Tuesday, January 25, 2011


René Magritte, La reproduction interdite, 1937
Baseball is full of echoes, starting with the name itself--those concatenating "b-" sounds, admittedly differentiated by vowel length--and continuing to how we talk about players (e.g., "That guy swings like Danny Cater"). We look for resonances and similarities everywhere, if only to clarify how we're distinctive--or to find out how we're not. While it's not unusual for a baseball blog to go a bit into hibernation during the off-season, I've been slowed up far more than anticipated because I've been steeping in the work of our evil twins. Yes, there is a duo of baseball nerds out there who (thankfully) outstrip us in geekery but (inevitably) also know way, way, way more about minor-league ball than Rob and I ever will.

I'm speaking, of course, of Kevin Goldstein and Jason Parks, the impresarios of the Baseball Prospectus podcast "Up and In," which I have now listened to all 34 episodes of--a real feat and/or waste of time considering that each one runs around two hours, if not more. I started listening with episode 19 and then listened to numbers 0.9 (did I mention they are appealingly pretentious?) to 18 interwoven with 20 through 34. This has led to a great deal of confusion on my part. I'm really looking forward to the World Series, though--the Reds look like dark horses to me.

In any event, the podcast is so long not because it is so rich with baseball analysis but because it is crammed with "extraneous" features that are actually the best parts--long discussions of punk bands, art movements, egghead novelists, and, of course, liquid refreshments. It's the integration of baseball fanaticism and what might be called "life" that is so appealing and, occasionally, so maddening.

Listening to all these episodes obviously left me little time for blogging, reading, cooking, working, or sleeping. And what do I have to show for it but envy? It's bad enough that, by creating and propagating their podcast, they have eaten Baseball Byways's lunch; what's worse is that we didn't even know there was a meal to be had. A podcast! Why didn't we think of that? We are idiots, that's why.

Being idiots is not the only thing we have in common with Goldstein and Parks. Here's a partial rundown:

1. Rob lives in Brooklyn and is conflicted and occasionally in denial about his quasi-hipster nature; ditto Parks.

2. I live in Illinois and cannot grow a decent beard; ditto Goldstein.

3. Rob has more or less completed substantial academic work but actually lacks the formal credentials that he might otherwise have attained; Parks calls himself "Professor Parks," despite having no evident academic training whatsoever (apart from coat-tailing on his wife's art-history studies).

4. Parks and Goldstein both admire the work of Nicholson Baker; I have copyedited five of Baker's books (including his next novel, which, um, well, will have to speak for itself).

5. "Up and In" features frequent contentious discussions of outsider art--a subject that has become a significant part of our travels and writings.

6. Despite being a former Chicagoan, Goldstein dislikes Chicago-style pizza: I am a current Chicagoan who has excoriated the style elsewhere.

7. To the extent that he is a fan at all--and he protests that he is no such thing--Goldstein favors the Mets; Rob does as well, though I suspect that is as much for proximity as much as any other reason.

8. Goldstein is divorced and owns cats, as I am and do (though my cats have much more respectable names than "Captain Underpants"); Parks's marital woes have been a regular feature of the podcast; Rob's marital history has been alluded to here previously.

I could go on--and if this were an "Up and In" episode, I probably would. However, I want to salvage a shred of comparative dignity by pointing out that while we can't match "Up and In" on coverage of actual minor-league players (despite our early love for Hak-Ju Lee), our focus has always been a little more on place, environment, and culture. We do all of our travels in part to see the country's idiosyncrasies and to meet some of its oddballs.

Which does make me wonder if there have been any studies on how travel among the lesser cities of America affects players. I know this has been discussed a little bit for foreign players, but it would be interesting to try to figure out if playing in the meth-ridden metroplexes of the California League has a statistical effect on the mental makeup of the players who spend significant amounts of time there. Or would getting stuck at that level do all the psychological damage to a player that he would ever need?

Goldstein and Parks do run with listener suggestions for books and movies, and they even cook listener recipes (Goldstein faithfully; Parks sloppily--I am a Parksist but imagine that Rob might be a Goldsteinian.) So in that vein I offer the following in hopes of eventually hearing what they make of them:

1. The movies of Werner Herzog, especially the later, less iconic ones.

2. Suture--perhaps the most self-serious yet compelling movie about identity theft ever made.

3. A gumbo recipe (adapted from Café Vermilionville, Lafayette, La.). Like Goldstein, I live near the best butcher in the world, though we disagree on which place that actually is:

1 smoked Long Island duckling
1/2 lb. andouille sausage
1/4 lb. smoked goose breast
1 cup roux
1 cup onions, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1 cup poblano peppers, chopped
2 tbsp. garlic, minced
2 cups ham stock
4 cups duck stock
pepper and hot sauce to taste
1/2 c. scallions, chopped
1/4 c. parsley, minced
The first time-consuming part is making the duck stock. Debone the duck, discard the skin, and steep the carcass in about a gallon of water along with the trimmings from the onion and celery you'll need later. Cook the stock about an hour, then strain and set aside. You can also make the ham stock at this time--I just use base from a jar, but you could be more diligent and make your own from a hambone.

While the stock is cooking, chop up your onions, celery, peppers, and garlic. Do not think you can do this while making the roux, which usually takes a lot of attention. A traditional gumbo uses straight-up bell peppers, but I find that poblanos add an extra layer of spice; also, green bell peppers are unappealing. Poblanos can produce a vegetal slick atop the pot as it cooks, but don't be afraid of that. (Here, poblanos can also be a hat tip to Baseball Prospectus's most famous alum.)

The second time-consuming part does not have to be but often is. You have to make a roux. There is a lot of debate over the best way to do this. By far the easiest way is in the oven. However, for more of a feeling for culinary accomplishment, make it in the traditional way on the stovetop--the darker it gets, the richer the flavor; however, a lighter roux has more absorbency. I'd err on the dark side, but for god's sake don't burn it.

Once the roux is to whatever point you decide to run with it, add the onions, celery, peppers, and garlic. Cook 10 to 15 minutes, until everything has softened a bit. Slowly add the stocks and bring the pot to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and let cook for two hours, stirring occasionally. Chop up the meat you took off the duck earlier and also chop up the sausage and the goose. You may want to chop the goose very, very finely if it's especially dense and salty. Add all the meat to the pot along with pepper and hot sauce to taste. Simmer for another half hour or so, add the green onions, and serve with rice or some other grain you like. The parsley is a garnish.

Because this only gets better with a little age, I've been tending to make it on Saturday mornings and serve it for Sunday dinner. But it's pretty good right away, too.

You will have some stock left over. Try freezing it flat in quart bags--it's easier to maneuver around a crowded freezer.

1 comment:

  1. Funny piece. Up and In has pretty much taken up all my free time for the last three months or so. There are enough hours of entertaining prattle amongst the back issues of that podcast to fill any down time I might have. As esoteric as it is at times, it's always worth sticking with. A great feat and all for free.