Look. I know it’s hard to trust me again. You’ve been hearing me tell anyone who will listen that baseball is the second best sport, that’s right, I said it, above football, above hockey and only a little behind basketball.
I know you hear this and still keep me at arm’s length. I get it. The whole fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me sort of deal. But let’s face the facts. Neither one of us can deny we had something special from 1997 to 2004.
I mean who could forget that late summer night we had in ’98. McGwire’s 62nd home run just barely inching over the left field wall. McGwire forgetting to touch first base. Picking up his son at home plate. Picking up his teammates as if they too weighed 100 lbs. Sammy Sosa joining him on the field for their superhero ritual, punching each other in the stomach, an image that was printed on thousands of posters, some for sportsmanship, others promoting testosterone boosting drugs.
And what about that ’01 Diamondbacks vs. Yankees series? I know you won’t believe me, but I still believe that was the best sports series I’ve ever had. Any sport. Nothing can top it. I don’t think anything ever will.
Or how about the ’04 Red Sox? When I hopped on the bandwagon with the rest of my freshman class, buying Red Sox hats and filling the Midland, Michigan halls with obnoxious Good Will Hunting style Boston accents.
We had so many great times together. But, as great as those years were, I also can’t deny leaving you for 10 years. No note on the dresser. No warning. Just disappeared.
And I was a terrible Ex. The loud mouth Ex. Made jokes that you were boring and how people call you America’s Past Time because it’s past your time. Made fun of you for being old fashioned. For not embracing instant replay. Not embracing Youtube.
I joined the millions of Americans who turn to football from September to February, college basketball in March, NBA from April to June and then in July/August when nothing else is on, I would rather follow free agency trade speculations than tune in for a baseball game.
I could take the easy way out and say that the steroid era cut me too deep. Lie and say that when I found out McGwire and Slammin’ Sammy didn’t get that big from 20 pushups and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich each night before bed, that was just too much. How could I ever trust you again?
But that’s simply not true. It wasn’t the steroids that drove me away. It was nothing you did at all. I got bored and chased basketball, football, hockey, sports with more action.
Even though I was happy, you were always in my peripheral vision. The last 10 years, I’d watch these die-hard baseball fans and wonder, “Man, how do they do it?” It’s such a long season. How can they sit down for 3, 4 hours and be invested in a 1/162 fraction?
To be honest, I envied it.
Then came 2014, the beginning of the rekindle. The combination of the Kansas City Royals and Jackie Robinson West, two amazing bandwagon rides, reminded me of baseball’s greatest strength: sustained edge of your seat tension.
And I can hear my Ex-fan self saying, “Pssch, yeah, if you consider watching grass grow an edge of your seat experience.”
Basketball, football, hockey, soccer, there’s a time limit. Basketball it’s up and down. Have the lead, lose the lead, have the lead. No matter what though, the buzzer is going to sound.
Not with you, baseball. My team may be up by 2 runs, two outs, bottom of the ninth, but there’s a runner on third base and the pitcher and batter are at pitch 13 of an epic at bat. Another foul ball. And another. Next pitch in the dirt. Ball four. Runners on the corners. The winning run at the plate and there’s nothing I can do. There’s no buzzer to bail me out. It’s pure sustained stress until that final out.
That’s the type of stress all fans should desire.
Not everyone will appreciate that and that’s ok. In 2015 it finally clicked. It doesn’t matter if baseball is losing popularity, it’s like the ending of the Polar Express, the bell still rings for me and all those who still believe. So what if you’ve essentially been the same game for 100+ years. You never needed to change. Baseball fans get that. And I think I finally do too.
How can I prove that I mean all this? I guess I can’t. You only have my word and you’ve been burnt before. Just know that last week I went to Wrigley Field, by myself, I bought a Scorecard, an actual physical scorecard for a dollar fifty and with a pen that I brought from home wrote in the Cubs and Royals players. I kept score and looked around to see one or two others nearby, most were in their late 70’s, doing the same.
I’m speaking from the heart when I say this, I can not wait for this year’s postseason. So many storylines. So many potential champions in the mix. Cubs vs. Pirates Wednesday night, I wouldn’t miss that for anything. I mean maybe if someone called me and said, “Dude, LeBron is playing Derrick Rose 1-on-1 at the Tribune basement court!” but even then, I’d at least DVR the Cubs game.
To sum it all up, I come asking for forgiveness, baseball, for I have wandered. I’d say let’s throw out the past, but if we throw out 2005 – 2013, we have to throw out ’97 – ’04 as well. Instead, let’s have no asterisks. Accept the history for what it is. Scars and all.
I’m back, baseball. Let’s play two.
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