By Ben Blatt ’13
Over four years ago I walked into my first meeting of the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective. In most social settings I may be overly nerdy, overly analytical and overly obsessed with sports. At HSAC, I was only slightly above average in all of these categories.
The premise of HSAC is simple: take a bunch of incredibly intelligent college students still foolish enough to spend every waking hour wrapped up in the sports world and lock them in a room to discuss and study the future of analytics.
In other cases, we research topics out of pure intellectual interest or fandom, with no practical applications. Such was the case three years ago when I wrote a linear program designed to find the most efficient way to visit all 30 MLB ballparks—with output for the 2011 season—published in the Wall Street Journal.
I worked through the problem out of an undying love for two of my life’s greatest passions – baseball and computation. Sure, going to 30 ballparks in a single road trip could be awesome, but did the fact that such a trip existed mean it should be completed?
Yes. Because it was there, it had to be done. This was not my intention when writing the original post, but it soon became clear in my mind that there was no getting around the idea of making it a reality. If it was indeed possible to complete a 30-game, 30-day baseball trip, starting and ending in the same city and allowing enough time to visit a complete game in each stadium, then I simply had to do it.
To some that logic may seem to make more assumptions than the original linear program itself. Just because an abstract trip deemed to be the most efficient by the constraints that I myself had created happened to exist, it wasn’t exactly obvious that it was a good idea. At least it was not obvious to everyone. Enter my best friend and road trip companion, Eric Brewster.
When I approached Eric over a year and half ago about the trip, he was skeptical, to say the least. He did not like baseball. He did not like being stuck in confined spaces. His resume was slim. He had once been to a Dodgers game. That was a start. The longest road trip of his life was from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. We would be sitting through at least 270 innings of play and travelling 18,000 miles in the course of a month. If I had written a metric to calculate the perfect road trip buddy—one that valued “best-friendship” over slightly more logical data points—it would be the only way it made any sense to have Eric along for the ride. Eric would have hated if I created such a metric—he’s a film major.
The trip was easily the best and worst experience of my life, and the same can be said twofold for Eric. It began on June 1, two days after my graduation, and ended once we could take no more of baseball and baseball could take more of us. It became pretty clear from the beginning that an optimally planned schedule did little to protect us from speeding tickets, extra innings, acts of God, overzealous border agents, protective parents, and each other—all of which colluded against us at some point to make my dreamy adventure slide into the land of misadventure. Alas, when you’re driving through the New Mexican desert in the middle of a 21-hour drive form Dallas to Los Angeles, there is little the lessons of HSAC can do to help you.
For a comprehensive account of the trials and tribulations of the ultimate baseball road trip, you can purchase I Don’t Care If We Never Get Back, co-written by me and Eric and available wherever HSAC-related books are sold, including here, Barnes & Noble, and most other bookstores.
And, if you’d also like to read the original paper and logic behind the trip, you can read the 2011 HSAC post here.
Additionally, if you’d like to read more about the trip, and see the possible 30-game trips available with this year’s MLB schedule, you can check out this interactive on Slate.