Hey! It’s baseball season.
Here in Florida we’re bidding your teams farewell as they head home where they belong. The same is happening in Arizona. The games that don’t count are over. Minor-leaguers whose names you’ve never heard are on their way back to bush-league ballparks and bus rides. The veteran pitcher who hoped to catch on for one more year is headed home. He says he’s happy for more time with his family but down deep he’ll miss the game.
Spring training is over. It’s time to start keeping score.
But that’s only one small part of the Great American Pastime.
For five years, I worked as an usher for the Kansas City Royals, an adventure you can read about here. I learned that we baseball fans have more invested in our game than fans of other sports. Sure, football fans get hyped up every Sunday, but baseball… it’s different. One-hundred-and-sixty-two games. Day after day after day. Six months. The NBA season lasts as long, but has only half the games. Baseball fans grind out their season alongside their favorite players. Our highs aren’t as high, nor are our lows as low, but we’re fine with that.
Because we have the memories.
C’mon, admit it. You have them. It doesn’t matter what team you root for; whether they’re perennially good or usually terrible. You have memories. If we were sitting on my patio and I asked you to describe your favorite baseball memory, you’d likely have trouble coming up with just one. I posed this question dozens of times to Royals fans at the ballpark between 2011 and 2016. Some answered immediately. Others needed an inning to think about it. Most shared more than one memory - the first World Series in 1980, the World Champions of 1985, Freddie Patek roaming the middle of the diamond, George Brett’s batting crowns, Bo Jackson climbing the wall, the return to glory in 2014, the second championship in 2015. They also recalled the time they met a favorite player. Maybe it was beside the dugout before a game. More likely it was in the produce aisle at HyVee.
My favorite baseball memories are many and spread over forty-five years. They were born in 1972, the year I fell in love with the game, and continue unabated today. They are big and small and important and unimportant. And, in one long paragraph, here are just a few.
Learning to figure a batting average, my first major league game (Orioles vs. Tigers, 1972), my first favorite player (Johnny Oates), writing letters to players asking for their autographs and getting signed postcards in return, Strat-O-Matic baseball, my dad cutting his leg while trying to catch a foul ball in Philly, watching Carlton Fisk’s 1975 World Series homerun from the hospital, Eddie Murray’s rookie season, trying not to cry while watching the Orioles and Yankees play the night after Thurman Munson died in a plane crash, watching the 1977 World Series with my new college friends in Kentucky, spilling a plate of nachos trying to get out of the way of a Jack Clark homerun in Busch Stadium, Harry Carey yelling, ‘Cubs Win!’ My daughter, Alison finding a foul ball under her seat in the upper reaches of the ballpark where balls were never hit, Opening Day with my brother in 1999 (Kansas sang the National Anthem), any game I went to with my kids, having my son Cody call Robin from Kaufmann Stadium and somehow convincing her she was talking to George Brett when it was really me (she screamed), our family of six in the all-you-can-eat seats.
And of course, the memories from five years of great fans and co-workers at Kauffman Stadium could fill a book. Maybe another time.
So, as we race toward the 2017 baseball season, I’ll ask you… what are your favorite baseball memories? I hope you’ll share them below or on my Facebook page.
Take me out to the ballgame…
Take me out with the crowd…