Ben, a sports analytics wizard, loves baseball. Eric, his best friend, hates it. But when Ben writes an algorithm for the optimal baseball road trip—an impossible dream of seeing every pitch of 30 games in 30 stadiums in 30 days—who will he call on to take shifts behind the wheel, especially when those shifts include nineteen hours straight from Phoenix to Kansas City? Eric, of course. Will Eric regret it? Most definitely.
On June 1, 2013, Ben and Eric set out to see America through the bleachers and concession stands of America’s favorite pastime. Along the way, human error and Mother Nature throw their mathematically optimized schedule a few curveballs. A mix-up in Denver turns a planned day off in Las Vegas into a twenty-hour drive, and a summer storm of biblical proportions threatens to make the whole thing logistically impossible, if they don’t kill each other first. I Don’t Care If We Never Get Back is a charming, insightful, and hilarious book about the limits of fandom and the limitlessness of friendship.
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About the Author
Ben Blatt is a staff writer at Slate. A Harvard graduate, his sports analytics studies have been picked up by the Wall Street Journal , the New York Times , Deadspin, and others.
Eric Brewster, a recent Harvard graduate, was the president of the Harvard Lampoon. He is one of the writers of The Wobbit and the New York Times bestselling The Hunger Pains: A Parody.
Read an Excerpt
Game One: New York Yankees
There was a $13 charge to cross the George Washington Bridge. Washington himself had only been charged with treason when he crossed a river, and even accounting for inflation that seemed like a decent deal.
Ben had "run the numbers" months ago. The trip, in total, was projected to tally up over $3,200 in gas charges, $1,800 in food, $2,500 in motels, $1,200 in tickets and another $1,000 in incidentals. Eric wasn't sure where those figures were coming from, but he felt like we were getting a solid break on incidentals.
Ben, as it happened, liked to run the numbers. Running the numbers was a solution to everything. Could we afford this trip? Just barely, according to the numbers. Was it possible to successfully complete? It was certainly possible, the numbers declared. How many miles would we travel? How many gas stations would we grace with our 14gallon Toyota RAV-4 tank? How many roads must we drive down before we could call ourselves men?
"I'll run the numbers," Ben said.
A few of the numbers were simple enough for Eric to calculate on his own: 29 Major League Baseball teams littered across America, and one deposited in Canada for good measure. In total, 30 teams, 30 stadiums. To see them all, 30 games. To do it poetically, 30 days.
Ben did not like poetry, but he ran the numbers and the numbers seemed to back up the poetry. He was an applied math major in college, his specialty statistics. And so, with a degree in doing math and then applying it, he set out to conquer his one true love. Baseball had always been the woman of his dreams, smart, strategic, athletic, all-American, passionate, pacing, occasionally climactic. He'd grown up inside the batter's box, swinging and missing his way through little league like half the ten-year-old boys in America. A New Hampshire native, he'd latched onto his home team, the Red Sox, like any upstanding New England citizen. When they won, life was good. When they lost, life was not worth living. They rarely won.
Until they did, in 2004, in one of the most chaotic victory marches in modern baseball history. Down 3–0 in the American League Championship Series against the Yankees, they salvaged a win, and then another, and because they could, a third and a fourth. No one had ever done that before. It was Ben's team who did it first. The Sox then plowed through the World Series to claim their first title in an excruciatingly well-documented 86 years. Ben watched each game on his living room TV like a disciple who had the convenience of belonging to the cult of a television evangelist. He was in the eighth grade at the time, a five-foot-tall white male in a small-town middle school. To not be able to recite every moment of every game was worthy of ostracization, and with good reason. Baseball was existence, a daily war, a summer slog; if you were lucky, it was a fall classic. Everyone played and everyone watched, and everyone did it together.
And everyone had their favorites. The huggable Big Papi, the slick Johnny Damon, the bloodied Curt Schilling. They had lost for so long that when they spontaneously won, it triggered a widespread state of jubilant confusion. Glory, sweet glory, but why now all of a sudden? For no clear reason, they had finally broken the Curse of the Bambino, the Sox's fabled punishment for trading away the greatest player of all time to the Yankees in exchange for a theatrical production. But baseball was always theater, an off-Broadway show that ran 162 times a year in nine-act increments. The parts were recast every season, the plot tinkered with each twist and turn, but the drama was always the same. The Sox, instant champions, had proven with aplomb that they had never lost their theatrical flair. No one could say just how the curse was broken, and that was fine, as long as the curse was no more.
