This post has been a collaboration with Daniel Smith, a fellow baseball and poker fan.
While baseball has been the American pastime for over 100 years, there is another game that has been growing in popularity over the last decade. Much like baseball, it is simple to learn but also very difficult to master. This game is poker.
Anyone that has been a fan of baseball for more than 20 years or anyone that follows the Los Angeles Dodgers knows pitching great and Cherry Hill High School East grad Orel Hersheiser. Hersheiser was as well known for his friendly demeanor away from the field as he was for his pitching dominance on the field.
Upon retirement, Hersheiser took up the game of poker but many were no aware of this fact. That changed in 2008 when Hersheiser was invited to be a celebrity participant in the NBC National Heads-Up Championship. Celebrity players are really a gimmick that the event used to boost ratings, but Hersheiser didn’t come to be a gimmick player, but instead he came to win.
Hersheiser took the skills that he learned in baseball and applied them to the game of poker. Those skills include keen focus, attention to details, the ability to change your strategy based on your opponent and even the situation, and stamina to withstand the long hours at the table.
Hersheiser surprised everyone by not just winning his first round match-up, but then he proceeded to navigate his way through the field of 64 players to reach the Elite Eight of the event. Hersheiser just narrowly missed making the final four of the tournament and finished the event in 5th place.
After a long career that included a victory in the 1988 World Series, Orel Hersheiser proved that he had the ability to hang with the big boys of poker. Hersheiser is not the only baseball player to try their hand at poker. New York Yankees shortstop Alex Rodriguez is a known poker player as is retired Oakland A’s slugger Jose Canseco.
The World Series of Poker broadcasts in 2003 began a poker boom in this country that has caught the attention of many Americans, and that includes Major League Baseball players. Both baseball and poker have amazing similarities that not only include those mentioned earlier, but both games are considered a bit of a grind. Baseball games and poker games can go for long periods of time without any activity to speak of and then explode into moments of action and drama that gets the fans on their feet and cheering for their favorite players.
With the growing popularity of the game of poker, there is little surprise that baseball players are taking up the game. It is a great way to keep competitive in-between games and for those that have retired, it is a way to take the skills they learned on the diamond and apply them to another game and remain competitive. While poker will likely not surpass baseball as the national pastime, it very well could become the preferred alternative to baseball.