Baseball and I have always had a love-hate thing going on.
The sport was my first love — before basketball, even. I had a knack for sending lasers back to the pitcher and a hunger for fielding so aggressive that I ended up with a broken collarbone — and that was only mushball.
By the time I was fourteen, however, baseball* and I were on a one-way train to Splitsville. I didn’t enjoy playing the game anymore, and my life as a spectator had entered the inevitable loss-of-innocence rough patch: The Cleveland Indians had broken my heart in ’95 and ’96, and I was starting to know a little something about the business side of MLB and why the Tribe felt they had to *sob* trade Carlos Baerga… Meanwhile, my artistic tastes were developing, and if I was forced to listen to another dramatic reading of “Casey at the Bat,” I was going to ralph all over the place.
I’m not sure when exactly baseball and I began to reconcile. I dated a baseball player in college, but I can’t say that sitting through doubleheaders in the fickle, freezing Chicago spring did much for my appreciation of the game. I have fond memories of attending many Dollar Hot Dog Nights at U.S. Cellular Field née Comiskey Park (or U.S. Comiskular, as a friend likes to call it) and the occasional game at Wrigley.
In my early adulthood, I found myself watching the Yankees — quelle horreur! — because a dear cousin was working in their organization. My original American League allegiance (to Cleveland) was further challenged by a move to the Twin Cities, where I couldn’t help but like the modest Midwestern pinstripers who were simultaneously inspiring and slaying some of my closest Minnesota friends. Having experienced a game or two in the Metrodome, I must admit: Target Field is a lovely place to watch baseball.
What really brought me back to the game, though, was playing it again. My first spring in MN, I joined The Valley Girls — a women’s slowpitch softball team in a southern suburb of Saint Paul. It was like getting together with a former sweetheart and realizing that a spark really was still there, however small. I played shortstop (badly) for that team, and gradually, I remembered everything that I had loved in the first place.
Four springs later, I’m still playing softball two nights a week — on one women’s team and one co-ed team. I’m helping out with a high school fastpitch team, too, which offers a whole new way of seeing the game and understanding it.
It’s not all love, all the time, though. I tend to get antsy at games that I’m not playing or coaching in, and the length of the major league season is staggering. Similarly, I am both delighted by and skeptical of all the literature devoted to baseball. Along with boxing, baseball seems to be the thinking writer guy’s sport of choice.** Some of that writing borders on hypernostalgic or fetishizing, but I suppose that’s the nature of any subject that has been done and done and done — especially by people who deeply, devoutly love it.
Where in my heart does baseball stand today? Let’s say it’s batting fifth or sixth in the line-up, behind some heavier hitters and some reliable on-base guys. It may rise in the order as spring becomes summer, but I bet I’ll be thinking football by fall.
Where in this blog does baseball stand? In small bites and shorter bursts; in brief recollections and lazy singles to shallow right.
*For the purposes of this essay, I’m lumping baseball and softball into the same category. I do recognize that the games are quite different, but the spirit of both have always been the same for me. Perhaps I will get into the distinction (or lack of distinction in my own mind) in another essay.
**Some of the people whose baseball writing I most enjoy happen to be women. Links forthcoming in future posts, but check out my blogroll (bottom of the page) in the meantime.