Player’s View: Consuming Baseball, Then and Now

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Most professional baseball players were fans of the sport before it became their job. Much like the rest of us, they grew up following their favorite teams and players, watching them on TV and, to varying degrees, reading about them in print or online. Then things changed. With few exceptions, primarily due to new routines and responsibilities, the way they follow the game is now different — in many cases, drastically so. No longer fans, these players have found themselves consuming baseball in a whole new way.

So how does then compare to now? I put that question to 10 players. Here is what they had to say.

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Grayson Rodriguez, Baltimore Orioles pitcher: “As a kid growing up, I would just watch my favorite teams. I watched a lot of Astros and Rangers; I wouldn’t really watch a lot of other teams unless it was the playoffs or the World Series. Being in the game now, I try to watch everybody. I try to watch different pitchers. I watch their starts.

“Watching baseball as a kid, you want to see the home runs and stuff like that. You’re watching more for the hitters. Now I’m really paying attention to the pitchers. I’m watching from a pitcher’s perspective, how he’s attacking hitters. I don’t want to see a whole lot of offense going on.

“I read a lot of baseball magazines when I was a kid. I got Sports Illustrated For Kids and would always tear out the baseball posters and hang them up in my room. I still read about baseball, but just a little bit — mostly the articles I get on my phone, seeing what’s going on around the league. But I will read some stuff on pitching analytics, I guess you’d say. If there’s a new kind of rabbit hole to dive into, I’ll kind of look into that. When a lot of this new stuff was coming out when I was in the minor leagues, I’d read about it. Now not as much.”

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Riley Greene, Detroit Tigers outfielder: “There were things in high school that I didn’t think about when I was playing. Compared to now… I mean, it’s crazy the amount of things I pay attention to, the things I look at when I’m watching a game. It’s a ginormous difference. Growing up, I kind of just watched. Now I’m trying to guess what the pitcher is going to throw in a certain count with a certain hitter up. I’m digging deep into that.

“I don’t look at stats. I don’t look at articles. I mean, if it’s one of my boys I might, just to see how he’s doing. And I don’t look at my own stats, either. Not until the end of the season.”

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Jordan Romano, Toronto Blue Jays pitcher: “I watch a lot more games now [because] I’m at them. Broadcasted games I definitely don’t do as much. I watched a ton of baseball when I was a kid — I grew up in Toronto and watched the Blue Jays pretty much every game — but now it’s more just focusing on this team. I’m not a big MLB Network guy. Their shows are probably great, but I don’t watch them much.

“When I was a kid, I’d dive into a lot of articles. I’d read about the players and how the teams were doing. Now it’s zero reading about baseball — during the season at least.”

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Whit Merrifield, Philadelphia Phillies infielder: “I really didn’t follow baseball growing up. I’m from North Carolina and didn’t have a rooting interest in a team. My dad worked in college sports, so I was pretty much invested in that — college football and college basketball. I played baseball, but didn’t really follow baseball.

“I did [read about sports] growing up. Sports Illustrated was a big thing back then. When I was young, Sports Illustrated For Kids was a fun magazine that I would get. Now that I’m in the league, I pay much more attention to what’s going on than I did back then. Of course, I paid almost no attention when I was a kid.”

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Jake Rogers, Detroit Tigers catcher: “When you’re younger, you just watch the game. You don’t really pay attention to much. But I loved it, so I did pay attention to some of the smaller things. I loved catching, so I’ve always watched the catcher, whereas a lot of people don’t do that.

“Now, it’s kind of loud. When you watch it on TV, when you watch the playoffs, you pay attention to the pitch sequencing, what the manager is thinking, the moves, the pinch-hitting. All of that makes me curious. So, even though I paid attention before, it’s changed a lot. Growing up, it’s more that you watched the game because you loved the game. Now you’re kind of nit-picking, watching every move and wondering why. Even if I’m watching casually, it’s hard for me not to be thinking about how a guy is calling pitches.

“I try to stay away from reading articles, especially during the season. It’s more asking guys about stuff, asking about their experiences. I just like to play and do my thing.”

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Thomas Pannone, Chicago Cubs pitcher: “As a kid, I definitely looked at the game a lot differently than I do now. Then, I just looked at it as, ‘My favorite team is playing, my favorite players are out there.’ I watched it that way. Now I look at it more like, ‘How I can better my own career?’ But I think they’re both good outlooks, because how I watched when I was young made me love the game like I do now.

“I grew up a Yankees fan and loved to watch Andy Pettitte. He was one of my favorites. Roger Clemens. I never liked Pedro [Martinez], but I obviously respected him because he was so good. Being a New England kid, I was really tied up in that Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. Watching [Pettitte] was kind of just for who he was. It was, ‘Wow, Andy Pettitte.’ If I watched him now, I would be breaking down his delivery, looking at how he was executing pitches. It would be a lot more in-depth.

