I have been a baseball fan for as long as I can remember. I can’t remember a time in my life where I wasn’t. As a kid, I can still remember the tiny gloves I had. I remember learning how to grip a ball more than I remember learning how to play the piano, which I actually took lessons for. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know how to point with the glove and throw to that spot, and following through with your hand once the ball was out of it. I don’t remember learning that you always step into a pitch you are swinging at, but I don’t remember ever not knowing it. I know there are many people who don’t like baseball. They say it is boring, it drags out too long and of course the athletes can’t be as talented as their quarterbacks, their point guards, or any of the sports heroes they tout. I love sports as a whole, don’t get me wrong. I think that hockey is great, I love a good basketball game (not really professional as of late, but more college) and I may live in NY, but from August to January my heart is in San Fran with my 9ers. None of these sports will ever be able to hold a candle to baseball in my heart however, because despite the neighsayers, I see something that I feel they can’t or maybe that they won’t or don’t want to. I see that more than any sport (at least to me) baseball is poetry in motion.
To me, there is nothing more calming then watching a baseball game, few things that are as familiar. As long as I have been in love with baseball, I have been a true blue Yankees fan. I am not talking bandwagon; love the late ‘90s especially during the postseason play fan. In my youth and teen years, more often than not I was going to be found at home, not because I didn’t have things to go do or friends to hang out with, but because the baseball season is long, and if the game was on, I was watching it. I have to admit, I am not as adamant now. The season, along with preseason televised games, drags on too long, and my nights and weekends often book up as fast as the month changes. I keep appraised of the situation, and though the Yankees are often on the bottom of the scoreboard in today’s league, I always have that faithful hope that they will pull it out. I honestly wait for the next crop of minor leaguers to take the team by storm, forgetting that we don’t farm talent that much anymore; we simply try to buy it. That is a distressing turn for someone like me, who watched as the Core Four came up together through the system, and became some of the best players in the Majors.
The game as a whole seems to have changed though. When I was young and watching them, I was able to translate things they did in a much smaller since to my little league and softball games. The major leaguers used to be masters at playing small ball. Through watching not only the Yankees of the late 1990s, but the MLB as a whole, I learned how to play unselfish ball. You cannot say the same about the game today. Today, every player tries to be a hero with every play, with every swing. There are few master bunters among today’s pros because that is not what is going to make them the best. They want homers, and will settle for line drives that are doubles. I will also say you don’t see the running game today like you used to. Hustling for a close double or trying to beat out a dropped third strike was norms in past decades. Now I scream at the TV while players, Yankee and others, stand there to be tagged. NO!! Run your ass off to first, put the pressure on, make them hurry and mess up. Little ball here people, little ball.
We all used to pretend we were the clutch player who stepped to the plate and hit a grand slam to win the crucial game. That wasn’t it though. I can remember throwing a ball onto the slopping roof of the garage to practice tracing the ball angle so I could catch the pop flies, so I could read the ball no matter where it went like Bernie. I remember practicing running backwards in the outfield and diving like Paul. I remember the crack of Derek’s shoulder as we all got a reminder not to slide headfirst and for days after practicing that proper foot slide in. I remember studying the way Tino knew how that ball came off his bat and either running it out to first or making the turn for a proper chance at second. I am sorry, but I don’t see that in today’s game. It has made me step back. I don’t care if the Yankees never win another Championship again, I honestly don’t. We have enough to last most teams a lifetime, we have been lucky to have those Dynasty worthy teams. I do care that they have fallen prey to that horrible laziness. That sense of entitlement where they don’t seem to think they have to WORK for a championship. For me, a person who has always been able to escape into baseball and not have to worry about anything while the game was on, this is a horrible feeling. Of course you have to work for it. I don’t care how much you work out or how fast you run and how hard you throw. There will never be a team that can win 5 Championships in 6 years again (1996, 1998, 1999, 2000) if they don’t work for it every second of every day. They have to become like one, to move as one great single player.
I was thinking about this as I sat in Yankee Stadium last Saturday. I was standing up, cheering the last live at bat I would ever see Jeter at and I realized why even I am so emotional about his retirement, why people who are Red Sox fans, Dodger fans, and any true baseball fan are all so emotional. When the Captain walks off the field that last time, whether it is Thursday at Yankee Stadium, or Sunday, September 28th at Fenway, he will take the official ending of an era with him. He will take the last remnants of the team that was named the Team of the Century for the 20thCentury with him. He will close the door and there will never be a way to reopen that time, to reestablish that baseball fervor. I imagine that there will be another long rambling blog more dedicated to a man who came only second to Bernie Williams as my favorite ball player growing up as the day gets closer. I haven’t sorted out my feelings on that one yet, let alone been able to put them on “paper.” What I do know is that I still love the game. I love the smells of it, the sounds of it. I will always have Bob Sheppard’s voice in my head announcing my team, calling the games I will never forget, yelling until he was horse that “Thhhhhhhhhhha YANKEEEEEEEEEES WIN.” I will always stop and smile when Sinatra sings that if he can make it there he can make it anywhere. Every time a team wins the World Series after a long drought, I will look for someone to jump in joy on the back of a police horse.
Lastly, I will always take the lessons I learned in baseball through life with me. I will always follow through. I will always keep my eye on the ball, literally and proverbially. I will focus early so I can learn to read my opponent moves. I will always back up my teammates and be as unselfish as I can, knowing that all I do must be first for the good of whatever “team” I am doing it for, secondly worrying about myself. As I try to get back into the game as a fan, I have to remember the past as the best era for myself, and seek out new nuances and talents that the previous teams didn’t have, and look for old habits to shine through. I did not just reminisce and see what today’s game lacks (in my opinion) when I was at the Stadium. I remembered something vital – I remembered that I love the game. That frustrated or not with aspects of it, the game to me is the apex game out there, and that I want to introduce my young nieces and nephews to the joy of it. I want to see their faces when they get their first hit, and when they catch that first pop up. I want them to look forward to the All-Star game, and yes even to live and die by their team’s wins and losses. To be a fan like that, to be a part of the culture – I wish that for them, and I can’t wait to bring it to them. Unless of course they choose to like the Red Sox. Then I will shun and mock them mercilessly, of course.