While spending quiet time at home over the most recent holiday season relaxing, it got me thinking about why I’m such a steadfast fan of the game of baseball. Everyone associated to this game must have gotten connected to it in some way. For me, my earliest baseball memories are watching games on TV with my dad, asking him questions to learn about certain game rules like for instance how many balls can a pitcher throw before a walk, and why is there no third strike when a batter fowls off a ball with two strikes. It was a form of connection for us to sit and enjoy games on TV.
I also remember my first ball glove that my aunt gave my twin brother and me as gifts. We must have been 5 or so, and the glove was totally pleather, but so what. We didn’t care. It was a gift that I didn’t know at the time would become so important to us. I wonder if my aunt did either.
One of my fondest baseball memories is spending a weekend up at Bayfield, ON (I must have been 7 or so) where my brother and I played catch with my dad as well as several cousins. It was one of the most vivid moments I recall for some reason. Just playing catch with the family for hours it seemed, the time just flew; I never wanted it to stop! This was the day where I really became comfortable with catching a baseball because everyone reinforced to me how I should be catching the ball and how I should move my glove if it’s thrown to my left or right, or down low. That instruction totally made it easier for me to catch a ball.
I recall my 10th birthday party at our house. It was brutal. Birthdays are supposed to fun right? Well, we invited classmates over to play a game of baseball and we split everyone into two teams with my brother on one side, and I on the opposite. My team was losing horribly and I went into a crying tirade all because we were losing. You see, I wanted to win on my birthday! I remember from that moment on that I shouldn’t be such a sore-loser ‘cause it was so embarrassing.
My birthday is at the end of March so while growing up, it was rare for the weather to be warm enough during that time to go outside and throw the ball around. But it did happen a couple of times, and when it did, it was like spring training for my brother and I. I recall hitting balls with my brother in our front yard. We’d toss it up to ourselves and try to hit it over the driveway which would mean a homer in our little childhood minds.
Sept 2, 1990…that’s a day I’ll never forget because Dave Stieb finally got his no-hitter. I remember watching Tom Henke sealing the deal in ’89 clinching the division vs. Baltimore. These memories remain etched in my head because of the excitement level I had watching those games. Without doubt, I’ll forever remember exactly where I was in those moments sitting on my Grandma’s couch.
Our first live game was in 1990, where our cousin was a member of security at SkyDome, and he gave us a tour of the field and the bowels of the Dome where we saw George Bell and Kelly Gruber in the basement. George was late getting in, he said, and couldn’t stop to pose for a picture with us sweet little kids. Kelly was busy talking to some people, so a photo wasn’t possible there, but it was so cool to see real players that we looked up to – in person. The only other thing I remember that day is that the Jays lost to the Twins and Duane Ward came in to mop up. Go figure. It must have been to get some work in.
I remember the little softball games we’d play at school during recess and gym class. Kids don’t play baseball any more at school let alone gym class…God, the danger of a bat and ball!! We’d play with our closest friends too, even in a group of 3 at local diamonds or our front yards. These days, I occasionally see kids playing catch or hitting in a park as I drive by. I wonder where did they all go?
I recall the summer of ’93 in particular where it seemed like my dad and I listened to every single game on the radio. That’s right…Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth. I love listening to games on the radio and still do to this day. This is corny, but my dad and I would make up jokes like the following: What do you call one goose in Jamaica? Answer: Juan Guzman. (You’ve got to say it with a Jamaican accent)! It was funny at the time.
I remember in Simcoe, ON in a baseball house league I was pitching this one time and somehow I threw a miraculous pitch that acted like nothing I’d thrown before – I have no idea how I did that. It started way inside to a right-handed batter and it moved so wickedly to finish outside like a screwball or something. I was like “how did I do that?” I could never duplicate that pitch even though I tried many times.
This is kind of embarrassing because I was all-around a terrible hitter. I had never hit a real home run over an outfield fence, until this one time…with a hardball…in a softball park…with an aluminium bat. Regardless, my friends and I were just playing around trying to hit homers when my brother pitched me a ball that was up and in, and I put a nice hard, level swing on it. He must’ve thrown me 20+ balls already and I hit none out, so I had given up by this point. But somehow the ball hit the sweet spot of the bat and got some back spin on it. I was totally surprised and in awe of how effortless it was. It was my first real homer (hey, it went over the fence!) that I had ever hit. I was like, “holy crap, that’s what the sweet spot feels like.”
I remember playing baseball in Hagersville, ON one year then not being able to play again the following year. I think that letdown helped deepen my passion and want for the game further still even though it was a tough season of utter suckiness. I mean it sucked sitting on the bench because you’re not good enough. Regardless of this setback, baseball still had a grasp on me, and I wouldn’t relinquish it even after the ’94 strike.
My biased opinion is that this game and all its beauty must be considered the greatest game on Earth. Consider the fact that there are no time limits which dictates that baseball isn’t over until the last out in the 9th is made. Consider the individual battle between pitcher and batter despite it being a team sport. Consider the heart wrenching losses snatched from the hands of victory and the immense comebacks – something has to be said for momentum in baseball because it can change from a spectacular catch, a timely hit, a peculiar play, or a play not made. Consider the feeling of renewal and excitement that every team has each spring before it embarks on a 162 game marathon; fans are vying and hoping for a magical season. Consider the feeling of making a great play like Moolight Graham wished he did in the Field of Dreams when he wanted to stretch a single into a double and slide into the base while wrapping his hands around the bag. These things certainly put baseball in a class by itself.
So why am I such a stead-fast fan? I believe it’s from the personal connections I had as a youngster with my dad and family and friends; it’s from sharing a passion with like-minded individuals; it’s the special memories I had as a kid playing and the emotional bonds that this game has fashioned on me by watching the local home-town team, our Toronto Blue Jays, growing up.
So go get ‘em Jays. Here’s to breeding a new wave of fans in 2013.