Admittedly, it wasn’t my first love. Hockey reigned, and in the early 90’s, Boston was a hockey town. Fans didn’t want to shell out hard earned dollars to watch Aaron Sele or Tim Naehring, the hot tickets were always courtesy of the Garden seating arrangement, where Cam Neely and Ray Bourque were entrenching themselves in as Boston icons. I wanted to be an NHL star, budding from my early days of “making hockey saves” by throwing a tennis ball off my bedroom wall and perfecting my reflexes to stop it from making its way past my defenses.
But then, baseball happened. I couldn’t play hockey, because it was too expensive. But baseball was cheap in Milton, apparently, and from the day I first donned my Kansas City Royals tee ball uniform, hockey and everything else went on the back burner. It began to encompass my life. I absentmindedly memorized the 1994 Sox roster- Damon Berryhill, anyone? I waited in line, hours wasted, in a forgotten department store for a Troy O’Leary autograph. The first grand slam I ever saw a Bostonian hit was delivered by the light stick of Bill Haselman. I used to get Jose Canseco confused with John Valentin, and have no idea why. I believed Dan Duquette when he said Clemens was “in the twilight of his career,” I rooted for Rudy Pemberton to garner more at bats, and I refused to change the channel in the 8th inning of a 15 run shellacking by the Bronx Bombers. Strike shortened seasons were absolutely devastating, crippling even… as if going four months without ball isn’t torture enough!
But it isn’t just the ball being thrown on a dime to the plate from center field, some leather being flashed at the hot corner, or a runner determined to steal home in a one run nail biter that I found so enamoring. In fact, I still can’t put my finger on what exactly it is that I love. Probably because there are too many factors to take into consideration whenever I try to determine why I truly can’t imagine an entire calendar year without America’s Pastime. But here are a few:
- The timeliness. In New England, spring training marks the unofficial end to seasonal depression, also known as “winter.” March arrives, the piles of snow pushed into empty parking lots are finally starting to deliquesce, and gorgeous weather is ahead. The clocks are finally being turned in the right direction, and if you’re lucky enough, you’ll catch a midsummers night game at the Fens with a perfect sunset backdrop, or maybe a Fall Classic under a dark sky and a sharp chill in the wind.
- The schedule. 162 games. Football is great and all, but 16 contests? Three hours a week of the Patriots doesn’t satiate my sporting desires. With baseball, it’s strange during the season to see your iPhone tick to 7:05 and a pitch not about to be thrown. I know 15 games in a row without a day off is grueling for the players, but it eases my mind knowing that whatever burdens I have can be cast aside for at least a few hours, every day, with the exception of a rare off day – one that surely will be spent bouncing between the MLB Network and WEEI.
- The professionalism. It’s only being exacerbated by the events Kaepernick set into motion last season (hope it was worth the unemployment, Colin).Will the players stand for the national anthem, or will they be suspended for beating their girlfriends up? Neither; this isn’t Roger Goodell’s NFL, this isn’t the NBA. Baseball is a sport played by professionals, not a bunch of thugs who think because they got paid out, run fast and hit hard, that they have a hall pass when it comes to their extracurricular activities. You won’t find Ron Artest jumping into the right field box seats to punch a fan in the face.
This isn’t to say the game is without flaws. The pace of play can turn away casual fans overnight, 40 years ago cocaine was dusting clubhouse floors, and although the steroid era was detrimental and deadly (see: Ken Caminiti), it sure as hell revived the sport. And it seems MLB leaned their lesson; juice the balls, not the players.
I don’t know about the rest of Sox Nation, but the next four months cannot go by fast enough. Albeit, the beauty of baseball in the New England area is a year round sport, and we’ve already dug our feet in for what looks like an exciting, transaction based offseason, as Dave Dombrowski and Alex Cora look to build and direct a roster towards a fourth World Series trophy in fourteen years. And if they fall short, fuck it, I’ll live. Baseball isn’t going anywhere.