It’s baseball season again. Hoo hah!
As I attended my 8th or 9th consecutive home opener for the Marlins, I cast back my thoughts to where and why I first started loving baseball so much. I’m hard pressed to put my finger on any one reason.
For a lot of people, the national pastime is incredibly boring. Give them football, basketball, hockey…anything with some speed in it. Baseball games, to them, just drag on forever. (Never mind the fact that in actual elapsed time, baseball runs shorter than most football games and some other sports as well).
I could regale you with rhapsodic musings about the symmetry and synchronicity of baseball. How the pitch leaving the pitcher’s hand triggers movement from so many around the baseball diamond. How, if you are watching, you can see fielders strategically shifting with each pitch. How, if you were observant, you could watch the baserunner seemingly casual about scanning the infield to see if there is an opportunity to steal. How, if you cared, each pitch called by the catcher has a plan behind it, designed to deceive and defeat the skills of the batter at the plate.
I could go on, of course, but if you don’t care for baseball, it would all be meaningless to you. So let’s do something else that happens a lot on this blog. Let’s talk about me. Specifically, my past and baseball.
Both of my parents come from New York. Normally, that’s a slam dunk for some form of sports allegiance. I can’t recall either my Mom or Dad ever showing much interest in professional sports, though. Mom bowled in leagues. Dad took me fishing and played tennis with me, but that’s about the extent of it.
Florida never had a pro baseball team until 1993. We didn’t even have ANY pro sports team until the Dolphins were created in 1966. I never had the same storied connection many other sons could share about days at the ballpark with their Dad.
What we DID have all those years ago was Spring Training (also called “The Grapefruit League” here in Florida). And the “hometown” team in Miami back then was the Baltimore Orioles. Back then, this team played at a small stadium in South Miami that had a big curved metal roof (like an upside down “J”). Any ball hit foul behind the fans would CLANG off the roof. Dad took me to quite a few games and I became a lifelong fan of the Orioles. Names like Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, Boog Powell and others were as important to me as anyone on the Dolphins, as much of a fan of them as I was.
My favorite player was their centerfielder, Paul Blair. He wasn’t much of a hitter but he was poetry in the outfield. He always played shallow, trusting his instincts and speed to catch up to any ball that might be hit over his head. When I played with my friends or schoolmates, I tried to copy that style (sadly, right down to the not being a very good hitter). I truly loved running around in the outfield and catching fly balls. As an example, we played a game called “500” when we didn’t have enough people to play a nine-on-nine game. One person is at the plate and the others are in the field. Catching a fly was worth 100 points and a grounder was 50. Once you reached 500, you ran in and took the bat while the batter moved out to the field. I used to purposely drop a ball or two just so I could stay out in the field longer.
I never was good enough to play baseball on any team in high school or college. I did have the pleasure of being in softball and baseball leagues for many years at my various jobs, both company sponsored and independent. It was during one of those leagues that I finally had to face up to my damaged shoulder, ultimately leading to the corrective surgery that leaves me quite healthy and limber today, thank goodness.
I always followed baseball every day in the newspaper. I subscribed to an awesome periodical called “The Sporting News”, which back then came out weekly and had every box score, every statistic and articles by local team correspondents. It was a baseball fan’s version of heaven. Sadly, today the publication has succumbed to the attention deficit disorder of current “readership” and is now a “slick” magazine (a la Sports Illustrated) with none of the heart and spirit of that old periodical.
When fantasy sports began, I was oblivious to the games, until one day being piqued to check out the baseball version advertised on my Yahoo home page. I’ve been playing these games online ever since, perhaps 10 years or so. Never for money, just fun. The attention to daily detail needed reminds me of my poring over those old Sporting News box scores. A little nostalgia to be found in the most futuristic of sources.
There are times I wish I had a son I could bring out to the ballpark with me on a weekend afternoon, eat a couple hot dogs, have a soda and a bag of peanuts and spend three hours chatting about baseball and whatever else came up. Baseball is the ultimate date sport. You get to go in the warmest part of the year, be outdoors, surrounded by the most polite sports fans of any of the four major sports. Baseball is not a vicious game. You won’t see or hear too many people screaming for someone’s head to be torn off or their teeth knocked out. You can actually hear yourself talk and, since you’re there for three hours, it helps if you talk with each other!
I’ve had some awesome experiences watching baseball. I was there for the first Marlins game in 1993 when a 40+ year-old Charlie Hough knuckleballed the Los Angeles Dodgers and Jeff Conine (since dubbed “Mr. Marlin”) had four hits in the victory. That was special, because it was the first ever game of a hometown MLB team in South Florida.
Nothing compares, however, to the 7th game of the World Series in 1997. I went with a friend of mine and his daughter, neither particularly baseball fans. We were in the upper deck down the right field line. We watched the homer by Bobby Bonilla to get us on the board. We watched the brave performance of the rookie pitcher for the Cleveland Indians set his team up to win the title. We watched as one of the slickest fielding infielders of all time made an error that allowed the Marlins to come back and then we watched as Edgar Renteria singled in Craig Counsell who slid in to home plate with the winning run in extra innings.
And then we were done watching. The stands erupted. Not just with noise, but with people shooting up from their seats. People were hugging and dancing and it didn’t matter if you knew the person or not. It was an unbelievable unification in joy and disbelief. And it still remains as the single most memorable sports experience in my life.
I’ve mentioned before my “retirement” dream of taking a whole baseball season and driving to every city and watch a baseball game at every ballpark. I hope to do that this decade. I’ve lost out on some storied locations like Yankee Stadium, but I’ll never lose out on the richness and history of the game.
No, I still can’t tell you where and why I started loving baseball so much. You know what? That’s just fine by me. Pass the bag of peanuts, the next inning is about to start.