Baseball

I love baseball.  I have loved baseball for twenty-five years.  I have loved baseball longer than I have loved any non-human being.  Baseball is the thing I go to when I’m bored.  Baseball interests me more than any other activity that I can think of, from the nuance to the overall grandiose nature of it.  Baseball is incredible and I will never stop loving it.

I first thought I wanted to be a writer in high school.  There were a few different tells that show it.  There was a writing assignment that I took great offense when a friend of mine got a better grade when I thought mine was way better as it was in my “wheel house.”  There was a project that was a large part of our grade and it was open to us to determine what we wanted to do.  Most people did some kind of technology-based project, I decided to try to write a novel.  It didn’t pan out like I wanted it to but it showed me what I was really interested in.

Another moment that led me to the idea I wanted to be a writer was a contest in the newspaper.  I don’t remember the exact details but I remember the contest was writing about what sports meant to you.  I had instantly had an idea flash through my mind of what I would write.  There were specifics and details.  The theme was laid out and all I needed to do was write it.

I didn’t though.  I was almost cripplingly shy as a teenager.  I had no self confidence.  I wanted to be a writer but I never thought I was any good and didn’t think it was even worth trying.  It didn’t stop me from loving the idea of entering the contest though.  Of course I should have, who cares if I didn’t win or get any recognition.  It would have been enough just to go through the motions, which still are a problem I struggle with today.  But baseball was at the root of my love for writing.  I didn’t know the in depth stats and positioning and details but I could write the fuck out of the feeling it gave me.

When I was 13 we went to a baseball game at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.  It was the first baseball game I remember going to, it might have been the first baseball game I ever went to.

Marlins vs Giants.  April 13th I believe.  1993.

I remember a few things distinctly and, according to baseball reference, this game most resembles what I remember.

The first thing I recall is the stadium.  Candlestick Park was never a jewel of a stadium.  It was big and ugly.  It was in the bad part of town that my dad had always said, “you have to drive full speed and ignore the stop lights if you want to make it out.”

But it was also beautiful.  Candlestick park was nestled up against Bayview Hill and had some of the most stunning views of the bay area you could ask for.  It had a wonderful walking trail out to Candlestick point, for which the park was named.  It also had a mystical legend behind the name that I’m not sure is true or I’m remembering it wrong but I like a little bit of myth in my reality.
The name Candlestick point has a few possible origins but my favorite is from the 19th century when abandoned ships were burned in the bay.  The flaming masts in the water resembled candlesticks as they sunk.
I remembered it slightly different though.  I remembered the flaming ships being the candles and the long point run of land at Candlestick point being the part of the stick holding the candles as they burned.  Either way it had a romanticism about it that I’d always loved.

Beyond the outside of the park and its beauty was the inside.  It was old and the seats were uncomfortable.  The wind howled and you could freeze on any night of the year no matter if it was April, September or July.  It didn’t matter to me though on that day walking into the stadium.  Moving through the dark tunnels into the light and seeing the grass for the first time.  How perfect it looked.  The diamond with the bases laid out.  The players on the field taking batting practice.  It was like an outdoor play and the actor’s were warming up.

The experience of a baseball game is perfect for a kid.  Sitting in the stadium and ordering food brought to your seat.  The vendors yelling up and down the aisles with a variety of treats and drinks and candy.  The game moving fast enough at any given moment to hold your attention but with breaks in between to allow you to take in the ambiance around you.  People say baseball is too slow, I think the speed is perfect.

Then there were the details of the actual game.  I don’t remember much but one of the exciting moments was a player in left field, Dave Martinez, leaping up against the wall to steal a home run from another player.  The entire stadium roared as a collective.  The feeling stuck with me and I can still feel it today.  Thousands upon thousands of people all cheering for the same outcome.  Everyone happy because of one moment in time.  It would become the basis of the contest article I would never end up writing.

That moment was the first of many that made me fall in love with baseball and subsequently the San Francisco Giants.  In 1994 there was a strike that ended the season early.  It did massive amounts of damage to the popularity of the game in so many different ways, but the only way that mattered to me was that it hurt my favorite player’s chance to break the most hallowed of all records; Roger Maris’ 61 home runs.
Matt Williams was a third baseman.  I played third base in little league.  Matt Williams was a power hitter and an amazing defender and even on a team with Barry Bonds, the greatest baseball player I have ever seen, Matt Williams was my favorite.
In 1994 he hit 43 home runs in 112 games.  That was a rate of one home run ever two-and-a-half games.  There should have been another 49 games played.  At that rate he would have hit another 19 home runs and broken Roger Maris’ home run record by 1.  It would have been the greatest spectacle in sports that year.

In 1995 on my 15th birthday I wanted two things, to go to my favorite restaurant and to go to a Giants game.  We went to Chevy’s and then went to a Giant’s game that night.  August 4th 1995.  SF Giants v LA Dodgers.  The biggest rivalry on the west coast, and most important to me.
The game started off in the best possible way with my favorite pitcher was on the mound, William VanLandingham.  Early on the Dodgers manager, and resident troll, Tommy Lasorda was thrown out of the game for arguing a call.  We were sitting next to some early 20’s Dodger fans and were heckling each other back and forth during the game.  Slowly as the game unfolded it got better and better.  My favorite pitcher hit a home run, one of four on the night.  The Giants beat the Dodgers 15-1.  It was the perfect birthday present.  By the end of the game the Dodger fans sitting next to us left in disgust and one threw his hat.  If I wasn’t hooked before that game I was after it.

