A couple of years ago shortly after receiving an iPad for my birthday in early December I decided I was going to figure out what this podcast thing was all about. I naturally began exploring baseball related podcasts, but few of them could hold my interest. Some did not discuss baseball in a way that was new or interesting to a middle aged man who had devoured the work of Bill James and Jim Bouton with equal passion as a youth. Others were interesting, but the hosts were unable to hold my attention. I eventually found some podcasts that I liked, but one stood out as uniquely fun and intriguing.
The moment I knew that Up and In was the podcast for me was one night during the week between Christmas and New Year’s while I was driving around looking for a parking place during a vacation in San Francisco as Jason Parks and Kevin Goldstein discussed what they had received and eaten for the holidays. I remember Jason saying he had been given a “carbonator” followed by an exchange of recipes and a strange tangent involving a sweater and a former alter-ego of Jason’s.
These were, as my wife later pointed out, my people, mixing a great knowledge of baseball with humor, insight and arguments about food, agreement on left of center politics and friendship. The non-baseball side of the podcast at times overshadowed the baseball itself. Whenever I drink a fruity beer I think about how Goldstein would approve and Parks would not. I have learned about things like competitive Scrabble and how different beers hold their chill. I try to sneak the word “want”, used as a noun, a phrase coined on the show which means something like desire and drive, into serious discussions at work. I think more about different kinds of chile than I ever did before.
The baseball side of the show was excellent as well. The podcast focused on scouting and player development, a side of the game that had escaped my previous readings and study of baseball. I found myself learning a great deal about how the draft really works, what scouts look for and many angles on player development. I found myself using phrases from the podcast with the Little League team I coach, reminding them, for example, when throwing to be “a ferris wheel, not a merry-go-round.”
I had the good fortune to meet Goldstein and Parks at an event in New York where they invited their listeners to meet for a drink. Following that I even appeared on their show a couple of times discussing topics like the Arab Spring and the debt ceiling crisis. I wanted to talk baseball, but they seemed more interested in my work as a political scientist and scholar.
Baseball has been a major part of my life for more than 35 years, but as an adult, finding knowledgeable people with whom to discuss and argue about the game, and who are also the kind of people with whom I can pass hours without mentioning baseball, are hard to find. Many of my closest friends in the world fit that description, but the opportunities I have to spend time with those people, most of whom I met decades ago on the other side of the continent from which I now live, are too few. Listening in to Up and In was like hanging out in a favorite bar or cafe and chatting about baseball for a few minutes in the middle of an otherwise busy and stressful day.
Up and In’s last podcast came out this week because Goldstein was hired for a senior scouting position with the Houston Astros. This is a great opportunity for Goldstein, but a loss for many of Up and In’s fans. While the podcast will be missed, and probably quickly become a memory shared by a few thousand devoted fans, like a great band that broke up too soon, the experience is, at least for me, a reminder of the strange power of baseball to build communities, and create friendships.
For Goldstein and Parks, the podcast was always a labor of love and we were fortunate to be able to share it with them. Parks will still be writing on baseball and, who knows, may start another podcast in the future. For now, however, followers of Up and In should take a moment to raise a glass, actually two glasses, one of a blueberry wheat beer and one of the beeriest beer we can find, to thank Jason and Kevin and wish them both well in both their future endeavors.