Except for Ben. He knew exactly why the curse was broken. He knew that someone had run the numbers.
In Ben's high school yearbook, he listed three people he considered role models: Albert Einstein, Larry David and Theo Epstein. A Yale grad who at the age of 28 found himself general manager of the Boston Red Sox, Epstein ran the numbers.
Sabermetrics is the analysis of baseball through objective evidence and statistics. Its name stems from SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research. Its fundamental tenet is straightforward: the numbers don't lie. In a sport grounded in over a century of managerial hunches and gut feelings, running the numbers triggered nothing short of a revolution in the game. While its public coronation may have come with the Michael Lewis bestseller Moneyball, the movement had been quietly building for decades. When Epstein strolled into Fenway Park, crafted a roster based on numerical analysis, and proceeded to shatter an 86-year losing streak, Ben knew he would never come closer to liking poetry. Which was why, if you'd traveled to New Hampshire and asked a certain 13-year-old boy to name his favorite player on the Red Sox, you would have been given the name of a man who suited up for games by putting on a collared shirt and tie.
So it was only natural that ten years later, Ben's idea of fun consisted of writing an algorithm to determine the fastest possible road trip to watch a game at every Major League Baseball stadium. It was a silly exercise, a happy combination of his three great passions — numbers, baseball and calculated recklessness. He had no intention of actually going on the trip. He merely wanted to see if it was possible.
It was. At least, according to his algorithm's parameters. With 30 teams there were 265,252,859,812,191,058,636,308,480,000,000 possible trips that would take you to all 30 parks. It was a few too many, even for a modern computer to go through one by one. Using a method known as linear optimization, Ben had structured a program to algorithmically slice and dice through the combinations, ruling out trips for being physically impossible or just too slow, until only a smaller subset of schedules remained. Most of those trips, thanks to the delicate scheduling act of home and away games and afternoon and night games, would take months to complete. But with teams playing a game an average of eight out of every nine days over the course of six months, Ben was confident a few of those trips would be enticingly swift. With two teams in cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, it could be possible to hit two stadiums in a single day.
Of course, the mode of transportation would affect potential outcomes profoundly. While a plane ride from coast to coast was a mere six hours, a drive straight across the country took nearly two days.
Ben was a baseball purist. Amidst the slog of data, one equation came first:
Baseball = America
The property stood firmly at the heart of Ben's existence. And there was a second equation he knew to be true:
Road Trip = Quintessential American Experience
And then, allowing the following equality, which seemed reasonable enough:
America = Quintessential American Experience
You could deduce one final equation by the transitive property:
Baseball = Road Trip
It was a little rough around the edges, and Eric was highly doubtful of Ben's powers of deduction, but the result was simple enough. The trip would have to be done by car. Every single mile of it.
For the sake of convenience and maybe even the prevention of a grisly death, Ben mandated a handful of other parameters. For every twelve hours on the road, the trip must provide eight hours of sleep. To avoid a gratuitous cross-country haul, the trip must finish within a few hundred miles of where it began. Accounting for agonizingly slow parking lot escapes and the average game time of two hours and fifty-eight minutes, a four-hour cushion was given for each game to occur. Drive time estimates from one stadium to every other stadium were determined by Google Maps.
And it had to be fun. It had to be. It was baseball. How could it not be fun?
Ben plugged each team's schedule into his algorithm and 40 hours later, he had himself a 34-day whirlwind tour of America that started and ended in Kansas City. It was June of 2011. He put the study up on his college stat club's website.
Then the Wall Street Journal came calling. And when CNN requested he stop in at an affiliate station for an interview on his way from Kansas City to St. Louis, he had to explain he wasn't actually driving to St. Louis at the moment. He was sitting in his dorm room reading a math textbook and eating cereal. He explained that while the trip was theoretically doable, he was fairly certain it was idiotic.
Ben was accustomed to a life spent slouching over a computer with a bundle of scratch paper always within arm's reach. He was a certifiable bookworm, even if he might have been a worm who only liked books written with numbers. He had grown up a math prodigy. It was a blessing in theory, though he knew as well as anyone that theories could only be so reliable.
But the idea for the fastest possible baseball road trip was different. You didn't have to be a genius to see its simple charms. The website with the results of his algorithm started getting some hits, and then suddenly a few hundred thousand more. Ben had never seen so many hits without someone scoring a run.
