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Stats Geek

July 24, 2007

I really like numbers, which may be an odd thing to for someone such as me with a historical aversion to math to say. It’s not math I’m partial to, but the finality of numbers. There’s certainly something about looking at a number and knowing there’s a reason for its being that can be logically determined. A number is or it isn’t, black or white, there is no gray.

For instance, I love baseball for reasons not least of which is the importance of numbers in determining past performance and predicting the future. I especially dig these new stats like OPS, WHIP, and ERA+ because it allows me to appreciate the game from another perspective, separate from the enjoyment that comes from a ordinary summer evening at the ballpark or the simple allure of the scorecard. The numbers provide us with an ability to compare players and ballparks across generations and situations. One certainly doesn’t have to follow a player’s VORP to appreciate baseball and caring about that stuff doesn’t make any one a better fan, but for some people knowing about it can increase their appreciation of a game. I’m saying that everyone has their own way of enjoying things, be it baseball or birds. Which is a round-about way of getting to my point.

As a birder I keep lists, and suppose you could say I take them pretty seriously. At any time you could ask me my number and I could give you my exact ABA area life list and my Year, Yard, and World lists roughly within one or two species. Now unlike baseball, it’s more difficult to determine a birder’s skill by his numbers, it would more likely give you an indication of the opportunities a birder has to see birds. Certainly skill plays a big part in most cases, but just as easily it’s an indication of the finances a given birder has at his expense to travel. Some rich guy could just as soon pay someone to take him everywhere and personally show him the birds he’d need to accrue a big list, and that happens. I don’t really see the appeal but I suppose people do it just for the notoriety that comes from being the top of anything, some’ll go the opposite way and refuse to keep lists because of the stigma that’s attached to such number-hungry birders. I admit that any aversion I have towards big listers probably stems from jealousy at not being able to do it myself. In any case I personally don’t bird just for the numbers, but I’m proud of what I’ve managed to get, as I think we all should be who do such things. I’m completely aware that much of my list has come about through lucky circumstance, an opportunity to attend bird camp in Arizona as a teenager, the good fortune of having grandparents wintering in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, family vacations in Florida, and now I’m a short drive from the eastern NC wildlife refuges and the Outer Banks. Some of what I have I’ve gotten from being a pretty good birder, some from being in the right place at the right time, by plan or by providence. But that’s birding right?

My list is more than numbers though. Sometimes I’ll scroll through it and try to remember where I was when I saw a given bird, who I was with, all the circumstances surrounding the sighting. Like the Sandhill Cranes in the ditch in UP Michigan on a family vacation, or the Philadelphia Vireo in the tree next to the picnic pavilion at the Greater Ozarks Audubon Society potluck when I was just starting to bird seriously, or the Short-eared Owls that just.. kept.. coming at Alligator River NWR two winters ago. I could go on and on, and likely will at different points here (this post is long enough as it is). But in the dogdays of summer like now, when I either can’t get out birding or it’s hardly worth leaving my feeders, sometimes it’s nice just to reminisce and consider my numbers.

Incidentally, I think it would be fair to note that the aforementioned appreciation for baseball’s “subtle beauties” can also be brought about by the fact that my StL Cardinals stink out loud this year.


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