The final nail in my lifetime allegiance to baseball and the Giants happened in 1997.  The Giants were battling the Dodgers for the NL West.  It was the end of the season and their record was tied.  This was the last time they would face each other with a little a week left in the season.  After jumping out to a 5-1 lead the Giants ended up losing it and having the game tied in the 7th.
In the tenth inning the Giants brought in their longtime closer, Rod Beck.  Beck was intimidating.  He would stare into the plate and let his right arm dangle towards the ground.  It would swing slowly back and forth, almost as if he were trying to hypnotize you.  His hypnosis wasn’t working when he entered though.  The first three players singled and the bases were loaded with no outs.  He mustered up the strength to blow some pitches through the strike zone and got the next batter to strike out looking.  On the first pitch to the next batter, Hall Of Famer Eddie Murray, Beck got him to hit a swinging bunt that was gobbled up and thrown for a 4-2-3 double play.  Inning over.  Crisis averted.
Onto the 12th inning.  I will remember this pitch, this hit and this call for the rest of my life.  It was the most exciting moment I had ever seen up to this point.  The Giants versus the Dodgers at the end of September.  The winner would be in first place and the loser would have a gut punch entering the final week of the season.  On the first pitch from the Dodger’s pitcher, the catcher Brian Johnson, hit a home run into the left field bleachers to win the game.  The stadium erupted.  I ran around the house screaming and cheering.  It’s bringing tears to my eyes now thinking about how excited I was.

The Giants would win the NL West that year.  They would lose in the playoffs to the eventual World Series Champions, The Florida Marlins.  The Florida Marlin’s player to make the winning hit that year was Edgar Renteria.  He was a 21 year old short stop that year and he won the World Series with a single to center field in the bottom of the 11th inning of Game 7, every baseball players dream.  It was the first World Series championship for the Florida Marlins.
13 years later Edgar Renteria would hit a three-run home run in Game 5 of the World Series.  He would be at the end of his playing career and now on the San Francisco Giants.  This home run would be the only runs the Giants scored as they won 3-1.  Over a decade apart Edgar Renteria would make the game winning hits in the World Series at the beginning and ending of his career.  These hits would give both teams their first World Series championships for their teams (The Giants won as the New York Giants but had never won in San Francisco).

There are so many little things that happen in baseball like that.

The heartwarming: Edgar Renteria being a hero on two World Series teams.  An iron man of baseball playing over 2000 consecutive games without missing one.

The mythical: The kid of a baseball player and god son of a baseball legend growing up to be the most feared baseball player to ever play.

The bizarre: A giant of a man throwing a baseball at ungodly speeds and just happening to hit a bird flying through the path between the pitcher and the catcher at the exact wrong moment.

The hilarious:  I can’t even describe it, just…watch and listen to Jon Miller’s perfectly hilarious call.

Baseball is a game that runs through the Spring then all Summer long and ends in the Fall.  People say it’s too long.  They say its too boring.  What they don’t get is that they are looking at it from a view from the top looking down.  They don’t get in and enjoy the silliness of it.  The majesty of it.  To sit down and just enjoy the details.
It can be boring at points, but all sports are.  All activities are.  There are boring things to every point but the excitement of a home run is just around the corner.  The tense situation of a runner on 2nd and 3rd with nobody out while down a run in the bottom of the 9th can happen any day.  There are so many things that can happen in baseball that I will keep falling in love with it every year it goes by.
Every spring is new for every team.  Some know quite early it just won’t be there year.  But other teams end up going through the season with ups and downs.  They squeak into the end of the year and torture their fans.  They have amazing games with thrills where you never thought they had a chance.  You leave to take your wife to get Subway because the game’s over, there is no way they’ll win but when you come back you find out that something bizarre happened and they did win.
An unsung hero emerges from a waiver wire pick up.  A bearded buffoon freezes a man that can hit a ball a mile and suddenly your team is in the World Series.  Your team is winning it a week later.  Then two years later they’re winning it again in an even more improbable season with a washed up pitcher who made millions and didn’t provide anything of value for years until he needed to.  A jolly kid of a man hitting two home runs against the hardest throwing pitcher at the time and then another off of another pitcher for good measure.  Then they do it again two years later.  A pitcher becomes an inhuman robot and annihilates the other team almost single-handed.

Baseball will always give you something.  It will surprise you and disappoint you.  It will punch you in the gut and make you hate it because it’s so ridiculous and random while, at the same time, be so routine you can claim one day out of every five, “Happy Timmy Day,” because your favorite pitcher is throwing and there’s a 90% chance he’s going to do something amazing.  A little wiry stick of a man blowing baseballs past behemoths with his rubber band like delivery.

I rambled because its what I do.  I could have kept going.  I could have delved in deeper to each moment and drawn them out with long descriptions.  I could have saved this for longer and tried to go back and piece it together to be perfect and worked on it over and over again so it shined.  But baseball isn’t perfect.  Nothing is, really.  Baseball is entertaining and thrilling.  Baseball is a bunch of moments strung together over a long, drawn out season that make you look back after its over and think, “damn that was fun.”  In that way baseball is a lot like life.  It’s long, it’s got ups and downs, and if you look at it from a top view it seems kind of pointless by the end of it.  But when you’re in it and experience the highs and the nuance and the bits and pieces that make it great then you know why you keep going.

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