Soon it was all he could think about. Was it possible? Or more important, was it possible in a way that didn't end in sleep-deprived misery or road kill? And why did so many people care?
He was a sophomore in college at the time. He pushed the trip to the back of his mind. A year passed, then another. And that easily, he was a senior, about to graduate, about to be coronated a real person with responsibilities and necessities and blah, blah, blah. He'd get a job, and it'd turn into a career, and 50 years later he would retire.
He reconfigured the algorithm. His car, a silver 2006 Toyota RAV-4 with 119,000 miles under its belt, sat in a garage in New Hampshire. He could drive it down to New York in an afternoon. Graduating on the second-to-last day of May, his calendar was empty for the month of June, safe from the threat of gainful employment. June had 30 days. Two years ago, the trip would have taken 34 days to complete. But with every season came a new set of schedules and a corresponding set of permutations.
He ran the numbers with the new parameters: 30 games at four hours a game, with a minimum hour of rest for every four on the road. It was to begin June 1, 2013, in New York City and end June 30 back where he started in the City of Dreams.
The algorithm yielded one result.
June 1: New York Yankees, 7:15 PM June 2: Pittsburgh Pirates, 1:35 PM June 3: Philadelphia Phillies, 7:05 PM June 4: Boston Red Sox, 7:10 PM June 5: Washington Nationals, 7:05 PM June 6: Detroit Tigers, 1:08 PM June 7: Milwaukee Brewers, 8:10 PM June 8: Colorado Rockies, 7:15 PM June 9: Arizona Diamondbacks, 4:10 PM June 10: Kansas City Royals, 8:10 PM June 11: Minneapolis Twins, 8:10 PM June 12: Chicago Cubs, 2:20 PM Chicago White Sox, 8:10 PM June 13: Baltimore Orioles, 7:05 PM June 14: Miami Marlins, 7:10 PM June 15: Tampa Bay Rays, 4:10 PM June 16: Cincinnati Reds, 1:10 PM June 17: Cleveland Indians, 7:05 PM June 18: Toronto Blue Jays, 7:07 PM June 19: St. Louis Cardinals, 8:15 PM June 20: Texas Rangers, 2:05 PM June 21: Los Angeles Angels, 10:05 PM June 22: San Francisco Giants, 4:05 PM June 23: Seattle Mariners, 4:10 PM June 24: Los Angeles Dodgers, 10:10 PM June 25: Oakland Athletics, 10:05 PM June 26: San Diego Padres, 10:10 PM June 28: Houston Astros, 8:10 PM June 29: Atlanta Braves, 4:05 PM June 30: New York Mets, 1:10 PM
Or, if you're a visual learner, as Eric was diagnosed in fifth grade:
June 12 was a doubleheader in Chicago. June 27 was an off day, providing 42 hours to make the 21-hour drive from San Diego to Houston. Milwaukee to Colorado was 15 hours of driving in a 19-hour stretch. Arizona to Kansas City was 19 in 26, Seattle to Los Angeles 20 in 26. Chicago to Baltimore was 13 in 17, Tampa to Cincinnati the same. Factoring in stops for gas, food and sleep, a single ill-timed traffic jam would destroy the entire trip.
To get 30 in 30, everything had to go right.
As Eric liked to put it, nothing could go wrong.
Ben handed the tollbooth worker $13 in exact change and headed across the Hudson.
"Which way to Yankee Stadium?" "Just get to New York first," Eric promised. It had been 20 minutes and his GPS app was already malfunctioning.
Ben merged under the sign for New York City. "If you're this bad at navigating the whole way, we'll never get anywhere."
He had graduated exactly two days ago.
The Yankees were the pinnacle of baseball the way that no sports team was the pinnacle of anything else. Baseball without them would have been an action series with 29 heroes and no villain. It was our first of 30 games, and we were beginning with the baseballest of them all.
We'd heard great things about Yankee Stadium. "The Yankees play there," people would say. "The Yankees play there," would note others. Gone, as of four years ago, was the original Yankee Stadium, a ballpark so emblematic of what a baseball stadium was supposed to be that it was often referred to as "The Stadium." And others still called it the "Cathedral of Baseball." It's a strange religion that will bulldoze its hallowed place of worship. Unless we're talking money.
The new incarnation was a concrete juggernaut, dropped from the Heavens squarely into the Bronx. It felt like a fresh-faced Yankees rookie: new and terribly burdened by the fact that this was the Yankees. When a club won a World Series it was not just the players who slid on oversized, diamond-encrusted rings. The fans were champions, the peanuts were champions, the weather on the day of victory was championship-caliber weather. The floorboards were champions, one necessary piece in the overwhelmingly complex structure a professional sports team encompassed.
