I need help. While that may not be news to some of you, something has plagued my brain recently, causing me more restlessness than I am apt to handle. The issue at hand is that baseball no longer feels special to me.
I need help in figuring out why, or at least, in discovering that I am not alone with this condition.
Am I simply getting old? Have the years of being a Cub fan finally bittered me enough to ruin the sport entirely?
Perhaps some of the blame must go to the Blackhawks, who have provided me with a team worth rooting for, and likewise opened my eyes to the brutal ballet that is the NHL.
Is the steroid era I grew up in actually to blame?
Do I simply not care because Chicago baseball is a wasteland of unfulfilled dreams and diminishing hope?
Certainly, some of the potential causes of this fresh disinterest in Major League Baseball are obvious and understandable, but exploring this mutation from an avid, wild-eyed lover of baseball to my current state of disinterest in the MLB, may provide some answers.
At the very least, I shall purge myself of the crippling guilt that I feel in the wake of realizing that I have changed.
As a child, baseball was a necessary form of daily sustenance for me. I grew up watching Mark Grace pick Shawon Dunston laserbeams out of the dirt. I was lucky enough to be able to appreciate the end of Ryne Sandberg's career, and see Greg Maddux in Cub blue the first time around. I jumped for joy when Rick Wilkins and Rey Sanchez would hit a homerun every 18 months or so.
I trudged my way through the 0-14 start in 1997, and watched the rest of those games that season as though they still mattered. Very simply, I lived and died with not only the Chicago Cubs, but also with the story lines and the great villains and heros of the rest of Major League Baseball.
I rooted like hell for the Cleveland Indians simply because of the Major League films (sorry Sox fans, this had nothing to do with a young Cub fan disliking your team). I found it unfathomable that anyone could ever cheer for the New York Yankees or the Atlanta Braves, but I appreciated the drama that they provided for me.
With the start of every new season, I prided myself on my winter research, allowing me to be prepared for the new looks of every team in MLB. Of course I was mainly focused on rooting for the Cubs, but baseball, in and of itself, was a magical and beautiful thing that I simply could not get enough of. The All-Star game, especially, now is dwarfed in comparison to how I used to view it.
Over the years, my love for football grew, but baseball remained my favorite throughout adolescence. The Blackhawks were essentially banned from television and radio by the time I began to appreciate hockey, and basketball always took a back seat to baseball and football.
Once the Bulls were done winning Championships, winters were solely a countdown to Major League Baseball's opening day. It was like Christmas in April, or the end of March if you were lucky. You may call me a Bulls' bandwagon-rider, and perhaps I am, but basketball never grabbed me like baseball did. Not even football, a very close second-favorite at the time, could not quite compete with the MLB for my love.
Baseball is what always spoke to me. I watched other sports, and I screamed and cheered and cared what happened to the teams I rooted for, but I was only watching them. Baseball seemed to always whisper at me, with a subconscious mesmerizing tone that thrilled and baffled me. Baseball was beautiful, and I craved it like water on a stifling summer day.
I still reminisce about Kevin Tapani's grand slam off Denny Neagle in Atlanta (Tapani's blast that day came before Sammy Sosa had ever hit a grand slam), and one of my single favorite baseball memories ever was Mark Grace lumbering through a "hold" sign at third base in what I remember as a 14-inning game against the St. Louis Cardinals. Of course Gracie scored in a bang bang play at the plate, sending the Cardinals home with a loss, and keeping me elated for the rest of the week.
I loved baseball, and I lived and died with the Cubs. The most important factor is that the Cubs losing records did not matter to me. Each single day was what mattered. If the Cubs won on any given day, it was a good day. If they lost, I felt as though the next game would never come.
I wanted the Cubs to win, and the losses hurt me deeply, but the joy that I had, in retrospect, was just in being able to watch the sport that I so sincerely cherished.
This is no longer the case. If anything, the way I feel about hockey is closer now to how I used to feel about baseball.
To this day, I love all of the four major sports, and for different reasons. However, the magic, the allure, of baseball is gone.
To outsiders, the reasons for this would seem obvious. One may note the 2003, 2007, and 2008 Cubs teams as primary factors. Sure, they played their part, but I was raised as a smart Cub fan. While I will always root for them, I was made well aware of the dismal path that a lifelong Cubs fan must walk. Although those seasons devastated me, I had been preparing for them since I was five.
Others may say that the White Sox 2005 World Series Championship spoiled baseball for me. I may not have ever rooted for the Sox, but I have never truly rooted against them either. Seeing the White Sox win it all hurt a bit, but did not suck the magic out of baseball. If anything, it proved to me that any team could win it all- renewing my hope that the Cubs may some day deliver.
No, none of these happenings can explain the alteration of my appreciation for baseball. I can say for sure that the final stages of this decomposition has taken place over the last few years, unnoticed until recently. This change has occurred without any conscious realization, and that fact makes it hurt the most. Why has this happened?
The futility of Cubs teams in recent years is not to blame either, especially with the new commitment to rebuilding the franchise the right way- something I have longed for for many years. Likewise, I do not think that it is solely due my blossoming wonder for hockey over the past five years.
I still enjoy baseball. I follow the Cubs closely, and enjoy keeping an eye on the rest of the league. The further inclusion of sabermetrics in Major League Baseball has even provided a fresh spin on the game, providing new angles and food for thought.
Why, then, is the magic gone?
I no longer hear the same siren call from MLB that I used to hear even in my dreams. What was once the national pastime, as well as my own, has dwindled to a mere form of fleeting entertainment in my eyes.
Perhaps the steroid era which helped to ensnare my imagination is most to blame for the degeneration of that appreciation. However, that has never bothered me when it comes to football, so how could steroids alone ruin baseball for me without me being aware of it?
Something else has changed, and I do not know what it is. Am I alone? Am I just crazy in thinking that there is something more to it than just the addition of all these miniscule and singular factors? I wonder if any of you have had similar experiences- whether with baseball or any other sport.
Major League Baseball still has plenty to offer, and I appreciate that, but I fear that I shall never again feel the same attraction to the sport that once bewildered me on a daily basis. In a way, it feels like a part of me has died, and I dread that I will be searching for what I lost for the rest of my life.
Is this normal?
Am I doomed?
In the wake of this realization, and during my mourning, I look to you for support, and maybe even for some better answers. For now, I cannot put my finger on the reason that the magic has left baseball for me, and I long to know why.
Major League Baseball used to entrance me, and now it is just another sport. Perhaps it is as simple as the freshest addiction being the strongest, and I should stop trying to analyze it and just cling to hockey...