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Me and Baseball

July 14, 2011

Playoff hockey almost ruined baseball for me. In 2002 the Carolina Hurricanes made a surprising run to the Stanley Cup finals, and my buddy Jeff Reilly and I bought two tickets for the duration. The intensity and excitement of playoff games was unlike anything I’d experienced before. When I returned to watching the Durham Bulls that summer, the contrast in energy was so striking that it almost drove me away. Two things saved me: that I went to the Bulls with two good friends, Jim Coble and Ken Traynham, and that the Red Sox got really really good, culminating in winning the 2004 World Series. Yet my interest waned to the point where I decided not to play fantasy baseball this year. Vicki told me she’s never known me not to have at least one team going, and she’s known me for 25 years.

Yet baseball is making a comeback with me. Fantasy is part of the reason why. One morning I was looking at ESPN’s web site and there was a picture of Dee Gordon, who’d just been called up by the Dodgers. He’s a guy I’d moved up my draft list in a couple of leagues last summer, but I’d quit those leagues and lost him. I was mad at myself that my research had gone for naught. I’ve now joined a mid-season league at mlb.com to see if my interest is a passing fad or something I’ll continue to want to do. I have the MLB network on my TV, and they do a great job presenting the game.

I have also been reminded of how deep baseball’s roots run for me. My sister-in-law Kimberly recently gave me a ball autographed by Carl Yastrzemski, my boyhood hero. My Polish-American grandfather had given me a copy of Yaz’s autobiography, written after his Triple Crown year of 1967, and I must have read it six times. Dziadziu and my dad took me to Fenway Park for the first time in 1971, when I was eight. It was a night game against the Orioles, and the Sox won 5-4 in 10. I’d never seen such green grass in my life. In those days Yaz got booed a lot, mainly for not taking the Sox to the World Series every year, but he was a worthy All-Star that season. And this week ESPN did a retrospective of the 1971 All-Star game, played in Detroit earlier the same summer as my first Fenway trip. It’s the first game I remember watching from start to finish. I was at my friend Darryl Ashley’s house. I remember how tight Vida Blue’s white A’s uniform fit him on the mound. I remember Reggie Jackson’s monstrous home run, which may have gone completely out of the ballpark  had it not struck a transformer on the stadium’s roof. It would be hard not to fall in love with baseball on a night like that–20 players in that game (plus both managers and a coach!) have been elected to the Hall of Fame. There was excellence everywhere I looked.

These new warm feelings for baseball may pass. But it feels like taking the break from fantasy was a good idea. Following the game had become a chore, and now it feels fun again. I don’t have Hurricanes season tickets any more, so maybe I can give back some emotional energy to the game I’ve been following for–how can this be?–forty years.

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