There is really no reason for me to be a baseball fan. So many of us “inherit” our love of this wonderful game from older generations – we spend afternoons with Dad or Grandpa watching a game, and we begin to understand it, and have our own favorite team and favorite players. It’s one of my favorite things about this sport – seeing older generations teach younger generations how the game was “in their day.”
Each generation witnesses their own moment in baseball history that will never be seen by a future generation. When our kids or grandkids are old enough to appreciate baseball, it will be a different game from what we experienced, and from what our parents and grandparents experienced before us. When legendary players are gone and historic games are over, there is nothing left but the stories. You’ll hear about it on TV or in books, but it’s all the more special and real if you know someone who saw it with their very own eyes.
I never had this early exposure to professional baseball – my love for the game developed much more randomly (not that I appreciate it any less). Growing up outside of Cleveland, the only baseball I was exposed to were the Indians – and in my youngest days, they were the laughingstock of professional baseball. Still, there was no talk about “the good old days” – and there were many good times in the franchise before the abysmal 1960’s through early 90’s. I never heard my Grampa talk about Bob Feller, or the World Series of 1948 or 1954, and I never heard my dad talk about Cleveland’s first Cy Young Award winner (Gaylord Perry, 1972) – or wonder “what if” George Steinbrenner had successfully bought the Indians when he tried to in 1972 (his offer was rejected; he went on to buy the Yankees and the rest is history). If anyone in my family was paying attention to what the Indians were doing, it wasn’t interesting or important enough for anyone to talk about.
The earliest baseball memory I have is knowing my oldest cousin (11 years older than me) played baseball, and that he once went to an Indians game and met Bobby Bonds, who was on the team that year (1979). Even though I did not appreciate the significance of that story for many years and my cousin and I have not been in contact for most of our lives, it laid the groundwork for what was to come.
I don’t remember ever formally learning about baseball, and at the same time I can’t remember a time when I didn’t understand the game. For many years in school, I played softball. When my mom referred to it as “baseball,” I would respond with a speech about the differences in the two games, and how baseball was better. (Why did girls have to play softball? Why couldn’t we throw overhand and play real baseball?)
If I hadn’t seen my cousin so excited for baseball, I may have never developed an interest in the game or understood it like I do. He never sat down and talked baseball with me, so I did not learn anything from him directly, but it must have been just enough to spark my interest.
The Indians turned things around in the 1990’s after a 30 year slump. By 1995, Cleveland was back in the World Series, and my heart broke with every other Clevelander when we lost to the Atlanta Braves. In 1997 I attentively watched Cleveland host the All Star Game at the new Jacobs Field (now Progressive Field). My best friend was at the game and told me to watch at home in case she was on TV. Of course she wasn’t, but from that night on I was hooked. For the rest of the 1997 season and all of the 1998 season, I watched every single Indians game I could. From that developed a general appreciation of the game, and of it’s players, and of three particular teams.
Most of the time, being a baseball fan feels like being on a lonely island: there was no one here before me to share stories of the great games and players they saw in their day. There’s only me and what I’ve witnessed in baseball history during my lifetime. I don’t have children yet, but I look forward to someday sharing my passion for baseball and all the stories I have. Until then, I get my stories where I can: A cousin who met Bobby Bonds. A friend who met Cal Ripken, Jr. A patient who played catch with Babe Ruth as a child (true story).
And if you’re wondering about my cousin and I, we’ll never be close – but I did reach out to him, the first contact we’ve had in almost a year and a half:
I was just thinking about how I became a baseball fan since no one in my immediate family is. I realized that if I hadn’t seen you into baseball when I was a kid, I might have never gotten interested in it myself. I know that is *really* random, but I guess I just wanted to say thanks…30 years later! lol
Thanks Jess! That means a lot!