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Stayin' Alive In '05

As a royals or Mariners or Devil Rays fan, you deserve a Gold Glove at your position--the fetal position--considering that your team has now spent more time in the cellar than Ernest & Julio Gallo. What you need, with nearly two full months remaining in the season, is a new starting nine: Nine Ways to Stay Interested in Baseball When Your Team Is 30 Games Out.

1. Watch your team from your very own section. With the seat in front of you serving as an ottoman and uncontested foul balls accumulating at your feet like hailstones, even the Rockies are bearable. Remember: The score may be 8--0, but the vendor-to-fan ratio is gloriously deadlocked at 1 to 1.

2. Build your own ballpark. That's what Jim Carroll has done for the last eight summers on his side lawn in Apple Valley, Minn., where he has constructed the Taj Mahal of Wiffle ball to raise spirits (and lower property values) every Independence Day. "I'm sure some of the neighbors think my elevator doesn't go to the top," confesses the 37-year-old father of two, who crosscuts patterns into his grass "to get it up to big league specifications." To properly do this, Carroll has begged lawn-care tips from Royals groundskeeper Trevor Vance, successor to famed groundskeeper George Toma--the Marquis de Sod--which is like asking Chopin to teach you Chopsticks. But it works. In the wee hours of July 4, under cover of darkness, Carroll hangs authentic outfield signage, affixes a cardboard cutout of Jackie Robinson's retired 42 to the garage (near the NO PEPPER sign), stencils the MLB logo behind home plate and paints the baselines and batter's boxes. The result is baseball like it oughta be, more Santa Claus than reserve clause, a park in which the short porch really is a porch and "going yard" is taken literally.

3. Replay your team's entire schedule in Strat-O-Matic baseball. The ancient card-and-dice game is still more addictive than crack and only marginally more healthy. I once replayed (and kept a meticulous score book for) the 1980 Royals schedule. Enduring frequent octupleheaders, my Strat-O Royals won the World Series, George Brett batted .408, and I subsisted for an entire summer on the kind of flat foods--frozen waffles, pizza, bologna slices--that a mother could slide beneath a basement door.

4. Recharge with two Double A batteries. When my Twins began free-falling in the wild-card standings, I went to see their Double A team, the New Britain Rock Cats, and discovered two stars. One was the Rock Cats' ad sales guy, who somehow sold separate outfield billboards reading STOP GUN VIOLENCE and HOFFMAN'S GUN CENTER. The other was an outfielder for the visiting Norwich Navigators. Carlos Valderrama wears Barry Bonds's number 25 jersey for this San Francisco affiliate, and his uni looks identical to the big league one--until you squint and see GATORS instead of GIANTS emblazoned on the front. But when Valderrama walked twice and hit a grand slam, even that distinction disappeared. Valderrama has been in the Giants' system for 10 years now, while Bonds holds down his spot in San Francisco like a man monopolizing a public phone.

5. Brazenly switch allegiances. Take a lesson from the hermit crab, which sheds its shell when it's no longer useful and takes up residence in a new one. Old shell: Orioles cap. New shell: Nationals cap.

6. Dig out your baseball cards. Spend an afternoon staring, with archeological fascination, at the back of your 1974 Topps set. Their Fun Facts reveal a world every bit as lost as Atlantis: "Lee [Lacy] handles mail during the off-season." "Buddy [Bell] works for an employment agency." "Chuck [Taylor] works for the state of Tennessee."

7. Cherish your team's September call-ups. They might be future stars with temporary numbers: Reggie Jackson wore 31 as Mr. September in 1967, but as Mr. October he was 9 (with the Athletics), then 44 (with the Yankees). Or they might live for a single frenetic day, like mayflies. Stanislaw (Steve) Kuczek rode the bench for the Boston Braves after being called up in September '49. Until, that is, the rain-soaked second game of a doubleheader, when a Brave named Connie Ryan, protesting the playing conditions, strode to the on-deck circle in a slicker. The ump was unamused, Ryan was ejected, and pinch hitter Kuczek doubled off Dodgers ace Don Newcombe. Kuczek's first at bat was also his last. Had you bailed on those Braves, you'd have missed the entire career of a lifetime 1.000 hitter.

8. Hate is a many-splendored thing. Root against your least favorite team. The season ain't over till the Yankees are mathematically eliminated.

9. Root for an individual. Devil Rays fans, for instance, can still pull for Carl Crawford to win the triples title. Well, it's something. Come on, people: Let's put the I Can back in Tropicana Field.

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Your team is 30 games out? Root for an individual. Devil Rays fans can still pull for Carl Crawford to win the triples title.