I never imagined I'd be living in Mexico City. If I had imagined such a thing, I'd not have thought I'd be ignoring my friends' invitations to go to a bar; instead taking the hot, sweaty subway across town to an ugly ballpark called Foro Sol to watch Mexican League baseball with often as few as 3,000 other people. But this is something I do very, very regularly. Six years ago, at the start of July 2005, I'd not been to a single baseball game. I had no idea what a bunt is, what a balk is, and I sure as hell didn't know that there is such a thing as the infield fly rule. For the 2005 version of me, sport (no second "s," mind you) was soccer, with the occasional Formula 1 Grand Prix, a passing interest in Wimbledon, and if I was at my German ex-girlfriend's parents house on a Sunday afternoon, watching some ski-jumping with her papa.
That all changed on July 27, 2005.
I was in New York on a business trip. Out of pure curiosity, I asked a couple of colleagues if they fancied taking me to a baseball game. They did fancy it. The schedules were checked, and with the Mets on the road, fate dictated this English tourist would be taking a trip up to the Bronx. We planned to go to one of baseball's more storied venues-Yankee Stadium. Back then, pretty much all of the baseball players I'd heard of were Yankees: Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Mantle. I don't think I'd even heard of Jackie Robinson in 2005.
One 7-3 defeat to the Twins later, my life had changed. Like a guy with a new girlfriend, I was annoyingly in love. This game is fantastic! I returned home (back then, home was Germany), bought an MLB.tv subscription, and stayed up till daybreak watching the Yankees. I started reading up on rules and history, I ordered books and DVDs, and I started taking notes, and drawing maps to try and remember all of this new stuff. I had questions. I had lots of questions. Questions that only the Internet could provide answers to, especially in the middle of the night. The following season, I watched more and more baseball, if the Yankees weren't playing, I'd watch other teams. I scheduled visits to New York around Yankee homestands and bored my European friends to death yapping on about baseball. I kept making maps, charts, and graphs, posting them on my arty site, Flip Flop Flyin', where they mostly went unnoticed.
In 2009, I decided to spare my site's regular viewers from having to constantly read about my baseball habit. I created a separate site for all this stuff; thus was born Flip Flop Fly Ball, a pun on my own blog's name, itself a reference to a Beach Boys song. (Runner-up name was High Cheese.) From those pretty basic ingredients, one of the joys of modern living whipped up something that changed my life. The baseball community on the Internet, as you already know, is massive. Other people - normal people - just don't realize. While the online baseball nation isn't China-sized, like say, the online world of pornography, we've gotta at least be Nigeria-sized. Before long, a link e-mailed here, a blog post there sharing my baseball charts and art started if not a forest fire, then at least a small orchard fire. Suddenly I was no longer just an English guy skulking around the edges of the baseball world: people actually saw my work, tweeted about it, e-mailed me. It was kinda nuts. And there's nothing like an audience to motivate you.
I did more and more charts and graphs. I talked with more and more people in e-mails, on Twitter, and occasionally, in person. And I got a book deal with Bloomsbury. I spent the summer of 2010 staying with a friend in Toronto, working on the book, going to the SkyDome, chatting with my editor constantly, meeting Blue Jays fans. It was a great summer, because of you. The independent country of Baseball, as it exists on the internet, is amazing. For every comment-board doofus screaming with their caps lock on that the manager should be fired after a one-run fluke defeat in April, there are dozens of cool boys and girls.
We have a wonderful thing going, and I'm so damn proud to be a small part of it. Last year's playoffs were infinitely more enjoyable because of all the blog posts and tweets. I could sit in my room in Mexico City, watching ESPN Deportes, my roommates perplexed that I'd spend so much time watching this "boring" game, but the whole time, there were tons of funny, clever people tweeting about it and blogging about it-we were all part of an rich, fun, and rewarding conversation. This post is, of course, here because I've got a new book to promote. (It's in stores now.) But this book would not exist were it not for this thing of ours, this amazing baseball Internet world. It's easy to bemoan the bad stuff about the Internet - trolls, SEO, whatever else - but the baseball Web is a pure joy. I would just like to say thank you all: the writers, commenters, tweeters, readers. I'm writing this while sitting in a fake Irish pub in Mexico City. There is terrible music playing, but I've got a cold(ish) Negra Modelo in front of me, and there's footage of Roberto Clemente on the flatscreen TV over the bar. I'm surrounded by Mexican businessmen getting rowdy as I scribble in my notebook. Right now, though, I'm raising my glass to you, for being so welcoming to an Englishman who has been given the opportunity to write, draw, and infographicize about your National Pastime. There's no game like baseball. Cheers!
Craig Robinson's first baseball book, Flip Flop Fly Ball: An Infographic Baseball Adventure, has just been published by Bloomsbury. For more about the book, here's a video trailer.