Friday, May 2, 2014

Qs, As with David G. Temple

In 2013 David Temple did two things that caught my eye: He wrote about the Astros for FanGraphs, and he began the very excellent Stealing Home podcast (which I promote every chance I get, both here and on the Astros Boxes podcast). As we get out of the 2nd off-day of the week and prepare to watch the Astros face both Felix and Iwakuma, I hope you enjoy Qs, As.

AC: David, thanks for doing this. You're based out of Minnesota, which I only really know about through music (The Jayhawks, Har Mar Superstar, Jeremy Messersmith, Prince) and movies (Fargo) - how did your love of baseball develop and who is/was your favorite team?

DGT: I live in Minnesota now, but I grew up in Green Bay, WI. During the time I grew up, at least in Green Bay, all you were allowed to care about was football. It’s what you were expected to play in school, it’s what you were expected to care about on weekends. Because of this, I didn’t have the traditional “boy/girl falls in love with baseball” experience that many have. I would watch the random Brewers game with my dad, and I remember watching the World Series most years, but it was a passive fandom — an outside admiration. I liked Ken Griffey Jr., I LOVED Bo Jackson, but it’s not like my friends and I traded baseball cards or played Strat-O-Matic or anything like that. All my friends loved football, so I did too.

That all changed when I moved to Minneapolis and lived in a city where an MLB team resided. I was in school and had a fair amount of free time. Also, in the old Metrodome, you could buy season tickets for every home game for $250. It was in the nosebleeds, but 81 games for $250 is a steal even if you have to watch through a fence. I took advantage of this, and those days in the cheap seats of the Metrodome is where my love of baseball developed. I started reading more, started learning about sabermetrics, and I’ve been hooked for ten years or so. I have a fairly addictive personality, and I tend to really dig into things, so that’s how one goes from casual fan to FanGraphs writer in like six years.

AC: One of my happiest discoveries in recent memory is the Stealing Home podcast, and you touch on a lot of different topics - from violence and gambling in baseball to broacasters . What is it about baseball that makes it The Best Sport Ever for you?

DGT: Oh man. This is a tough question. I know that plenty of sports have been around for a while, but I feel like baseball has the deepest hooks in history. Even on the surface — the keeping of stats is nothing more than a casual comparison to players from the past. You can tell me so-and-so is averaging eight yards per reception in football, but I would have no idea how good that was in comparison to Jerry Rice or Lynn Swann. Baseball works hard not only to preserve past performance, but normalize all performance in order to properly judge. Wins above replacement, WRC+, ERA+ — they all exist to tell us how much better or worse a player today is compared to someone from 60 years ago. 

Beyond all that, it’s my favorite sport to watch. I mean that on the most elementary level. The aesthetics of baseball are pleasing to the lizard part of my brain. Basketball and football can be great displays of human potential on a physical level, but baseball is just so much prettier. I don’t know if I can explain it better than that. It’s just a more handsome game.

AC: What has been your favorite episode to write and research? 

DGT: I think my favorite episode was the music one (Episode 2), because it was where I got to say exactly what my show was about. The first one was on stats, and while it was interesting, a lot of shows focus on stats. The music episode showed how Stealing Home would differ from all other podcasts about baseball and sports in general. It would go deeper, it would talk about culture. The culture of sports is SO under-presented that focusing on it was very important to me. It puts everything in a proper perspective. It reminds us why we love this stuff.

AC: I'm an avid podcast-listener, and I stumbled on Stealing Home at the very beginning (iTunes had it on their New & Noteworthy section). And within a few months I noticed that you began a series for FanGraphs where you followed the Astros for a season. How did the FanGraphs series on your year with the Astros come about? 

DGT:  I’ve been asked this quite a bit, and I’m still not sure I have a concise answer.

Due to my late entry into baseball fandom mentioned above, I never really had “a team.” I watched the Brewers with my dad, I watched the Twins much later on. And while I could certainly be found casting a yell or a fist pump for one of these clubs, neither really stuck with me. I focused most of my energy on the Twins, since that’s who most of my friends were talking about, but it never quite felt right.

