When they had the strike that killed the World Series, and then the steroid thing, and all of that, I lost it on baseball like a lot of other people. For years I spent my summers just waiting for football to start up again. Spent the summers barely paying attention to the game. And if the teams that made it to the World Series were interesting maybe I'd watch then. Maybe. But that was it.
You know when I was 6 it was 1959 and of course that was the year the city of Chicago blew the air raid sirens on the night the Sox won the pennant in Cleveland. And I was big into baseball cards. Baseball cards were spread out on the front porch, divided up into teams, carefully rubber-banded, and if a guy was traded during the season he'd get moved to the right team. You'd trade your "doubles" for cards you didn't have and on some summer days you'd put the cards in order of the lineup in the newspaper. Then the first place team was put on top and so on.
There'd be pick-up games every day. Basically three or four guys on a side; pitcher's hands out, right field is foul. No walks. Yes strikeouts. We'd get a white rubber ball from Harold's candy store and march on over to the concrete school yard at St. Mary's and get into it. "I don't want Joey on my team." Etc...
In those days WGN did all the home games for both teams. The Cubs and Sox were never in town at the same time (they still schedule it that way) and whoever was in town the WGN crew with its cheesy video overlays and dorky Jack Brickhouse would call the game, capturing "baseball headlines as they are being made." WGN radio always started their broadcasts (Cubs) with this thing (don't spend a lot of time on that, it's really 50's schmaltz). So there was always a ball game.
My Dad played shortstop for Lane Tech and was in the same high school infield with Phil Cavaretta. My dad played short and I'm told he was scouted, but he had to drop out of school because of the Depression. Cavaretta went to the Hall of Fame. But my dad was raised in a tavern his father owned. So he knew all the bartenders in the neighborhood, and one gave him this Hamm's Beer scoreboard with turn dials for all the innings and teams, and the Hamm's bear with a baseball cap - the kind of thing they'd put up in locals taverns for decoration or something. And on summer days we weren't playing a game I'd have the ballgame on and keep diligent track of the inning-by-inning score so that I could show him when he got home.
Of course I played little league when we moved out of the city - and that was where I saw the first signs that maybe I'd be a better fan than a player. This was later confirmed my freshman year in high school. Couldn't hit a curve OR a fastball. So I joined the theater group instead. But baseball was always there.
As years went on the games were broadcast home and away on different channels And before I was married when I was working nights if they were playing in California I'd get home and just pray the Sox (or, okay, Cubs too) game was still on so I could catch a few innings. Yes, even stoned out of my mind. Toking up just got you more into the strategy of it, see?
I could hang on every pitch like a true denizen. Do you send the runner on 2 and 1 or wait for 3 and 1 when you know he's got to put one in there. 2 and 1 is a little surprise. Better be a good base stealer. I'd sit there like the manager - every pitch count meant a different turn of possibilities.
And this was what I lost when, as cynicism and out of whack salaries and cheating and the true story of the assholes who owned clubs came to light, and expansion seemed to dissipate the talent on the field. I let it spoil all that I had once. I let it creep into my psyche and destroy my heritage and a whole entire part of my childhood. Maybe the biggest part.
And now I'm back. I've been back since around 2000 but even then it wasn't like now. In 2000 i was just getting my feet wet again. Now I'm all in. If there's a game on I'm watching it. I catch a few innings of a game if they're playing a day game (Cubs or Sox, so shoot me) before I shlep in to work.
And I find that the people who also used to have baseball in their lives, and no longer do, are as bitter about it as I was - but something else too. They miss it. What's more they know they're missing it. I'm not talking about people who were never in to it, I'm talking about guys like myself who did nothing but baseball between the ages of 6 and 11 and then dropped it. They know they're missing something even if they can't put their finger on it.
And the funny thing is that baseball forgives. You show up at a game and it's like you never left. The players go about their business of setting themselves in the box, tugging their shirts, wiggling their pitching arm and all the while you're sitting there... "If he can't bend that curveball he's going to get popped." "One more in that spot and this guy's going to crush it." "I don't get why the outfield is shaded to the left so much on this guy. That's a tip-off they're going to keep the ball outside." "Well he's not a dead pull hitter." "The count's 2 and 1, do you send him?"