“I didn’t read too much about baseball when I was a kid. It was more that I watched it and played it. Nowadays I’ll read more. I’ll see a good article on Twitter, or something like that. Maybe I’ll see something on a weighted ball program, or I’ll read something about seam-shifted wake. Or it could be seeing what some of the old time guys are talking about with the game.”

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Matt Strahm, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher: “I would say that it hasn’t changed much for me, because I’ve always just worried about playing. As a kid I kind of just followed whatever. Being from North Dakota, I obviously followed the Twins a little bit, but I didn’t spend much time watching them because I was always out playing and doing my own thing. It’s kind of the same for me right now. I play the game and what I see playing is what I get.

“On an off day, if there is a game on — especially if a few ex-teammates are playing — I will sit down and watch, but mindlessly. I’m not intently watching. For the most part, I just watch games from the bullpen.

“I probably read less about baseball now than I did before. This is work. This is my job and whatever I read isn’t going to change what I do. I’m more likely to read the back of baseball cards than articles.”

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Tucker Davidson, Baltimore Orioles pitcher: “It’s changed. There’s a lot more on social media. I can see a clip on Twitter, get curious, and go do my deep dive on the analytics, versus when I was younger it was more just trying to watch left-handed pitchers. I liked watching Clayton Kershaw earlier in my life. Why does he throw the curveball? Why does he throw the slider all the time? Why does he throw fastballs? Now it’s more of when he’s throwing something in certain counts. It’s more in-depth.

“A lot of times, I can pull up videos really quickly. It can be from the same start… First at-bat, [Kershaw] throws a first pitch fastball. What does he throw off of that? How did he get ahead? Did he fall behind? What did he do? Was he throwing harder that day or slower? You can kind of filter things and look at, ‘That could work for me.’ Or it might be, ‘That pitch is a little different than mine, so how do I get back in the count?’

“I’m always reading. Say somebody wrote something on Jacob Webb and his changeup, how much it’s improving from last year. Whatever the case may be. I’ll be interested in what works for him. Maybe it’s a simple cue of rolling his toes up, and that’s what slowed it down. That’s what made it better.”

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Kerry Carpenter, Detroit Tigers outfielder: “I watch a lot of baseball in spring training, because it’s that time of year when you get excited about it again. I also like to see my friends play, which I get to do in spring training. In the regular season… sometimes, but not all the time. If I’m ever just around and a game is on, I might put it on. When I do, I mostly just watch like a fan.

“I didn’t read too much about baseball when I was a kid. I don’t go out of my way to read anything now, but if someone sends me something, I will.

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Kyle Hendricks, Chicago Cubs pitcher: “It’s completely different. When I was a kid, I couldn’t get enough baseball in my life. We had the MLB package. I’d come home from school and watch games. All summer, man, I was watching games. That’s just all I did. Then you start playing — you get into pro ball — and to be honest with you, we see what’s happening around the league as we’re playing. We’re in the clubhouse and there’s always stuff on the TVs. When I get home, I don’t watch baseball at all. I also don’t read about it at home. I love it so much, but I know that I can get overloaded and almost do too much. I love the playing aspect of it, being with my teammates and the challenge that’s in front of us. I’m attacking that. When I’m done playing, I’m sure I’ll get back to watching baseball all the time, and reading about it, but right now I need to be careful with my balance when I’m away from the field.

“Growing up, I always paid attention to pitching. I loved pitching. And I had favorite players on all kinds of different teams. The Giants were my favorite team. J.T. Snow was my favorite player. I don’t know why; I never played first base. Pedro Martinez was my favorite pitcher when I was growing up. And if there was a good pitching matchup, that was the game I was going to be watching.

“I was playing fantasy baseball, reading magazines, newspapers, getting the box scores. It was super old school. Once I started playing, that all went down. It went way down. I don’t look at any articles, to be honest with you. Whatever is on the TV when I’m here at the field, I see that. Or whatever our media people will bring to me. It may just be me — it’s kind of weird — but I can get so obsessed and overloaded, that I just like putting all of my energy into the basket I have here. I know how much time I’ll have once I’m out. That’s the comforting aspect of it.

“[After I retire], it will probably be tough watching just as a fan. That’s the hard part. The game is always so much easier sitting on the couch. I’ll try to keep the perspective of a player, knowing how hard this game really is, but at the end of the day, I’ll be sitting at home wondering what I’d do with this hitter. That’s always going to be in me.”





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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chipjoshmember
4 months ago

Super unique article. Thanks for bringing a fun perspective!