Monday, April 18, 2005

Baseball Been Berry Berry Boring to Me

No one could ever accuse me of being unAmerican. I am the prototypical American in many ways. Besides being lazy and out of shape, I have a short attention span, an addiction to fast food, a love of technological gadgets, not to mention a blog. I speak only one language. My ethnic makeup is indeterminate.

No sir, no one could ever accuse me of being unAmerican. Joe McCarthy and Roy Cohn would take one look at me in front of congress and say, "Next," not wanting to embarrass themselves at how Capital-fuckin-'A' American I really am.

I love my mom. I love apple pie. I don't love baseball.

[The needle on the record skips] What did he say?!

Most of my friends think I'm insane, but baseball just isn't for me. For my entire life, baseball has been practically shoved down my throat, and I have roundly expectorated it at every turn.

My distaste for baseball has waned over the years. It has gone from a white-hot hatred to a slight dislike over the last few years. I have learned to accept baseball as a fact of life. Rather than rue it's arrival every April, I have learned to see it as a harbinger of better weather.

At first I thought it was the sport itself I hated. I thought the slowness of the game and its crazy, arcane rules were what bothered me. I thought it was the fact that most games take at least 3.5 hours, approximately 90% of which is batters stepping back from the batter's box to adjust their gloves, take a few practice swings and squint up into the stands. I thought it was ridiculous, arbitrary stats like the 40/40 club. I thought it was the way they compare players at the same position by batting average rather than defensive ability. I thought it was 162 games that mean a lot on the whole, but to me are meaningless on a day-to-day basis. But I realized that these are not what bothers me about baseball, it was just the rationale I used to counter baseball fans' arguments as to why it's so superior to football (which is my obsession as far as spectator sports go).

It turns out my reason for disliking baseball is actually three-fold, and none of them really have to do with the sport itself, but more with their fans. (Let me preface this by saying that all my friends like baseball. I mean every single one of them, I think. I love my friends very much, and this is not a reflection of how I feel about them specifically, but rather the sport they love so much.)

When I was still trying to find a sporting identity, I came upon baseball first. I think the first sporting event I ever watched was the game where Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb's all-time hits record. Baseball was just simple enough for me to follow, much moreso than football or basketball or hockey at the time, yet it didn't interest me all that much. I tried. Good lord how I tried to get into baseball. All my friends at school were huge baseball fans, would trade cards every day and talk about players of whom I had no knowledge. As much as I tried to use baseball as a way into a certain social circle, it made me realize I would never cotton to it like I did professional wrestling.

My late Uncle Jim, God bless 'im, tried his damnedest to get me into baseball, and anyone else he met for that matter. He was the singular most hopelessly devoted baseball fanatic I've ever known, no contest, no argument. Anyone who ever met him would never question is undying passion for the sport. He was an encyclopedia of baseball; he knew the history of the game as any person could be acquainted with any subject. Every year, he would send my siblings and I all sorts of baseball paraphernelia (usually of the Philadelphia Phillies, his favorite team). With my little brother, it stuck; to this day he is a psychotic Phillies fan, picking up the torch my uncle left when he passed away a few years ago.

Yet curiously, his passion pushed me away. I've always been someone who does not react well to being force-fed anything. If I feel for a second that something is being overhyped, my mind immediately shuts it out. I hate hype, and even though this was just an example of someone sharing his passion, I don't think I took it that way. Perhaps I latched onto pro football as a counterpoint to the universal acclaim baseball had reached in my household and with my extended family.

So while my entire family would gather together to go to games (even major league games in Philly) or watch the World Series, I would attend, and I would be tolerant. But I never became enamored with it. Instead, I would count the months until August when NFL training camps started and I could begin my (some would say unhealthy) obsession with American football.

Feeling as if baseball was being forced on me led to my second observation about baseball fans (as I saw it): they were living in the past. My rationale was this: when I would watch specials about football (I continually use football as a comparison as it's really the only sport I know a fig about), they would talk about modern players, recent games and latter-day teams. Football, it could be argued in my worldview of the time, was a sport for the contemporary fan.

