It's January 5th, my birthday. It took only a few minutes to know this will be a great year for me, because as soon as I was awake, my girlfriend insisted on giving me presents, which included the incredible sleeping bag you see to the right. It may smell bad, but it'll keep me warm until she gets the shelter up (The sleeping bag is a tauntaun, which Rebel troops rode to get around on the ice planet Hoth in "The Empire Strikes Back." Han Solo cut his open to keep Luke Skywalker from freezing to death. But you already knew that, right? ...RIGHT?!). I'm happy to be 33 (Yes, I still enjoy Star Wars' themed gifts at that age, what of it?), especially because studies show it's the happiest age there is. But before I move fully into this new age, I thought it would be good to pause and take a look back at my age 32 season, among the most memorable and significant I've had.
A year ago I turned a somewhat melancholy 32. I was happy enough at my job, but otherwise felt adrift. I wanted to find new avenues to direct my energies in and accomplish a couple things I'd be proud of.
Years ago (2005) I planned to run the Portland Marathon, and began training for it, but by the time I was doing 12-14 miles on my long runs, my knees were totally shot, and I had to call it off. I ran a half-marathon the following year, but put off the idea of doing distances any longer than that. My dad (a great 10K runner in his day) had multiple knee surgeries, and I suspected I was headed in that same direction if I wasn't careful. But in 2011 I'd started running longer distances again, and found that I could get through 10-15 miles without much pain. So, last January I signed up to run the Chicago Marathon in October. I felt like I needed something to be working towards, and 26.2 miles would be just that. I started running at least three times a week, fortunate in a mild Chicago winter that allowed me to get out there without feeling too miserable.
In March, with another baseball season about to begin, I went to an event at a Barnes and Noble downtown and met some of the writers at Baseball Prospectus (a fairly brilliant baseball site), along with a couple local writers from various blogs. Somehow, that turned out to be the final push I needed, and I decided to start my own blog (something my sister had been saying I should do for years, based on my undoubtedly hilarious emails to her). I spent an hour trying to find a good baseball-related name (I was gonna go with "ESPN.com," because I liked the sound of it, but it turns out that's already taken) and started writing once or twice a week. Shortly after that, one of the guys I'd met at the event asked me if I'd be interested in writing once a week or so for South Side Showdown, the White Sox blog he runs (thanks, Matt!). I'm no White Sox fan, but he knew that, and thought my outside opinion might be good for the site. As that was happening, here at Ground Ball With Eyes, I wrote about a metric of sorts that I'd been tracking since I was in college, something called "The Maddux." The next day it was linked to by NBC's baseball blog (thanks, Craig!) and a few days after that ESPN's Grantland blog linked it too (thanks, Jonah!). Having gotten 20-30 views for anything I wrote before that, I suddenly got more than 5,000 in less than a week.
During April, in easily the most important decision I made all year, I worked up the nerve to ask out my friends' gorgeous neighbor. She was days away from leaving for two weeks in Japan, so I had a bit of a wait before we could actually go out, but she proved to be well worth it. The rest of my school year flew by, because that's how life goes when you're really, truly happy. I put her into something of a trial by fire in early July, when I brought her to a family reunion in Creston, Iowa. The trip was a great success, not just because Liz was able to enjoy it and quickly win everyone over, but because I got to spend time with family I see too little of, most especially my mom (I love you, mom!).
Meanwhile, I continued to add to my mileage. Chicago's summer was one of the hottest on record, but I kept myself hydrated, ran early in the day when I could, and felt better and better as I kept going on long runs without feeling real pain at the finish or the next morning (which is when I'd really felt it after my long runs all those years ago). I ran at least a half-marathon every single week from Memorial Day until the week before the race.
In September, I received an offer to join the staff at Let's Go Tribe. I was thrilled to accept it and now I get to write about my favorite team two or three times a week, and interact with tons of Tribe fans, something I've never really done as an Indians fan growing up in Chicago. It is because of all the writing I've done there that I've posted year only three times since the World Series ended. One goal for age 33 is to get back to posting stuff here just about every week, but I don't need to keep myself to a strict baseball-diet here anymore*, because I have the other gig for that (and frankly, I don't have enough readers here to worry about offending them by going off-topic).
* To work a little baseball into this post, here are my choices for the greatest age 32 seasons in history:
5) Rogers Hornsby (1928) - .387/.498/.632, 21 home runs, 197 RC+, 8.7 bWAR, 9.7 fWAR
4) Sammy Sosa (2001) - .328/.437/.737, 64 HR, 186 RC+, 10.1 bWAR, 10.4 fWAR
3) Willie Mays (1963) - .314/.380/.582, 38 HR, 175 RC+, great defense in CF, 10.2 bWAR, 10.2 fWAR
2) Bob Gibson (1968) - A 1.12 ERA (!), good for a 258 ERA+, 268 K, 11.1 bWAR, 9.6 fWAR
1) Babe Ruth (1927) - .356/.486/.772, 60 HR, 212 RC+, 12.2 bWAR, 13.7 fWAR
Those Ruth and Gibson seasons are among the 20 greatest in history. 32-year olds can play some ball.
A few days before the marathon, I came down with a bad cold and feared I'd crash and burn without finishing, but the worst of it was over by race day. Liz and friends were kind enough to come and see me around mile 15. I was not kind enough to stop and chat, for fear of not being able to start again. I definitely hit something of a wall around mile 20, but I managed to kick my wobbly legs back into gear over the last mile and a half to make sure I broke four hours and I finished my first marathon in a time of 3:59:21 (or as Paul Ryan would call it, "a two-forty-something").
My closest friend and his wife had a baby boy a few weeks ago, I got to hold the little guy when he was just four days old, and didn't even break him. My best friend from college and his wife had a baby a few weeks before that. Other friends had babies too and even more friends announced that a baby is on the way (there are starting to be quite a few of them). My oldest friend got engaged to a great girl, whom I adore. Another friend came to his senses and moved back to Chicago from the wasteland that is New York. My sister Jennifer spent four months working her ass off on the new season of Arrested Development (no, I cannot tell you anything about it) and was rewarded by meeting a great guy, making this probably the first time ever that my three siblings and I have all been in happy, fulfilling relationships at the same time. Such good things for so many of the important people in my life.
Signing up for the marathon was an attempt to push myself physically. It led to the most successful running year of my life, by far. During my age 32 year, I went on 166 runs for a total of 1,214 miles, that's an average of 14 runs a month, for 101 miles. I ran at least 66 miles in each month, peaking with 176 miles in August. I had 26 runs of at least 13.1 miles (a half-marathon) and ran at least one 10k (6.2 miles) every week. Seven days after the marathon, I ran the fastest 10K of my life, finishing Oak Park's Frank Lloyd Wright Run in 44:36.
Starting the blog was an attempt to push myself mentally and socially. I've spent the last nine months writing multiple pieces every week. I haven't made a big name for myself or anything, but I went from not writing about baseball at all to writing for the biggest Indians blog there is and interacting with hundreds of baseball fans as well as writers from NBC, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Baseball-Reference, Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs, and other great sites too.
I fell in love.
When I was 32, it was a very good year.