Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Rekindling an old flame

Sunday morning I flipped on the radio and caught the opening strums of "A Dying Cubs Fan's Last Request." One of the truly great baseball songs. I can exile myself from the sport, but it will always be a part of me, and I think it's time for me to allow myself to love it again.

I took last year off to protest the A's plans to move to Fremont -- to a location that BART does not reach. Also because they traded Marco Scutaro. Billy Beane keeps trading my favorites, and I was just tired of it.

My love of baseball is both recent and inevitable. Being from Cleveland, I grew up a football fan. But in 1995 the Browns were stolen and taken to Baltimore, so I boycotted football. I was in a job where I was working late, waiting for the traffic to clear and crunching numbers, so I turned on the radio, and out came baseball. Ernie Harwell calling the Yankees-Mariners wild card series. What an introduction to the game! I didn't know from Ernie Harwell or any players, but that was a series for the ages, and I was riveted. What a privilege to have had that as my introduction to the game.

The next year, I went to the Indians games when they visited Oakland, and I discovered the joy of live baseball. I went to more A's games, eventually switching my primary allegiance to the boys I could see every day. I got to see the A's in the McGwire-Giambi era, the Hudson-Mulder-Zito era. I took pride in my own #15 hockey jersey number because it was the same number that Hudson wore. (I think I had an option for #75, but I thought it was too fawning and flashy.) Zito's hammer curve was the sexiest thing in baseball. I have my scorecard from his first major league game, when he struck out the heart of the Angels order after loading the bases. Someday, I will get him to sign it for me.

I've been on the Jumbotron doing the macarena. I almost caught a Giambi pop foul that was coming right at me, but I freaked out and ducked. I've been to the All-Star Game (in Cleveland), where I ran into a very youthful Alex Rodriguez in the airport and took my picture with him. I saw McGwire hit the Budweiser sign at Jacob's Field with a home run, about which catcher Sandy Alomar said that if the sign hadn't been there the ball would have gone around the world and hit Sandy in the back of the head.

I have yet to score a perfect game or even a no-hitter, but I've scored a lot of games that have come close. I sat mezzanine-level behind home plate at the A's-Braves interleague game when Hudson got to compete against his idol, Greg Maddux. The ground-ball-fest was all it promised to be. Ground ball outs: my favorite part of the game.

I love baseball because you can look around the ballpark and see that women of all ages are fans. My great-grandmother was a Cubs fan, and she used to go to Ladies' Day. My grandmother was a Cubs fan; later, having moved north with my grandfather, she became a Milwaukee Braves fan. My grandfather went to New York to watch the Braves (featuring a young Hank Aaron) open against the Yankees in the 1957 World Series (which the Braves won). When the Braves left for Atlanta, they became Milwaukee Brewers fans. My grandfather wanted to be buried in the cemetary across from Milwaukee County Stadium so he could keep an eye on his boys. When the White Sox won the World Series in 2005, my grandmother was happy because at least some Chicago team had won.

Last summer, I went to my first Cubs game. With my friend, D., we looked to buy tickets from a scalper and were approached by a guy selling bleacher seats at face value. A virtual miracle, apparently. So I sat in the right field bleachers on a warm summer night, drank beer and had a hot dog, and hung out with Cubs fans. While I'm entirely certain that my great-grandmother never sat in the bleachers (my imagination won't deny her the beer and the dog, though), it was like returning to the mother ship.

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