When I would see a similar special on baseball, however, it always had to harken back to the days of yesteryear. The days of Al Kaline and Jamie Foxx and Warren Spahn and Bob Gibson and Don Drysdale and blah blah blah. Any special program on baseball would begin with a camera panning across an array of old baseball cards with the likes of Mickey Mantle or Sandy Koufax, a faded pennant from the 1950s, along with a litany of other yellowing, decaying relics from the past, usually with a voiceover saying "The Giants win the pennant!" or a video clip of Willie Mays making that over-the-shoulder catch baseball fans are so fond of revisiting.

(It's worth noting that since the era of the juiced-ball, er, the neo-classic era of baseball, this has become less common. Since the Wild Card and the outstanding playoff baseball of the last decade or so, baseball fans have had a lot more recent examples of great baseball to point to. This doesn't mean that every above-average play that happens is "one of the five greatest plays in the history of sports" as Tim Kurkjian might try to convince you, but it's a start.)

This looking to the past, combined with an overly sentimental attitude toward the merits of baseball by the likes of Bob Costas, George F. Will, Mike Lupica and every other two-bit writer who wants to wax poetic about America's Pastime, made me really hate baseball. Does every person who writes about baseball have to pontificate about it as if talking about religion? Is every moment of a baseball game a transcendent, life-altering event? Can the sport itself ever be described at face-value, rather than associated with one particular writer's adolescence or loss of innocence? I once read an article that compared baseball to "a quiet piece of poetry on a summer's day." I wanted to vomit. To me this was the kind of disingenuous hooey that drove me away from the sport like snakes from St. Patrick.

What is truly ironic to me is that I probably appreciate the sport itself right now more than I ever have. I understand what is great about it. Strategically, it is a brilliant game. As a pure sport, there is a lot to love about it. I could never love it for 4 hours, 162 times a year, but maybe a couple times a week for about 70 minutes at a time. Maybe this is why I have been very interested in playoff baseball over the last 3 or 4 seasons (and not just because the hated Yankees haven't won the big one in that span); because every play matters in the playoffs, which can't be said for the almost meaningless regular season. Everything is magnified in baseball's playoffs, showcasing everything that is truly great about the sport. (This is another reason I think the Wild Card is incredible for the sport, it gives us a whole 'nother round of meaningful baseball.)

I have gone through the worm-hole friends, from a place of pure contempt, to one of pure contentment. My own personal Kubler-Ross progression has landed me here. I no longer hate the sport of baseball, although I do hate much about the organizational structure of Major League Baseball as a corporation. I still don't watch baseball, although I do follow it and know enough about it to be somewhat knowledgable in a mixed conversation. Now, when baseball is on and I don't want to watch it, I try to concentrate on the things I like: being with friends, eating brats and dogs, drinking, making lists of things in my head, drinking. Just because I succumb to baseball for the sake of social adherence doesn't mean I have kowtowed to it, or that I have to pretend I like it. I'm going on a three-day whirlwind tour of baseball stadiums thoughout the East Coast (Philly, Washington DC and Baltimore). Does that make me a sellout?

Heh heh ... no. It just makes me someone who enjoys the company of drunken idiots. It's just a coincidence that those idiots are also baseball fans.


Current obsessions:

Music: Iron and Wine (still), MF Doom, Party Fun Action Committee, Rogue Wave, Melissa Auf Der Maur
TV: Arrested Development, Cheap Seats, Scrubs, The Office (lotta potential), The Perfect Upset (Georgetown vs. Villanova 1985)
Movies: Robots (surprisingly good), Vera Drake, Closer
Sports: NFL Draft this weekend


'Don' Cialini said...

You communist.

donna said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
donna said...

That's sad. You're sad. I'm sad I know you. And when I'm sad, I turn to baseball. It makes me happy. I love it.

Kathie said...

Like your title says, no on cares what you think.

bojangles said...

I hate things that are overhyped...let me go listen to RADIOHEAD on my IPOD whilst watching the OSCARS and AMERICAN IDOL. Oh, and don't forget 77 hours of NFL DRAFT coverage this weekend!

Toastie said...

Billy, I'm sorry but I have to disagree. Circle does not get the square. But I do like Radiohead.

d. dunford said...

Hey, you're still coming with us. That's cool.