My beloved Rockies play host to my beloved Cubs tonight, and I have tickets in the fifth row behind home plate. Just typing that makes me happy. I love baseball. I love playing baseball, I love watching baseball, I love talking about baseball, and I spend a good portion of each day thinking about baseball. For me, there is no greater sport.
Baseball is the best sport because it happens in the best season. Unless you live in some godforsaken, hotter-than-Satan’s-asshole place like Houston, summer is easily everyone’s favorite season. Women wear less clothing. You spend more time outside. The sun shines later in the day. You look less like this guy and more like this guy.
As a result of taking place almost exclusively in the summer, baseball has the distinction of being the only major American sport to fall entirely within one calendar year. Something about this is psychologically satisfying as everyone knows exactly what you mean when you say “The 2007 Colorado Rockies.” When you refer to the 1999 Broncos or 1996 Avalanche, are you referring to their respective championship years, or their following disappointing regular seasons? Baseball requires no such mental gymnastics.
Another benefit of this summer pastime is the experience of sitting in the stands at a live game. Watching a live football game on a 12 degree day has a die-hard, we are warriors, “damn the elements” charm to it, but baseball at its heart is a game of leisure. You sit in the sun, drink beer, keep your fingers busy cracking peanut shells and shoot the breeze with your buds. You can enjoy the day because baseball is periods of extended low activity punctuated with points of extreme excitement. There is no better sport for rediscovering your relationships.
One of the most common arguments against baseball is that it’s too slow. While I concede that what I said about baseball as a game of leisure still stands, and that could potentially translate to boredom for the uninitiated, baseball is a thinking person’s game. Situations are everything in baseball, and anticipation is paramount. Baseball serves as the world’s largest chess board governed by proper strategy, educated hunches, flawless execution and a little luck. While raw adrenaline plays a part, too much exertion turns the most gifted players into neurotic head cases incapable of functioning in a cerebral world (see Farnsworth, Kyle and Wholers, Mark). Baseball players model as quiet, cold-blooded assassins that serve as the antithesis to the drooling, snarling werewolves of the NFL and posturing pit vipers of the NBA.
Mariano Rivera and Ryne Sandberg silently execute their opponents with elegant destruction while Bill Romanowski and Lawrence Taylor froth at the mouth over their gruesome murders like ravenous jackals. I love baseball for its grace, for the beauty of a backdoor slider resulting in a called strike three, and for the unrivaled exhilaration of a game changing homerun.
But the biggest reason I love baseball is my dad. Opening Day reminded me of this very poignantly, and I’ll get there in a second.
My dad taught me to play baseball and he instilled the love of the game in me. I remember growing up and watching countless Cub games with him on WGN. These are some of my happiest memories as he taught me the nuances of the game, explained what terms like “can of corn” and “southpaw” meant, and gave me a glimpse into his childhood. As I experienced my childhood, with every game we watched together, I got to see him relive a little bit of his.
My dad grew up playing baseball everyday. He told me how he and his friend from church would get together and play catch without ever missing a day from the time he was in grade school until he graduated high school. He used to go down to Wrigley Field and set up chairs in the bleachers in exchange for watching the game for free, and one day during batting practice the batter launched one into the right field bleachers where my dad was standing. It was headed right for him, just a tad over his head. He reached up for it anyway, nearly popped his shoulder out of his socket grasping for the ball, somehow caught it with his bare hand, and fell back into the chair he had just placed from the force of the blast. The right fielder shagging balls turned around, saw my dad’s remarkable bare handed catch, and politely and reverently applauded his athleticism.
I’ve heard this story at least a hundred times, and I hope to hear it at least a hundred more. My dad is more than just my dad – he is a myth, sometimes larger than life, the man I hope to become. He’s the man who once hip checked Ted Kennedy getting off an elevator in Washington, D.C. When I hear stories like his amazing pre-game catch in the Wrigley bleachers – how vividly he recalls the details and how excitedly he retells the story – I’m reminded that my goal of being like him isn’t so out of reach.
My dad and I talk almost daily and can converse on nearly any topic for extended periods of time. But my favorite topic to talk to him about is, and always will be, baseball. Whether we’re enthusiastically recalling last night’s thrilling victory, sizing up the day’s pitching match-ups, swapping stories from Little League, or just hating the Cardinals, I leave the conversation happy.
Which brings me back to Opening Day.
I have referred to Opening Day as “sports baptism.” Every year begins anew with the promise of World Series dreams and renewed hopes of your team’s success. It’s a glorious day and one of my top five days on the calendar. This year, however, I found myself crying during the ceremonial first pitch.
Kaige Kennedy, one-and-a-half year old son of recently deceased former Rockies pitcher Joe Kennedy, was accompanied to the mound by his mom and Rox 1st basemen Todd Helton to throw out the first pitch. I saw this cute little fella toss the ball left handed (just like his dad) to Todd as everyone cheered. Behind my sunglasses – and thank God they were there – tears streamed down my face unlike any time I’ve ever found myself at Coors Field.
All I could think about was how this little boy will never get the chance to play catch with his father, never know the joy of watching their favorite team win together, and never bond over the greatest sport in the world like I got to do with my dad. This cute little boy’s daddy was taken from him and I get choked up thinking about it even now. My only hope is that Joe Kennedy’s former teammates show Kaige who his daddy was, how much he loved baseball and how much he loved his son. Anything less is a disservice to Kaige and to Joe.
I think my dad and I would have bonded without baseball. But baseball provided another way for father and son to connect on a deeper level. He taught me how to play, and in a way, taught me how to live.
I love my dad. And as a result, I love baseball.
23 Apr 2008 E Dagger