Baseball: why I love that sport you find so so dull
As a kid, I wasn’t big on sports, but I played them. That’s what boys did in the ‘70s and ‘80s. I joined pee-wee football despite my diminutive stature; I was serviceable in soccer but participated more for the camaraderie with teammates. I was actually pretty good at tennis, simply because I did it a lot. My parents played in an indoor facility, a necessity in the land of Minnesota, where freezing temperature and snowstorms were common April occurrences. At first, I tagged along. Then I practiced with them. And practiced. And practiced. Every week in the months of October, November and December, I played. I got pretty good. As a 12-year-old I figured playing tennis was a way to avoid the label of “unathletic,” though that’s exactly what I was. I’d be in sports, be less of a pariah in junior high and high school — or at least less of a target for the ubiquitous jocks and assholes who populate virtually all American high schools.
Then, at the age of 13, I messed up my knee. I partially tore my anterior cruciate ligament and did some damage to all that cartilage. No amount of physical therapy could allow me to make hard cuts on the court again. My tennis playing days were over.
During my rehabilitation, I went to a baseball game. I was a skeptic. Wasn’t it the sport that required ten minutes of paint-drying tedium for every moment of excitement? Still, what else was I going to do? I watched the Minnesota Twins play. Their starting pitcher was 6-foot 8 Mike Smithson; he just looked awkward, like a string bean with limbs. When he did his running, he looked like he was in danger of stumbling. Then he got on the mound and tossed a shutout. I figured if a gangly guy like that could excel, baseball couldn’t be all bad — and it might just be for me, a kid who weighed 100 pounds dripping wet.
While my unstable knee couldn’t take the rigors of tennis, it could handle a baseball diamond. So I played. The game kept me active, made me feel like my body could still do something even though, from time to time, stepping off a curb caused my knee to buckle. I played baseball in high school before my knee completely fell apart my senior year.
I’ve been lucky enough to have baseball seep into my pores. And although I abhor billion-dollar owners seeking multi-million-dollar handouts, I can appreciate a baseball stadium. Just a few weeks ago, I drove down to Oakland with my friend John. I marveled as I walked from the concourse into the sun-lit field area. We ate Cracker Jacks, complained about our teams’ woes, and reflected on our career paths. We had some laughs. Amid our grousing, we realized we were both “glass-half-empty fans.” We watched the Oakland Athletics defeat my beloved Minnesota Twins. But attending a baseball game isn’t about what is observed. It’s about what is experienced.
All those years ago, watching Mike Smithson pitch, I experienced the possibilities that rests in a game for children. In a couple weeks, John and I are attending another baseball game. Another month, another baseball stadium, another door to the unexpected.
David Weinshilboum had the incredible luck of watching his beloved Minnesota Twins win two World Series titles. He is not optimistic about this year’s record-setting iteration of the Twinkies. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.