Posted by: Mark | August 25, 2009

Why I Love the Game

I got into baseball for two reasons: Don DeLillo’s Underworld, and Johns Hopkins University.

Probably the two nerdiest reasons to get into baseball ever listed, I realize this, but it’s true. Let me explain. I’ve never really been a big sports fan. I love to play sports, almost obsessively so, but didn’t dwell on watching them. In fact, I still don’t. The only sport I really like watching is baseball.

One summer while living in Washington, DC, I picked up DeLillo’s masterpiece Underworld, and to my surprise and amazement, it opened with a scene from a baseball game, and I loved it. DeLillo is one helluvan American writer, and Underworld is an exploration of Americana through and through, and so I think it’s fitting to open with America’s past time. I’ve always loved it when a writer can actually write well about a sport, something that many writers attempt but very few accomplish. I can read lyrical, insightful, informed writing about surfing, skateboarding, baseball, football, etc until my eyes bleed, and DeLillo’s opening scene about baseball is at the top of the list. So from there, I knew I had to give the game a try.

baseballingrass

That summer I moved to Baltimore, and enrolled at the Johns Hopkins University to get my masters at night while teaching during the day. It was a tough year, and by the spring I was getting burned out. I needed some sort of occasional, momentary relief from the constant work grind that I was doing–prepping for school, studying and writing for my masters, coaching, and traveling to NYC to see my then-girlfriend, now-wife. And so I found myself casually putting the Orioles on TV to be the background to my busy life. I’d keep the volume low enough that it wasn’t bothersome, but loud enough that I’d know it when something exciting was going on. Starting that spring, and blossoming through the summer, I fell in love with watching baseball. First and foremost, I fell in love with the rhythm of the game. I loved its slowness, and how it seems to crest and fall like swells in the ocean, with long boring innings and then massive swoops of momentum, how patient you must be, how much there is to know about the game that you have no idea about, and how ingrained it is into the American consciousness. It was a beautiful backdrop to a bizarre summer. After school ended, I ended up working as camp counselor during the day, going to night class, and coming home to catch the last half of the game in my spartan apartment. (And I don’t use “spartan” lightly. I had a radical agenda to keep my electrical bill under $15/month, and to achieve that, one of the things I did was to not use the AC or the heat during my entire existence in Baltimore, and I succeeded. I’d sleep at night in the winter in sub 50’s in my apartment in full sweats, gloves, with the hood up and tied shut. In the summer my apartment would often register at being hotter than 90 degrees at night.)

And it was in that venue that I was baptized into the baseball world. I cannot claim any longevity in my appreciation for the game, I basically know nothing about baseball that hasn’t happened to either the Baltimore Orioles or the San Francisco Giants more than 5 years ago. But when I moved to San Francisco, it went from an enjoyable past time to a game I truly and deeply love. It’s been convenient that I live here with a team that has become so much more likeable since getting rid of Barry Bonds, with pitchers like Lincecum and Cain and hitters like Sandoval and Velez to just really rally behind. Truth be told though, I would have fallen for whatever local team I could watch regularly, and I will likely do that if re-locate throughout my life. But it worked out to be the #sfgiants, and so I’ll take them and love them as much as I can.

Tonight was a nice surprise: my wife ended up getting very, very, very good seats to the Giants game for free from her boss. She does not like baseball at all, but knows that I do, and so she snagged them and we ended up going to the game together. We live in the Outer Sunset, pretty much on the other side of the city from the ball park, and so I took MUNI down to about halfway to meet her after work. The plan was to jump on her Vespa from there, and head over to the park. When I got to her with the Vespa, I realized I had forgotten my helmet at home, so I had to run back down to the MUNI and just public transit it to the game. Of course, the one trolly that goes to the park was backlogged, so I jumped on a different train and got dropped off about a mile away, to jog the mile down to meet my wife and the tickets. And to remind you, the Giants are not exactly worth running to right now. They just lost a huge series to Colorado, miserably, with the last-game being so gut-wrenching that it’s hard to think about, and in doing so, likely ruined their chance at making it to the playoffs. As much as we all love to believe in the Cinderella, comeback story, we all know it’s true at the point in the season.

But anyway, I ran to the game because I love the game. I love walking out and seeing all the clear crisp open space that hovers over the field. I love seeing the players go through their indiosyncrasies. I love the cheers, and the hokey things they do on the JumboTron in between innings. (necessary interruption: at one ballgame in Baltimore, me and my friends were so likeably rowdy that we were featured on the JumboTron at three different occasions throughout the game.) I love bringing my glove, I love seeing beautiful girls who like baseball. (Sorry honey, but I do. I really do.) It’s just such a great game. At the park, we had a blast. We had some of the best seats I’ve ever enjoyed, about 14 rows behind home plate. We had hot dogs and hot chocolate, and talked to the dad behind us who was with his 2- and 4-year-old. We chuckled at the guys down the row who desperately, desperately wanted the girls nearby to flirt with them throughout the game, but instead the girls spent most of the game chatting it up with me and my wife. (Sorry, fellas.) And best of all, we had a great game to watch, with some excellent pitching, great plays, and an exciting homerun in the bottom of the eighth with a nail-biter of a finish in the top of the 9th to seal a Giants win. It was a fantastic night.

And so now it’s fully been disclosed. I love baseball, and I’m not ashamed of it. Baseball lets you be a little kid again, whether you’re at the park scrambling to get a foul ball, or are out throwing the ball around with a buddy, simulating throwing a guy out who is stealing second. Baseball reminds me of cold foggy nights in San Francisco and hot sweltering nights in Baltimore. It reminds me of the freedom and joy of summer. It reminds me of what’s good about America.

And I’m OK with that.

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Responses

  1. Loved that book. I couldn’t tell you a thing about that amazingly complex plot, ( I have a terrible memory with all the books I read) but as soon as you mentioned that opening scene I knew exactly what you were talking about.

    Although, it never did get me into baseball. I love a good day out at the park as the next guy, but doesn’t really excite me.

  2. Great story Mark. I forwarded it along to one of the SF Giants minority owners. Maybe he’ll hook us up with his seats one day.

    I too love the game for it’s slowness and for the extaordinary level of statistics available that allow you to analyse every single pitch with a different point of view.

    Finally, while it’s too late for both of us, baseball also makes for an excellent first date.

    PS..How very responsible of you to not ride the Vespa without a helmet.

  3. We had an intern even this summer and went to the Giants vs. the Pirates game. I love the panda. Go Sandoval!

  4. Harakabaraka is back and better than ever. This post on baseball is such a welcome, grateful sigh to mark the ending of a season.


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