Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Phish, baseball, and the American Dream

As I start using more frequently and I have the vast history of all Phish concerts at my figurative fingertips, there seems to be a growing parallel between two of my favorite pastimes: Phish (obviously) and baseball.  Topics like this have been breached before on other Phish blogs ( and the links therein) but I think there's something fundamentally that's missed in those writings.

First, to start with Phish.  Like any fan will mention, the anticipation before the lights go down is a tremendous feeling.  When seeing other bands play live, I know I personally check out setlists on the internet to try to get a feel what's going to be played and see if any surprises are in store.  Maybe there's a rotating cover I'm hoping to hear that's played every 5 shows or I in line to catch that song I want?  Are there multiple encores?  Is a special guest coming out the last few shows to play some songs with the band?  Etc. Etc.  It's just part of my nature that I want to try to know what I'm getting into.  To know the proposed high points and low points going into a concert is a powerful tool and allows for optimization of breaks, beer runs, and bathrooms.

Obviously this is lost at a Phish show since for the most part, it's hard to anticipate what songs will be played next, how long of a version of Tweezer you're getting, or will it be a silky smooth segue or a jam ending.  It's all utterly unpredictable and that is one of the best things about a Phish concert is that you never know what you're going to get.

And so on, to baseball.

I was recently in Boston and was lucky enough to be with some friends that had some tickets to a Red Sox game.  Now the Sox are my team and I was excited, it was my first time back at Fenway in greater than 10 years and we got to see Clay Buchholz pitch which I was really looking forward to. 
A great young pitcher just entering his prime and he's pitched a no hitter in his past taboot.  I started thinking to myself, that would be pretty cool to see.  What are the odds that could happen again?  As it ended up, he pitched wonderfully before having to leave early with some neck pain that ideally won't be anything too serious.  But like with most things, I began to draw comparisons to Phish.

To a baseball fan, a list of the following people is easy to identify but to a non fan it just looks like a bunch of pitchers:
  •  Randy Johnson
  •  Mark Buehrle
  •  Dallas Braden
  •  Roy Halladay
  •  Philip Humber
  •  Matt Cain
  •  Félix Hernández
Randy Johnson and Roy Halladay are future hall of famers.  Buehrle has been a good pitcher for a long time (but not great). Cain and Hernandez are great young pitchers that have high promise but by all statistical accounts Braden and Humber have not done much other than being known as pitchers who have pitched a perfect game (and there's only been 23 of them in baseball history).  Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Steve Carlton, and Tom Seaver have not but Mike Witt, Todd Browning and Kenny Rogers have.  Sometimes perfection can happen to non-perfect pitchers.

To me, this really all illustrates that in a baseball game, 100's of things can happen that have never been seen before (or haven't been seen in 1 year, or 5 seasons, or in a teams history).  Part of that ambiguity is what I love about baseball.  Each team will get at least 27 outs to try score more runs then the other team.  And in those 27 outs there is a magic that cannot be replicated by any other sport.  Anything can happen.  

And to tie it all back up together, clearly that's the case with Phish as well.  Every show you get 20 or so songs with four dudes up on stage that have been playing together for 30 years and know each other musically better than any other band around. And anything can happen.  It's that feeling of unfettered anticipation that hits two of my favorite things in almost exactly the same way.  It's a wonderful feeling.