The Loss Of Love For Baseball

Baseball is a poetic game. The bases are equidistant, yet the fences vary from ballpark to ballpark. Nine men play with specific skill sets for their positions. The runners are usually fast, and the game is normally slow.

The pace dictates an understanding. A loss can be redeemed tomorrow. A win remains worth a team-full of handshakes. A game-winning hit on the last play reduces teammates to children again. A pie in the face brings them back to grade school, a place where many long to be again.

Towering home runs and squirreling sliders represent terribly different things. Yet, both provide the same goosebumps. There’s enough history to make everything representative of something, enough statistics to forecast specific results, and enough mental fortitude to salute.

Sunday, my best friend’s nephew celebrated his ninth birthday. A baseball themed party for a kid who already lives, eats and breathes hardball. If there were any other way to worship it, he’d likely discover it. Years ago, my mitt went into the basement faster than the Marlins and my pants were thrown out like Shoeless Joe.

The explanation proved clear and simple enough to resemble a double play involving two older power hitters. My team’s first base coach – my father – died. It didn’t behoove me to go for two anymore. Instead of staying on first forever, the lights went out on the diamond. Despite more natural talent in baseball than basketball, I chose the latter. Into the corn I walked, destined to disappear forever.

It didn’t stop the love for the game. Still, my radio clock played AM broadcasts of games until sleep rolled in. Ken Burns’ documentary was seen many times. A trip to the old Yankee Stadium in 2008 to see Dan Giese pitch (how many people can say that?) classified as a spiritual experience. It took one step into the bleachers to know Babe didn’t build that stadium, God did.

In 2009, I caught nearly every inning of the Yanks’ season. Right down to the final pitch of the World Series. When it was over, a look back made me add up the time and realize I wasted it. It all took so much time. It all took so much slow time.

The performance enhancing drug busts didn’t make me turn my back. However, the realization that Barry Bonds became the scapegoat for all baseball’s misgivings helped. An unlikable character seemed perfect for the role of witch. All told, I could understand his rationale. I couldn’t understand Bud Selig.

It’s not difficult for me to admit, I still don’t understand him. I don’t understand an all-star game determining home field in the World Series. The idea of baseball’s sanctity being bigger than drug problems never made sense, either. When the Phillies and Rays were rained out in the middle of a series-clinching game – despite overwhelming evidence against throwing a first pitch – it didn’t befuddle as much as it seemed the norm.

There’s nothing about the game that makes me dislike it. When the first ball hit in the air my way came on Sunday, I instinctively moved the way I did as a child. It felt good. Just like riding a bike, except the bike in the store I used to gaze at with reverence is not worthy of a visit any longer.

October baseball is still worthy of my attention. Watching interleague games throughout a 162-game season isn’t. Robinson Cano’s gliding swing or quick turn for two makes me smile. Four pitching changes in the final two innings make me mad.

Perhaps to be a baseball fan, you must embrace the imperfections. In a way, it’s what makes the game perfect to some rawhide aficionados. Those imperfections aren’t as bad as they seem. For someone who stepped away from the game, they only provide fodder – but not significant reason.

I remember a time when I could grip the ball and throw it. The pop of the glove took me to a place where I knew I was meant to be. There, you could act out your favorite player’s stance. A double play could be worthy of a celebration.

At the end of the game, as the sun slowly faded in the horizon, you shook on it. Hot dogs, popcorn, water and seeds, the American pastime never disappointed.

There’s still something poetic about baseball, whether it’s a tragedy in the way the game’s run and mismanaged or a ballad about simple things that exist the same way now as they did when Ruth and Gehrig played.

It could be that the stanzas are meant to be dreamt of as a child, or read with understanding as an elder. The bat still cracks. The ball still rolls. The gloves still pop the way they always did. When the home run sails over the fence and the slider dances into oblivion, the bumps still tingle up and down the arms.

Nine-year-olds love baseball. My old man loved baseball. I loved baseball. But, I don’t really love professional baseball anymore. That love is a pastime.

Maybe I just don’t enjoy poetry anymore.

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