First Love

22 Jul

the moment my love for a certain  Algerian was cemented.

the moment my love for a certain Algerian was cemented.

The first baseball game I ever went to was in the spring of 1989.
It was an Astros game at the Astrodome versus the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Some old school cats in that game. Had no idea I was seeing THE Barry Bonds, back then. I was in fourth grade and was more interested in this older gal Peggy, than in seeing Craig Biggio, Glenn Davis, and Bill Doran eek out a win.

She was kind of a fan, and her older sister was a big fan and they were both really kind to me, and somehow I became interested in baseball. Thus beginning a 15 year affair.

I started playing that following year and got my hand eye coordination good enough to play in a few all star games as a teenager before the pressures of high school sucked the joy out of playing (and sometimes living).

For a long time I hated my father for putting so much pressure on me to be a good player, and I grew to hate him even more for trashing my collection of baseball cards as a kid.

Recently though I realized he might have done me a favor. I used to view those cards as a gateway to my youth. Seeing the old cards of Cal Ripken Jr. Bob Tewksbury, or Lance Blankenship still bring about memories of riding my bike to the card shop and plopping down some moulah for the chance at a Darryl Strawberry in Dodgers uniform…….

but now…… not quite the same…….

two strike years lost, and a huge steroids scandal has jaded me a bit.

Finding out about the ‘roids made me feel like James Spader character in Sex, Lies, and Videotape, when he finds out the girl he had on a pedestal fucked his college buddy behind his back.

Names came up and more names came up and everything jsut kind of made sense. All the talk about juiced balls, and all the on the field, bench clearing brawls were suddenly put into a different context.

But in a way i’m like so what? How many of us are on performance enhancing drugs? I’m sitting here writing this blog (and about to work on a short story) with the help of two gigantic, 16 ounce Red Bulls.

So what if it takes years off my life? I have to get this stuff done. And maybe that was the thinking during the Steroids Era. Getting it done, putting up stats and being as good as possible while you still have the chance, because when your career is over, its over, and no one thinks about you because there will always be another player to eclipse your statistics.

So in a way I get it, but still, it takes a little of the luster off the game I had held in such high esteem.

I guess aging does that to you. You get a different sort of perspective on things, and players become people, fucking up like everyone else but having it appear in headlines everywhere.

Players die, players retire, players go bankrupt and get divorced.

I finally learned to seperate what a player does on the field with the off the field stuff.

True Lenny Dykstra had one of the most phenomenal post season runs I’ve ever seen (and should’ve won the ’93 MVP in my opinion), but does that make him a decent human being?

Even if there weren’t the scandals and the strike stuff, it seems inevitable that I’d outgrow the sport. The last world series I watched with any interest was the last one with the Yankees, in 2003 when they lost to the Florida Marlins.

Even back then my interest was waning. A friend of mine once remarked that baseball was too slow for him, and boring, and I told him I liked the pace of the game, that I found it relaxing.

But that changed. Maybe my life got more complicated and the pace of basketball and international soccer resonated more with me, or maybe baseball really did become boring.

I just noticed that going to the game and sitting still for three hours became harder and harder. Unless I went with a friend, I found myself falling asleep in my chairs, a bit too relaxed by the near silence of crowds, smell of chalk, grass, and roasted weiners and peanuts.

The days of visiting cities just to watch a game in their ballparks are over. Tickets are too expensive and I don’t know any of the players out there anymore.

New and exciting NBA players have won me over, and the intensity of international soccer draws me away from the stop and start of baseball and football.

Besides I can’t stand all the constant advertisements that bombard you inside and outside the stadium. All the parks are owned by banks, and billboards dominate the venues, it used to be a simple church organ between innings and a generic wall. Now every outfield is sponsored by TBS or Staples, or Taco Bell.

In 2006 I fell in love with a certain soccer player who reminded me of a certain hockey player I had a man crush on.

Zinedine Zidane took the French national team as far as it could go without winning. Displaying the characteristics of something I’d recognized. Armed with deft passing skills, a steely glance, and a champion’s cool, I found myself wrapped up in the ’06 World Cup, realizing that the intensity of the fan base was a major attraction to the sport.

No matter where I was, no matter the nationality of a person I came across while traveling, I found that soccer was an interesting starting point to engage a complete stranger (often foreign) in conversation.

That combined with countless hours of playing the FIFA video game with my roommates in Austin, got me to start tuning into UEFA Leagues and Champions Leagues and I’m a full fledged fan now, even if Zidane retired.

So it goes. Old relationships die, new ones start up, right?

I went to a Tulsa Drillers game tonight with teh kids and it was fun. I didn’t know a single player’s name, and didn’t care. I was just watching baseball. Didn’t care about stats or anything, just enjoying the fundamentals of executing a bunt, or a double steal, and witnessing the beauty of a 6-4-3 double play.

It was great. Tickets are cheaper at minor leauge games. Less frills between innings, better seats, less lines for cheaper concessions, and real fans.

The kids were ready to leave after six innings and I didn’t blame them, baseball is a slow and often boring game. Kind of like 1,000’s of people sitting down to watch a chess match (although I rather enjoy chess).

Its not for everyone and maybe not for me anymore, but I will always look back in fondness at certain players and moments I was lucky enough to witness.

I got to watch the two greatest World Series of my lifetime in 1991 (Twins-Braves Smoltz and Jack Morris 10 inning duel) and 2001 (Diamondbacks-Yankees 7 games extra inning affair as well).

I witnessed in person a perfect game thrown by Randy Johnson with a high school teammate in Atlanta in 2004.

I got to see Bo Jackson, George Brett, Matt Williams, Andre Dawson, David Cone, Nolan Ryan, Carlton Fisk, Roberto Alomar, Rickey Henderson and Dennis Eckersley play ball at one time or another.

I’ve been to Wrigley Field, Turner Field, Dodgers Stadium, Roylas Stadium, The Sky Dome, the Astrodome, Ballpark in Arlington. I’ve been on the field at Oakland Coliseum. I even took a plane to Pittsburgh to see the Pirates game. I was a huge fan of the sport.

I enjoyed just coming to the game and sitting for hours, watching and thinking, and talking ball.

And as much as I loved watching, I enjoyed playing even more. Just stepping across the chalk lines brought a smile to my face. I miss having teammates and having reasons to high five, and focusing on tendencies and stealing bases.

Had I known how much focus, and preparation went into being a good player, things may have been different for me. I wish I’d have known just how much of playing the game (and even living life) was mental.

I certainly regret not getting the most out of my ability. Its tough knowing that I wasn’t as good of a player as I could’ve been. I’m thirty years old now, and in what should be the peak of a player’s athletic conditioning and career.

I’d like to think I’d join another men’s league and play until I’m seventy like Bill “the Spaceman” Lee. And if not that then at least coach a bit. Who’s to say what will happen.

I can say that the only way you’ll catch me at a major league game is if someone I know is playing on a major league ballclub. Its refreshing to say that I have better things to do than to spend 30 dollars on a seat in a ballpark named after some corporation.

That’s too expensive of a nap. I’d rather just turn on the television and fall asleep on the couch.

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