It is April, and I love baseball.
For the most part, I can take or leave spectator sports. Football does nothing for me. I got burnt out on basketball being a bartender in Chicago in the late 90’s. I can appreciate hockey but it doesn’t grab me. Soccer players are incredible athletes but watching it is like watching paint dry. Golf…. don’t get me started. But baseball? I’m a freak for it. Not for the players and the dramas, and not for the endless stat-crunching, but purely for the game itself.
I am the only person I know whose favorite type of baseball game is the pitchers duel. Most people love the slugfest, the 14-11, four-homers-by-each-team kind of deal. Not me. Give me a nailbiter, a 0-0 game in the top of the 8th where a single mistake means the entire game. To me, everything interesting in baseball happens before the pitch is even thrown. It’s the mental game, the guessing and predicting, the contest of wills between hitter and batter. I love seeing an ace in top form, where every pitch hits the corners, where every swing is half-hearted or desperate.
But I am worse than a baseball fan. I am a Cub fan.
Not a Johnny-come-lately, Kris-Bryant-is-so-dreamy Cub fan. I remember watching Dave “King Kong” Kingman crush balls in the late ’70s. I remember Leon Durham booting a grounder in the NLDS in 1984. I remember Will Clark outdueling Mark Grace in 1989. I remember the pyrotechnics of 1998s home run race. More importantly, I remember 19 other seasons of pure misery between 1978 and 2000 where the Cubbies didn’t even make it to .500. After that, the 2000s seemed like a cornucopia, despite the heartbreak of the Bartman Incident (at which point I turned off my TV and walked away, already sure of how it would go. I was right). So yes, I am not THAT kind of Cub fan. Trust me, I dislike them as much as anyone.
But if there is one thing I love best about baseball, it is that it has for the most part avoided the arrogant showmanship that has marred most sports over the last 20 years. The few times that a player truly showboats, such as Jose Bautista’s Game 5 ALDS home run last year, there is genuine displeasure from both fans and commentators. There is something about the game that engenders an odd reverence from everyone that no other sport holds, especially when it comes to the past. Every fan knows those magical milestones that only the greats achieve: 500 hr, 300 wins, 3000 hits, 3000 Ks. Every fan knows about the Black Sox, the Curse of the Bambino, the Billy Goat. There is a depth to baseball’s past that no other sport possesses, and it gives the game a seriousness that is also unique. A seriousness I appreciate.
I could bore you with more, tell you about my vain hope for my favorite team this year, but I’m quite sure there are 300 other blogs out there saying the same. Instead I will just leave you with this, my little love letter to the one sport I truly love. Whether there is Joy in Mudville this year or not, that won’t change the fact that I still slow down when I pass Little League games to try to catch the score. It is, as my wife likes to say, my one concession to my testosterone.
I love baseball, and it is April. Time to watch the game.