You miss baseball. It’s okay to admit. Since we’re waiting, some of the writers at Banished to the Pen thought it would be a good idea to consider why we love this game so much. Why do we love baseball? Why am I counting down the days until pitchers and catchers report? Why do I spend an obscene amount of my waking hours thinking about this game? The reasons vary from person to person, but this off-season has given me some time to consider what my reasons are.
I’ve realized something that I didn’t expect. Initially, my love for baseball had very little to do with the game itself. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed watching and playing as much as anyone, but the game itself wasn’t the main reason I was so drawn to it. Many of the reasons that I began to love baseball had more to do with the function that it played in my life. Baseball was the vehicle for my closest relationships as a child, and it was the stage on which many of my fondest memories played out.
The earliest baseball memory I have has nothing to do with a game. I have few vivid memories from early in my childhood, but I remember a Sunday afternoon in 1991 like it was yesterday. I was eight years old at the time and playing up in my room. My dad came upstairs and handed me a pack of 1991 Topps baseball cards. I flipped through the cards and popped the piece of gum in my mouth (I couldn’t help myself). To this day I can still remember the first baseball card I ever pulled out of a pack. Staring back at me was Tony Phillips. Apparently he played for a team called the Tigers. I didn’t know much about either of those things. I also didn’t know how much this moment would influence the rest of my life.
From that moment on, baseball was the hub of my relationship with my dad. I had a great childhood and a good upbringing. However, if you ever spend much time with my dad or me you’ll realize we’re not very expressive with our emotions. We were never going to sit down and have a lot of heart to heart talks about how we felt about each other. What we quickly realized though, was that we didn’t need to sit down and have those talks. We had baseball.
Baseball ensured that we spent time with one another. Baseball was how we experienced and expressed our emotions together. I didn’t need my dad to tell me how he felt about me because I could see it. I could see it in the trips to the ball park. I could see it every time he played catch with me after work even before he could get his tie off. I could see it every time we stayed up late into the night (on a school night) together watching a game. Baseball allowed two guys who were never good at expressing how they felt about one another to know exactly how the other person felt.
Some of my best childhood moments were created by baseball. October of 1991 was the first time I ever watched a baseball game on TV. I was playing Kings Quest in the basement and I came over to see what my dad was watching. Little did I know that he was watching one of the greatest World Series of all time. I sat down by his side just to be with my dad. From that moment I was hooked on baseball. For the rest of my childhood I was a die-hard Braves fan. Eventually I grew up and realized that being a Reds fan made more geographical sense, but for the next 6-7 years I lived and died with every Braves game.
One of my favorite memories growing up came the following year. I still remember watching game seven of the 1992 NLCS as a young Braves fan. It was the bottom of the ninth and the Braves trailed two-nothing. I remember that at one point, my dad asked if I wanted to turn it off. He knew how bad this loss would hurt me, but he also knew there was no way I was turning that TV off.
He had his hand on my shoulder ready to console me as Francisco Cabrera came to bat. The next few minutes will be etched in my memory for the rest of my life. I can remember watching the ball get through the infield. It all seemed like it was happening in slow motion. Barry Bonds picked up the ball and Sid Bream was running as fast as he could (even at nine I knew that wasn’t very fast). Bream slid into home and everything seemed to freeze for a moment until the umpire emphatically called him safe.
I don’t remember much about the celebration on the field because of the celebration that was happening in our living room. A table full of baseball cards got turned over. My dad picked me up and put his hand over my mouth to try and dampen the shrill shrieks of a nine-year-old boy. My mom wasn’t thrilled we were up so late, and he really didn’t want me to wake her up. I just remember sitting there with my dad. We were both grinning from ear to ear. We knew we had just seen something special, but most importantly we had experienced something special together. We might have had trouble expressing emotion to each other, but baseball always allowed us to experience it.
So many of the memories I have from childhood of my dad involve baseball. Baseball was how he taught me the most important lessons he had to teach me. He coached me on every team I was on up through sixth grade. Throughout those years, baseball was how he taught me to handle success and deal with disappointment. It helped him teach me how to persevere and to find joy in what you’re doing. Looking back on it, the baseball diamond was my favorite classroom. I was lucky to have a father willing to be the teacher.
Why do I love baseball so much? I love it because in a weird way I am who I am today because of it. Not only that, but my dad and I are who we are together because of it.
And now I have my own son. Slowly but surely baseball is working its magic again. Luke is only five, but few nights went by this past summer where he didn’t ask me to come outside and pitch a whiffle ball to him. Once again baseball is ready to do what it does best. It’s ready to be the vehicle that takes two people on a journey together, and I for one hope the ride never ends.Next post: Running Scared
Previous post: Hall of Fame Recap – Mets Edition