It's a season for America. The smell of hot dogs in the walk-ways, the sound of the die hards screaming across the field, and the beautiful green grass in which tradition plays out. This is baseball, our national pastime, our savior during the Great Depression, it kept our hopes up during the second world war, and now with an international influx, a world renowned sport.
My love for this sport began as a child. It started with a shoe box, as most memories do. But my memory takes a different path, a path blocked by my father, and a path pursued by myself.
This shoe box was the earliest memory I have of baseball. It was a Reebok box with the familiar Union Jack on the lid, inside was a vast assortment of cards. I never owned cards before then, so this was a goldmine for me. I took them out and looked at the people pictured on the cardboard reading their names, not knowing who a single person was. The cards kept me entertained for a couple hours before being placed back in the box and in my closet.
As the days went by, the box untouched, I told a friend that I had received this and we talked about possibly trading cards. I was still a child, so I had no idea who I traded, either way, I was happy to be able to share my collection with someone else as he enjoyed the deal. I probably got ripped off, but I didn't care at the time.
This sparked my interest in the cards again and I went ahead and took a good look at them. The backs were filled with numbers and abbreviations that I would later decipher in my life. I spent some time with my new found collection and organized the cards by teams. Then I committed the most ungodly act of all. I wanted to keep the cards together so I grabbed some rubber bands and tied them together, not knowing that they would put notches in the side of them. I even took a couple and did the classic move by placing them in the spokes of my bicycle to create the motorcycle sound effect. I ask you, who hasn't done that as a kid?
My grandmother soon realized I had begun to like baseball and gave my my first glove on my birthday. It was a small tan leather glove, no replica autographs, no fancy padding, not even an index finger hole. I did not care, I had something I could use and enjoy. I didn't on any baseballs at the time, so I would use rocks, lost tennis balls, and super balls as a substitute. No one I knew had baseball equipment, so I would go to the park and throw my tennis ball, or whatever it was for the day, at a fence or the side of a building and retrieve it on the bounce back. I became quite good at catching and cutting off the ball before it went too far past me. I didn't had a bat until I was in high school, so at the time my bats were broom sticks and small branches that had fallen from the tree in my yard. Did I care? No. I wanted to play baseball and I would use anything I could.
One day I did get my first baseball. It was found in the outfield of my local baseball field. Armed with my branch, glove (which started to slowly get smaller as I aged), and baseball, I would stay at the ball park usually till dusk hitting my lonely ball up against the fence hoping that one day I would be asked to join in a game of sandlot. Those hopes did happen and it was a tremendous feeling. I was playing an actual baseball game with kids my age and having fun. This memory will never leave me no matter what. Even if I were to lose my motor functions and be in a vegetative state, I will carry that one moment with me.
Me being a Yankees fan could be blamed on one of two things. As an infant, my mom would put on a mini Yankees jacket in the winter. But like all infants, we do not remember anything. I did not even realize this until a couple years ago when she showed my that jacket that was worn, which is now hung on the wall in her basement next to the bar.
Another possibility on how I became a fan was my pure chance. I was in Syracuse, New York when I got the cards as mentioned above, and being in New York you were either a Yankees fan or a Mets fan. At the time, I did not know the Mets existed. So by default, I chose the pinstripes and never looked back.
In middle school, I had my first opportunity to play in an organized league. I had never played T-Ball or little league, and throwing the ball up and hitting it with a branch really put me at a disadvantage compared to the other children who had experience. I knew about the basic rules and how the game ran. Three strikes make an out, four balls is a walk, and nine innings is regulation. I joined about half way into the season and was riding pine most of the way. My batting was horrible as I reached base only once via a base hit. I was scared to swing since I didn't want to strike out. Eve my first at bat was frightful. The first pitch I saw was right down the middle, but I jumped out of the batters box way anyway. The umpire warned me if I did that again, he would call it a strike. Second pitcher I did the same exact thing and got the strike call. We had a horrible season, losing every game, but a first for me nonetheless.
High school was different. We had no baseball team, however, the local youth center had a team and I asked my dad if I could join. He had no problem with it as long as there was practice everyday. Unfortunately it was three days a week, so I was denied. My father pushed me to do sports, which I didn't mind, but I wanted to play baseball; that never happened.
His idea of playing catch was I throw the ball, he holds onto it while changing the station on his walk man, then throws it back.. This would last for about ten minutes before he gave up and went home. The scene in “Field of Dreams” where Ray Kinsella plays catch with his father always makes me swell up. I never had the joy of doing that, and when I have children of my own, I will not deny them the chance of a great father-son moment.
My baseball career had ended. My love for the sport grew day by day. I used my birthday money to buy cards and took better care of them. No more rubber bands, no bike spokes. I was going to take care of them. It got to the point where I started shoplifting packs of cards until one day when I was caught. It's not a good feeling getting busted, knowing you were so close, yet so far from your goal. Since then I have never shoplifted again.
After high school, I began to study the game in depth, absorbing stats, trivia, rosters, strategies. I wanted to know everything about baseball and how the game ran from the inside.
To the untrained eye, baseball is a simple sport. One guy pitches, one guy hits, the the other guys try to get him out. To one who understands the complexities from within, it's not about the base hit. It's about sacrifices, bunts, hit and runs, fielding shifts, and all the other methods of gaining an edge.
I became a huge fan of statistics and wanting to know more about them. Most are so trivial, it's a wonder why it even became a stat. No one really cares who hit .280 with 15 home runs, 60 runs batted in while hitting 5 double playing at third base. I did.
Baseball became more of a numbers game to a point where I got tired of reading stats and wanted to focus on the game itself. I began to balance enjoying the game, and studying the game so I can enjoy both equally. I would watch games on TV and try to guess what the manager was thinking.
Baseball grew so much in my life that I wanted to share my thoughts and opinions with others, so I created my own blog. My blog went unnoticed at first, I had very few readers and even fewer comments. But as the days went by, more and more people came to my site and even had a few regular readers. Sharing my thoughts with others is something that will always be with me and being able to talk about America's most historical sport always brightens my day.
Baseball is my passion. Tears come to my eyes during the final out of the World Series, not because I am happy to witness the unfolding events, but sad because baseball has ended.
It takes a true fan to enjoy your team as they struggle to stay out of last place, but a greater fan to mourn the ending of the 162 game marathon. My year does not begin on January 1st, but on Opening Day.
Baseball for me is life. A life I grew up in, a life I cherish, and a life I share.
And this is what baseball means to me.