For years, I have tried to find professional athletes that play chess (the thinking process learned through chess facilitates the mental aspect of any sport) because big sports stars that play chess help improve the overall “nerd” image of the royal game.
Major League Baseball has been a big challenge in my quest…the game of choice of MLB players is Texas Hold’em.
My first baseball column came from an unexpected source…my mother! Earlier this year, my mom called me and said that one of her lady friends from church had a son, Brad Lidge, who played for the Houston Astros and also played chess.
Since I was a few years removed from playing Fantasy Baseball, I hadn’t heard of Brad, and didn’t know at the time that he was one of the best closers in baseball.
A fellow Cherry Creek High graduate, Brad told me he didn’t even make the varsity baseball team at Creek until his senior year, when his fastball jumped from the 80 mph range into the 90’s.
Drafted by the Houston Astros in 1998, Brad got the closer job in 2004. In the 2004 playoffs, Brad had a great season by breaking the National League strikeout record for relievers and pitched well under the pressure of the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals to become one of the top closers in baseball.
Brad says his best pitches are his slider and fastball, which occasionally clock out at 100 mph. His third pitch is a split-finger fastball.
Brad is working on popularizing chess with his Astros teammates. He plays chess regularly with teammates Lance Berkman, Morgan Ensberg, and Brad Ausmus. All four are pretty evenly matched at chess. It was really cool to receive a baseball in mail from Brad last summer, signed by the Astros’ Chess team.
Brad compares chess and baseball, “The game of baseball between pitcher and hitter sets up like a game of chess in that you have to anticipate several moves or pitches ahead to set up your opponent.”
“In chess, the goal is to capture pieces to make your way toward the king. In baseball, you are capturing outs to make your way toward a win for your team”.
After interviewing Brad on the phone for my chess column in the Rocky Mountain News, we met after the Rockies game on June 29 (when these photos were taken) near the visitor’s locker room at Coors Field.
2005 was Brad’s first year making the All-Star Team, and he didn’t disappoint the National League fans: he pitched the 7th inning, throwing 11 pitches of which 9 were strikes, as he struck out the side.
The Astros had a great comeback season this year after starting 15-30 and the chess players on the team were instrumental in helping the team win their first National League Championship. Unfortunately, they didn’t fare well against the White Sox in the World Series…maybe next year.