: their success over the last decade shows that they can and do live up to the hype. Damon replied that Barnwell's betting strategy holds up generally, and I (now joined by Craig, a Jets fan) explained that it's different when almost every Brady-led team has lived up to the hype, and this year's team is expected to be as good as any since 2007. We cited statistics, but we more analyzed the logic of Barnwell's argument, his intended meaning, and its implications. About half an hour later, the three of us had agreed that it might make sense to take the "under" on the 12.5 line, but it would have to be for a reason more convincing than the weak general principle that Barnwell cited.
  • While walking through a grocery store parking lot in the midwest, Damon and I asked Owen and Craig an ultimate Hollywood football hypothetical: If you could pick from the legendary Alexandria High School football team from Remember the Titans, as well as from the Dillon Panthers and East Dillon Lions teams from Friday Night Lights, to create your ultimate starting offense and defense, which players would you choose at each position? Damon and I had discussed this a few weeks earlier and come to a general agreement. We were shocked when Owen and Craig decided they would put Vince Howard, the East Dillon Lions scrambling quarterback, under center instead of the Titans lefty Ronnie "Sunshine" Bass. Damon and I argued that Sunshine was a far better traditional quarterback, that he had a better arm and better accuracy. Moreover, Vince, the superior athlete, could be put at running back, next to Sunshine, and he would lose very little in marginal effectiveness. And so we went on, analyzing their games, making NFL comparisons, citing certain scenes where a certain skill was displayed, before realizing that we had made just about every point that was left to be made and we still disagreed. If only our two imaginary compilations of fictional teams could play each other, we thought.
At this point, our roadtrip might sound completely insufferable. All we do is argue about stupid stuff for way too long. But to even think of it as argument, as I have, isn't quite right. It is more like a spontaneous debate, or a clash of conflicting ideas, in which everybody knows that the discussion is going on in the abstract, not the personal, sphere. And much is gained in the process. First of all, we usually come to an agreement at the end. We realize that four heads are better than one, that somebody else thought of something in a way we never had, or that one of us used better reasoning than another. If we don't end up agreeing, as is sometimes the case, the issue always seems to be more clear to each of us than it was at the beginning. We get closer to the heart of the issue, or to the truth. And we learn about our way of thinking and presenting ideas in the process. The key is that we know each other well, we know we all have interesting ways of thinking, and we know we don't have to worry about offending somebody simply because we present a counter-argument to their position.

We do it because we want to figure out the answers to our questions, because we like testing our arguments, and because it is fun to see where the conversation goes. Most of all, we do it because we appreciate the value of discussing ideas for the sake of discussing ideas.

We are caricatures of ourselves, four liberal arts students driving around the country and writing on a blog, feverishly caught up in abstract discussions about (seemingly) meaningless and esoteric topics.

We think, for the sake of thinking, and we discuss, with no tangible product in mind. We did not set out trying to do this, but it seems to be our collective nature. Liberated from our normal daily pursuits, an intellectual adventure ensues. A microcosm indeed.

Games watched: 11
Games to go: 19
Thuuz score: 13
Play of the day: A tie between Aramis Ramirez' diving catch on a bunt that popped up down the third base line, and relief pitcher Adam Ottavino's behind the back snag on a sharp ground ball hit up the middle.
Stat of the day: Home teams are now an amazing 9-2 in our first 11 games.
Accomplishment of the day: At the beginning of this trip, we decided to see if we could spot a license plate from every state on our trip, and if so, how soon. Going into today, we had 40 out of 50. On the way to the game, we had our most successful run yet, knocking out every plate except Alaska and Vermont. Then, as we were leaving the game, Craig spotted a Vermont plate in the other lane. One to go.
Stadium: A typical stadium in most respects with an incredible view of the Rocky Mountains from the first base side and the outfield. The scoreboard had all the right info on it but the font and color choice made it hard to read. The pre-game pump-up video on the scoreboard was great, though.
Atmosphere: The Rockies faithful have fallen off the map since the days of attendance records in the 1990s, when the franchise's youth was sparked by the Blake Street Bombers, and the fans came out in droves. At this game, the attendance was very low, and the empty seats were the runaway majority.
Food and Drink: Great. From fresh salads to cheesecake to fruit-kabobs to inexpensive ballpark fare, Coors was as good as any stadium on the food front. Beer was stellar, best we have had yet, according to Craig and Owen. Not only do they feature microbrews, but as they own Blue Moon, Coors is able to offer a better array of premium beers.
Tim Kukjian Award: Two relief pitchers bat in a nine-inning game.
Quote of the day: "If the the team was good, and the game was good, and there were people here, this would be really awesome." -Craig, on the empty theatre for beautiful baseball that is Coors Field.
Miles traveled: 3,430
Miles to go to next game: 1,350 (Nationals @ Giants, 12:45)

"Read more" for a recap of the driving day between Minneapolis and Colorado, during which we stopped at the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa. Following that are pictures from the last two days.

Field of Dreams
After we had finalized our schedule this winter, we realized that our drive through Iowa could bring us to a 31st baseball field, the iconic diamond built in an Iowa cornfield in the 1989 film Field of Dreams. The diamond remains open to the public, and it was a no brainer for us to add it to the itinerary. It was well worth it.
Craig played the most memorable scenes from the movie on his laptop as we neared the field--"people will come Ray, people will most definitely come." Once we arrived, we grabbed our gloves and wandered out onto the field. There were a few families there, kids throwing the baseball and running around the bases. We staked our claim to the outfield, next to the cornfield, where we threw for the next half hour. There wasn't much talking, just soaking in the atmosphere, the cornfield fencing in the outfield, the low rolling farmlands over the horizon. After catch, we explored a bit more. We walked in and out of the cornfield, imitating the White Sox team that emerges from the cornfield in the film, then we took infield, turning double plays and catching fly balls. Craig and Damon played long toss diagonally across the outfield, and the rest of us sat in the bleachers, watching them, watching the field, watching baseball. 
There are pictures from our day at the Field of Dreams after the ones from the Rockies game.

The midwest; flat

The mountains come into view

Catch outside of Coors

Craig buying tickets. We got a great deal: tickets, a free hot dog, and a free drink, for $15

Damon waiting for a ball in batting practice

Owen caught a ball during batting practice; our first

The Denver Cheesesteak, a hit

Above the scoreboard

The fruit-kabob (strawberry and banana covered in chocolate)

Celebrating 20 years of Rockies baseball

The turnout

Bottom to top: baseball field, rockies, sunset

Sunset over the rockies


Vermont. 49/50.

The infield at the Field of Dreams

The road to the Field

Anna and Damon play catch

Damon and Craig come out of the cornfield

Taking infield

Damon about to turn the 3-6-1

Craig at short


Infield, bleachers, cornfield

Catch in Wisconsin, a few days ago

More catch in Wisconsin

Adding bumper stickers to the back, one from each stadium


Gas in Iowa

"I can't believe those two would take Sunshine over Vince..."


  1. "But you have to brake in certain places, to maintain control, and to turn."

    It depends on technique. I get between 35 to 45 mph without breaking even on sharp corners and this is with small shoulders. Big shoulders are significantly easier to deal with. Consecutively sharp corners are going to slow the rider down maybe 4 to 7mph because it becomes necessary to drop the inside knee and drag especially around the second turn. There is some merit to grounding out energy when banking but its not too significant. If your truly determined, you could counter this with a stiffer wheel set.

    Put your mouse over the elevation graph and two-finger scroll (on mac) left and right to see the whole elevation.