In Full Swing: Why I love baseball season
I sucked at baseball as a kid. I could play the field all right, and my first base skills were at least comparable to Frank Thomas’. I couldn’t hit for shit though, and besides if I ever got on base I ran about as slow as David Ortiz hopped-up on Quaaludes. Needless to say my baseball career didn’t last much longer than the kid in Rookie of the Year.
But man do I love baseball.
It’s not even that I love every aspect of the game. If pressed there’s no way that I could rattle off even half the members of the 500-club, much less what team won the World Series two years ago. I would never watch a game between the Marlins and the Mets out of some abstract love for the sport,1 and I could really do without all the “America’s pastime” crap.2
What I love instead are the personal relationships that arise between individuals and the game after so much investment in their team. Baseball is a beautiful sport that means so much to so many people, and it’s truly incredible to behold.
I grew up a White Sox fan, not because my parents grew up Sox fans, but because Sox tickets were cheaper than Cubs seats back when my parents started taking us to games in the 90s.3 I have seen Paul Konerko play pretty much his entire meaningful pro career from start to finish for my team, and I have witnessed the full spectrum as a fan soaking everything in from the existential mélange of a 100-loss season to the elation of Geoff Blum’s Game 3-winning 14th inning home run in the World Series. I used to work as a Seat Vendor (a.k.a. “Hot Dog Guy”) at the Cell, and I still find myself slipping into calling the field “Comiskey.” The Sox are my team, and anybody else who calls them theirs is a friend of mine.
But my love for baseball extends beyond the Sox, even if it’s still viewed within the context of my relationship with the team.
I love the kids running up to the dugout every half-inning to try and catch a game ball. I love the superstition of rally-caps and jumping over foul-ball lines and ignoring a pitcher who’s in the midst of a perfect game. Speaking of perfect games, I loved the quiet that fell on the half-full Cell every moment before Mark Buehrle’s wind-up on the day he threw his perfect game—a day I almost didn’t show up for to work but ended up making a decent $57 in commission on hot dogs. I still remember the intellectual strain my co-worker underwent to let me know what was going on on-field without saying the words “perfect game,” and I won’t ever forget the dick-wrenching agony-turned-ecstasy of Dewayne Wise’s catch in the 9th.
I love baseball fans, and not just the cute girls in unbelievably short shorts on a beautiful summer day, but the old men grumbling into their scorecards while they listen to the call on their portable radios as well. I love that baseball may be the easiest sport to follow as a fan, since you can essentially recreate the game by reading the box score or watching a highlight reel, while the pacing of both the game and the season allow for you to devote your attention elsewhere while still investing significant mental and emotional devotion to the sport.
Baseball will always give you something to talk about with your co-workers, or your dad, or the drunk Phillies fan next to you at the bar.4 Including spring training and the playoffs, baseball gives us two-thirds of the year to talk about pennant races and pitching rotations and advanced sabremetrics and how underrated Kenny Lofton was in Backyard Baseball.5 I love that my British friend could come to America for a summer with absolutely zero knowledge of baseball besides the fact that Americans liked to drink Miller Lite and watch men run around in a circle for a couple of hours, and came out a couple of months later with exceptionally firm (and altogether negative) opinions regarding the Washington Nationals bullpen.
I love that, more than any other major American sport, baseball lends itself to historical comparison and memory. Frequent changes in the rules and styles of sports like basketball or football entail that the importance and attainability of landmarks or records shifts over the years.6 While steroids royally fucked with the system, the numbers of baseball retained their value so that achievements like a 20-win season or a batting average above .300 continue to mean something, while players can still be adequately contextualized by harkening to the past.7 We need that sort of continuity in our lives some times, and baseball will always be there for us as series after series continually spurs endless discussion of trade rumors or the exact depths of Tony LaRussa’s dark soul.
I love that over the course of a 182-game season, you get to truly know the players on your team. Like how A.J. Pierzynski sometimes looks as if he’s golfing when he chases after low pitches, or (my personal favorite) how after every pitch Juan Uribe adjusts his jockstrap with his non-dominant hand. I still can’t hear The Outfield’s “Your Love” without thinking of Gordon Beckham, the third baseman whose entry music is better than any other player in America.
Don’t tell anybody, but I secretly love the Cubs’ tradition of having guests sing the 7th inning stretch. No matter what park I’m at I still say “let’s get some runs” at its conclusion, because that’s what my Dad does, and that’s what Harry Caray did, so by God it’s just how things are going to be.
I love baseball, and I can’t wait for the season to get in full swing.