The floorboards of the old Yankee Stadium had won 26 championships. The concrete slabs at new Yankee Stadium could claim one.
We huddled with the masses and swarmed our way through the turnstiles, entering the premises a half hour before the opening pitch. Some fans showed up hours in advance to watch batting practice or experience a 50,000-person stadium 49,000 people below capacity. With 30 games ahead of us, we knew there'd be no need to get ahead of ourselves.
Ben had imposed a simple rule for how the trip would operate: for a game to count, we must be inside the stadium for every single out, from first pitch to last. If we were not present for the entirety of the game, the game would not count. This fundamentally elongated the trip length, and not only because it meant more time spent at each ballpark. It prevented us from quick getaways that, to more lenient goers, would technically constitute witnessing a game at each ballpark. If you could arrive late or leave early, otherwise impossible game combinations suddenly became very doable. You could watch the first pitch in an afternoon game in Detroit and catch the last out of a Chicago night game without breaking a sweat.
Ben considered this cheating. In fact, Ben considered many things cheating. While researching the trip, we had discovered a few people had embarked on similar 30-day trips before, albeit with less stringent standards. Some would leave games early to catch another being played simultaneously. Others simply boarded a plane every night to their next destination. One group of four men had completed a 30-day, 30-game trip completely by car, but had finished 3,000 miles away from where they started. Considering it would have taken them 42 hours to drive back across the country, if they so elected, this would have counted as a 32-day trip in Ben's mind. Ben still respected their trip — they just didn't have the benefit of an algorithm designed to drop them off in the same city where they started.
But most important to Ben was the need to truly attend every game. According to Ben's definition, that meant attending each game in its entirety. If a game went 17 innings and cost us three hours we needed on the road, preventing us from getting to the first pitch of the next game, that was just how the ball bounced. If we missed a single pitch over the course of 30 days, we would fail.
Eric quickly noted that according to Ben's definition, attending the game was different from watching it. You could hypothetically attend an entire game without actually watching any of the game itself. It was a necessary distinction. In practice, it would be almost inconceivable to physically witness every single pitch of every single game. In the three-to-four-hour stretches during which we would be underslept, underfed and overstimulated, we would inevitably need to purchase food or run to the bathroom. This did not trouble Ben because it was not in opposition to a fan's natural ballpark experience. Almost no one at a ballgame witnessed every single pitch. You walked around the stadium, you visited the team store, you ate the local specialty, you drank the local beer, you visited the outfield, you visited the infield, you took your picture with the giant statue of the player from 40 years ago whom you pretended to know. You went to the bathroom.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "I Don't Care if We Never Get Back"
Copyright © 2014 Ben Blatt and Eric Brewster.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part I Are We There Yet? No 1
Game 1 New York Yankees 3
Game 2 Pittsburgh Pirates 33
Game 3 Philadelphia Phillies 45
Game 4 Boston Red Sox 62
Part II Strike Out Sleeping 79
Game 5 Washington Nationals 81
Game 6 Detroit Tigers 87
Game 7 Milwaukee Brewers 96
Part III It's Zero, One, Two Strikes You're Out 115
Game 8 Arizona Diamondbacks 125
Game 9 Kansas City Royals 129
Game 10 Minnesota Twins 137
Game 11 Chicago Cubs 142
Part IV A Game Played By Nine Men and Nine Dads Doing Laundry 165
Game 12 Baltimore Orioles 167
Game 13 Miami Marlins 179
Game 14 Tampa Bay Rays 190
Game 15 Cincinnati Reds 201
Game 16 Cleveland Indians 208
Game 17 Atlanta Braves 219
Game 18 St. Louis Cardinals 230
Part V Take Me Out to the Ballgame, Unless I'm Already There 239
Game 19 Texas Rangers 241
Game 20 Los Angeles Angels 243
Game 21 San Francisco Giants 253
Game 22 Seattle Mariners 263
Game 23 Los Angeles Dodgers 274
Game 24 San Diego Padres 283
Part VI It Ain't Over Till It's Over 30 Times 287
Game 25 Oakland Athletics 289
Game 26 Colorado Rockies 294
Game 27 Houston Astros 305
Game 28 Chicago White Sox 310
Game 29 New York Mets 320
Game 30 Toronto Blue Jays 327