Why Do I Love Baseball?
I honestly don't know how I acquired my love of baseball.
As I watched the Arizona Diamondbacks lose another Opening Day game this week, I tried to figure out why I love the game. It's not fast paced. My father didn't pass on a love of the sport onto me. In fact, I think he only took me to one game growing up in Detroit. I didn't play it at any point in my public school sporting career. Yet I still found myself munching on overpriced hot dogs, guzzling down expensive beverages, and cheering on a team I knew would bring the baseball fans of the Grand Canyon State six months of disappointment.
I reached back to my earliest baseball memory. I was six years old in the fall of 1984, and I pored through my Detroit Tigers Team Yearbook. I would look up at the television set to see Chet Lemon, Alan Trammel, Jack Morris, and Kirk Gibson play their hearts out for manager Sparky Anderson. My mom was cheering the team on as I listened to legend Al Kaline call the game. Even back then, the city was going through rough times and I felt like we were all united together. I wish I still had that yearbook. If pressed, I could probably still name most of the Tigers starting line up that season. The Tigers became World Champions against the San Diego Padres that season. People still know the words to this little ditty. I also watched this movie. A lot.
I remember learning to keep score from a teacher at church who took me to a game when I was about 12. We were asked to memorize some scriptures and I was the only person in my Sunday School class who did it. I couldn't tell you who played or what the score was, but being in the historic Tiger Stadium on the intersection of Michigan and Trumbull blew my mind. I had seen the stadium from the outside often when we would take my mom to work, but to be within city limits watching Cecil Fielder in his prime take a whack at the baseball as hard as he could made me feel a little more grown up after the 9th inning rolled around.
The decade following that game was filled more with baseball movies than the actual sport. I did get wrapped up in the home run races between athletes who would later admit they cheated. There were silly player strikes, huge bonuses to players who probably didn't deserve it, and revenue issues that made the game unfair to small market teams.
I had just moved to Milwaukee and the Brewers were eager to fill Miller Park with fans. My friend John, who actually played baseball and was a huge Cubs fan, took the time to tell me the subtleties that made the game more interesting and strategic (field position, sacrifice flys, etc). Despite the frustration of watching the Brewers lose over and over again, I went to the games as much as I could. I saw Randall Simon whack a kid in a bratwurst costume during the Sausage Race. I even saw the Brewers in a playoff game. It also just happened to be the game where Ryan Braun failed his infamous piss test.
Baseball, with all it's corruption and excesses, doesn't really reflect who I was or who I am now. It's far from perfect and can break your heart, but I still want it to be something better than it is. Each Opening Day is a another chance for baseball to go to the nation's idea of what its pastime should be: something pure and beyond reproach. It's doubtful the sport will reach that goal, but I love that every year it makes a solid attempt.
It still has the power to unite people no matter who you cheer for. I have often gone into a ballpark to root for the away team and struck up a conversation with a friendly member of home team's fan club. Despite baseball's past problems with steroids, racism, and gambling, the MLB doesn't knowingly cause concussions to their employees, produce physically abusive players, or have a staff that go on strike every five years.
Maybe that's why I love it.