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Play Ball?!

Posted: April 4th, 2011 | Author: | 7 Comments »

Like a lot of kids growing up, I played Little League baseball. And also like a lot of kids, I was not very good at it. I couldn’t hit the ball to save my life. I used to make a pact with myself as I was walking up to the plate: if the pitcher didn’t bean me in the head, I’d swing at the first three balls he threw — whether they were in the strike zone or not — and then I’d sit back down on the bench. (As you can imagine, I didn’t tell my coaches about this little deal…). I didn’t mind playing in the field though. Sure, for a while there I was afraid of high poppers (more so that I’d look like an idiot than of actually being hit with the ball), but I got over that. And I loved to catch. I started playing catcher not long after I started playing goal in hockey, and to me, there was nothing better. I even used to trash talk, like the kid in The Sand Lot.

But after the summer before sixth grade, I decided to give it up. I recorded the final out of the season (well, I mean, somebody else recorded the final out by tagging me trying to steal second base on one of the unlikely occasions that I actually drew a walk) and I told my dad I was quitting on the way to the parking lot.

I still loved baseball, I still loved playing catch, but what the hell was the point in wearing funny socks, standing around in the blistering sun two nights a week, and being terrified all the time?

No thanks.

Growing up, we used to go to a lot of minor league games in Rochester (I remember sitting in snow pants under blankets watching the opening game at Frontier Field in below-freezing temperatures — Jason caught a foul ball from Kelly Gruber! — and I remember getting to sit in the “Couch Potato” box over the right field wall at Silver Stadium). And because Jason was a Mets fan (he had a Greg Jeffries poster on his wall for the longest time), I was too.

I’m a hockey fan because I like the excitement and the speed and the toughness. I like it when two hockey teams play down to the wire, go to triple overtime in the playoffs, and players lose teeth for their teams. I like it when players are sprung on breakaways and deke the goalie out of his jockstrap. I like it when a guy gets pasted into the boards trying to make a play, that he knows it’s coming and he still takes the hit because that’s what’s best for the team. I like it when players inspire their teammates with their toughness, even if it means taking a punch in the face. It’s exhilarating.

I like baseball for the opposite reasons. I like that it’s a slow-moving game and that it’s a game built on statistics and averages. I like that it’s somewhat boring. I don’t need my life to be moving 90 mph all the time, and there’s no better reminder of that than by watching a great pitching duel. I like that fans can tell you the batting average for the starting lineup of the team they grew up watching fifteen years ago, or that strategy dictates why you would bring in a reliever making 4 million dollars a year just to face a right-handed batter and then take him out again. I like how baseball announcers fill the silence between pitches with stories about the clubhouse and the bus rides and the “old days.” I like that baseball has history. I don’t want any of those things in hockey, but in baseball, they just seem right.

Fast forward sixteen years from that final Little League game. I miss it, sorta. Not the funny socks and the sunburn and the being terrified all the time, but I miss going to the games, playing hot-box in the back yard, and rooting for a team.

So I sent this email off to my brother last week:

So I’m thinking of getting into baseball this year. But I need a team. I really have no affinity for the Mets (other than, “I rooted for them as a kid because that’s what my big brother did”), so I’m looking elsewhere. Also, I’m against the idea of rooting for teams from New York (or Boston or LA)…

Was thinking it’d be fun to start cheering for a young, rebuilding team with plenty of hope for the future. And while I wanted to root for the Pirates, I think that statement disqualifies them.

So who should I start following?

I don’t want to start with a winning team, I don’t want to jump on any bandwagons, and I don’t want to root for somebody who just throws money at the problem until it’s solved. I want a team with character, with players I want to succeed. So basically, not the Yankees or the Mets or the Red Sox or the Dodgers.

The conversation went from there and we discussed a few different options. How about the Milwaukee Brewers, I thought? Milwaukee never hurt anybody. Jason’s response? “ugh — bud selig??” That’s true, I don’t want to root for anyone who would allow a baseball game to end in a tie. Here were his suggestions:

nationals. no doubt.

twins are a perennial contender and build from home grown, and you’ll be able to cheer for former red wings.

I had a lot to think about. On the one hand, the Twins are Rochester’s major league team, so there’s a sort of homegrown connection built in. It makes sense. And Washington, while they might have the potential and the character that I’m looking for, comes from the city that Alex Ovechkin calls home. Screw him. But they both seem like viable candidates. So whom to choose?

Well, my decision was made for me this morning, when a UPS guy knocked on my door. Not expecting a package, I was curious why this one had my name on it and a return address I didn’t recognize. So I cracked it open and lo-and-behold, it’s this t-shirt:

You make a convincing argument, Jason…

And it got me out of having to root for an American League team, which is cool, because the designated hitter is the wimpiest rule in sports.

Go Nats!

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7 Comments on “Play Ball?!”

  1. 1 Sherry said at 2:11 pm on April 4th, 2011:

    I lived in Atlanta for a while, so the Braves were my team. Now, I’m in Pittsburgh. The Pirates make it difficult, but I’m hanging with them. My husband is one of those statistic-quoting fans so I now know waaaay more than I ever wanted to about VORP and the like. Have fun!

  2. 2 Pete said at 2:38 pm on April 4th, 2011:

    Hey Sherry! Being a lapsed Mets fan (and a new Nationals fan), I can’t support your rooting for the Braves under any circumstance. But as a Penguins fan, I wholeheartedly support your Pirates allegiance! I wanted to root for them, but if the owner clearly doesn’t care, why should I?

    This should make for a fun summer!

  3. 3 Sherry said at 2:53 pm on April 4th, 2011:

    I can understand you not wanting to support the Braves, and it’s ok, you can’t help your background. I’m with you on the DH, though. I can’t stand that rule.

  4. 4 Pete said at 5:11 pm on April 4th, 2011:

    Ha! As long as we can both hate the Phillies!

  5. 5 Pete said at 12:16 am on April 5th, 2011:

    I just realized I have a little “uber-patriotic” thing going on with my sports rooting habits. The Nationals in baseball and the Americans in hockey, and red, white, and blue all over… Excellent. See if Sarah Palin can call me un-American in 2012.

  6. 6 Paul said at 11:11 pm on April 5th, 2011:

    Interesting post, Pete — hard to imagine being in the position of picking a team at this stage of life. Also afraid you don’t know what you’re missing by not treating yourself to the Yankees every night. Lots of good guys on the team too, and the DH is just a variation on a theme. Oh well, enjoy the… er… Nats.

  7. 7 Pete said at 12:08 am on April 6th, 2011:

    Eh, I’ve never liked the Yankees. Never liked Steinbrenner or A-Rod or his contract.


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