When the Astros started going through their whole process, they started piquing my interest. For a lot of reasons, I wasn’t in a very great place emotionally. I’m not quite sure if I am yet, but something about the 2013 Astros called to me. I think it was the idea of starting over. When you suffer with depression, there’s a weighted feeling of not seeing a future, not seeing an out. Houston was doing the baseball equivalent of quitting their job, selling their house, and moving to New Mexico just because they heard it was nice. There was a certain charm in that that appealed to me at that time in my life.

AC: As you prepared for the 2013 season of following the Astros, what were your expectations of how it would go? 

DGT: My expectations were to suffer with a team and with a fan base in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. I expected a lot of losses and not a whole lot of hope. But that was kind of the point. I figured the “hope” portion wouldn’t start filtering in until around 2014 or so, so this was going to be nothing more than a full season of gut punches. Going through that is what interested me.

AC: As we now know, 2013 was a dumpster fire of a season, one that really only served to benefit our collective moral fiber. Did anything exceed your expectations? Fall short?

DGT: To be honest, the 15 straight losses to cap off 2013 hurt a little. I knew the team was terrible, and of course any postseason chances were already mathematically out of the question, but 15 losses in a row hurt. Count to 15 in your head. Imagine the opposing team celebration EVERY one of those times. It can wear on you.

AC: Yes, it can (takes break to have a cry). Who turned into your favorite Astro? 

DGT: I want to say Robbie Grossman, but it’s really Chris Carter. I have NO IDEA why I root for Chris Carter so much. I think it has to do with his face. Like, he looks like such a gentle giant. There’s a meme of sorts in the Astros blogging world where Chris Carter is re-branded as Trogdor after the Homestar Runner character because he’s so big and silly. But I think we should call him Hodor, like the Game of Thrones character. He’s so big and sweet and he looks like he would never hurt a fly. Of course, we’d have to call him Homer instead of Hodor because he’d just keep muttering “homer” since that’s all he’s trying to do.

AC: I'm always curious what non-Astros fans think about what the Astros have done over the past few years. So now that you've tasted and shared in our pain, and are an Honorary Astros Fan (which is like being Mike Tyson's Honorary Sparring Partner), what are your thoughts on the state of the franchise?

DGT: One of my favorite bands is They Might Be Giants. There’s a line from one of their songs:

“For years and years I wandered the Earth.
Sick of my life looking forward to death.
Then, one day, I looked around and found it had disappeared.
Hopeless bleak despair, it was always there.
And then, one day, it had disappeared.
In a puff of smoke, in an unceremonious way.
One day, it had disappeared.”

I feel like that sums it up best. I’m not sure there will be a tipping point that we can point to and say “THAT is the day the Astros turned it around.” I feel like it will just kind of filter and in and sneak up on everybody. “Wait, Houston is good now? What the …?"

AC: Let's trade song lyrics. There's a line from a Teddy Thompson song that I really like that goes, "Yeah, you've made it / What are you gonna do now?" What are you working on for the future? 

DGT: My main goal is to try and keep pumping out FanGraphs/NotGraphs/Stealing Home content as much as possible, which is difficult enough with a full-time job. But I’m still watching the Astros. The “experiment” is done. The NotGraphs series is over. But this team has burrowed its way into my being somehow. Its the first team I check on, it’s the first team getting beamed via George Springer makes me happy. The idea of Jon Singleton makes me happy. Thinking about Mark Appel making me happy makes me happy. Not to sound too cliche, but I’m already this far into it. It would seem silly to turn around now. God bless the Houston Astros. 

Temple's "My Year with the Houston Astros" can be found at the following: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 (I cannot, for the life of me, find Part 5), and Part 6. You can read David's work at FanGraphs, and follow him on Twitter. Subscribe to the Stealing Home podcast on iTunes, and pay particular attention to Episode 16, which features myself and Tim DeBlock of the Crawfish Boxes in an episode entitled "The Losers." Hey, wait a second...