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Chemistry, Pockets, Potlucks, Jazz, and…Baseball?

February 21, 2011

As much as I love baseball, I don’t play very much of it outside of my neighbors’ backyard. But I do play a lot of music. The leader of a jazz ensemble I’m in had a director in college who claimed that “the band that eats together plays together,” and regularly organized (Musician organized? What?) student potlucks. Its impossible, of course, to measure what affect this may or may not have had on his band. After all, there’s no such thing as statistics in music. No CRA (chord reading average) or MN/9 (missed notes per nine measures).

But I don’t think its absurd to say that if you know each other, if you trust each other, then you play tighter. You’re quicker to slip into the cherished “pocket”. You’re more comfortable when you’re soloing, and more attuned to others when you’re playing as a group. This has been my experience at least, and the experience of every other person I’ve ever talked to.

Sheer talent, of course, can overshadow this. If you stuck Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Ray Charles, Buddy Rich, and Charles Mingus in a room together, they would sound good. It wouldn’t matter if they had never met. It wouldn’t matter, as long as they were willing to play together, if they hated each other. They would still sound good. More than good. They’d be one of the best jazz combos in the world, maybe the best.

But would they be as good as they could be?

Somewhere in there, I’m sure you realized I’m not talking about music. This is a baseball blog after all, music is for another place and  time.

Reporters like to talk about the “chemistry” of a team, because it makes for good stories. It was a big deal for the Giants in 2010. But I’ve seen some fans scoff at the concept. “Chemistry? C6H12O6 is chemistry. You think that’s going to help Freddy Sanchez hit more home runs? Absurd!”

I think this misses the point. Chemistry isn’t about home run totals or better OBPs. Not directly.

Chemistry is about trust. Its about knowing 24+ other guys have got your back. Its about wanting to win for the other guy. Its Edgar Renteria helping Cody Ross with his swing. Its Mark DeRosa playing the role of another coach. Its Barry Zito never leaving. Its “I’ve got 100 percent confidence in Buster and whatever he puts down.” Its Aubrey Huff making sure no one harasses the rookies too much. Its Andres Torres finally being treated like family. Its J.T. Snow and Robb Nen still hanging out with the team. Its Darren Ford, he of exactly zero major league plate appearances, crashing with a two time Cy Young winner. Its being relaxed on the field or the mound or in the box. Its diving for the ball because you aren’t thinking “what if I mess up?” Its pieces of advice, not being afraid to ask questions, casual reassurance, showing up early, taking an extra dozen ground balls. Its the little things.

In a sport with 162+ games in a season, where the best players fail over 60% of the time, the little things add up.

Sure, if you have a team of nine guys who hit like Barry Bonds, you’re going to win games no matter how they feel about each other. You don’t need chemistry. Heck, you probably don’t even need pitching. This hypothetical team is probably good enough to do anything: win the division, win the pennant, win the World Series, whatever. But how much better might it be if those nine versions of Barry Bonds were exchanging tips and feeding off each other and working just a little bit harder because they wanted to win more for each other than for themselves?

You don’t have to have chemistry to win a championship or to be the best. But I don’t see how one could say it has no affect at all. I don’t see how one can say it doesn’t make a team better. I might even say, that the 2010 Giants would never have won the World Series without it.

The players are people. People, as a rule, perform better when they’re having fun and not worrying. They work harder for the sake of the people they care about than they might for only themselves. What’s so absurd about that?

I think we won because we genuinely wanted to win for each other. I really truly feel that every one of us wanted to win for the other guy. That’s what made us — the misfits — into a family. ~Jeremy Affeldt

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Dave permalink
    February 23, 2011 7:52 am

    Just want to comment about the blog in general. I think you ladies are doing a great job with your blog! It’s always great to get the female perspective on the Giants, and encouraging to know that we (the Giants fanbase) are not exclusive to the Bay Area.

    I don’t normally post/comment on blogs, but after lurking for the past week and a half since the blog’s inception (thanks to splashingpumpkins for directing me here!) and seeing a small handful of comments, I felt it my duty to show your site some love! Keep up the good work!


    • February 23, 2011 10:36 am

      Thanks so much for the support! We’re having a great time so far and it’s really good to know that we’re putting stuff out there that people are enjoying reading. We’re really grateful especially to Splashing Pumpkins for the links.

      I am definitely counting down the days to my move back to the Bay Area, but I do think it’s given us both some interesting perspective being outside the “home field” so to speak. And there are the infrequent fringe benefits to the South, like a trip up to Richmond to see some our prospects in action with the Flying Squirrels!

      Please don’t hesitate to let us know if there’s anything you’d like to see us cover, especially as the season’s gearing up!

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