It’s high summer and according to my calculations we are approximately 40% through this year’s professional baseball season.Perhaps its un-American, but I have never been much of a baseball fan. Sports psychologist Rick Grieve from Western Kentucky University says that the main factor in becoming a fan is the socialization experience. He believes that people become fans through exposure to a sport through family and friends. Grieve also asserts that fathers play a key role, as children gravitate to the sports their fathers watch or play. I have always blamed my lack of interest in sports on my father, to whom sports were always highly suspect. I don’t think he could ever comprehend the value of working up a sweat, without actually performing some practical work. Why bother swinging a bat, when you could just as easily swing a shovel and get something useful done.
Another factor may be that any mention of baseball triggers a lot of traumatic memories of my dismal childhood baseball career. At school games, I was always one of the last kids picked for a team. It’s funny how other kids instinctually know who stinks at baseball. In elementary school it seemed like the better you were able to read, the worse you were at baseball. I, myself, was an outstanding reader.
The summer I turned eight I signed up for Sav-More Market’s new Little League team. I loved my new leather baseball glove and my red and white uniform, but I was constantly terrified of getting hit by the ball. I saw some of my friends hurt playing sports and it didn’t take very many protruding bones, busted lips, and broken noses to make me want to reconsider the whole baseball thing. Whenever the ball was thrown or hit to me, my first impulse was always to get out of the way. Likewise when I batted, I jumped about a foot back with every pitch, which didn’t make me much of batting threat. The coach threaten to put my feet in a bucket, to make me stay in the batter’s box.
I played outfield, although due to my frequent left-right confusion, I couldn’t say which one. I just ran out to the empty one. I liked playing deep in the outfield, since most of the time I didn’t have to worry about balls being hit that far. My attention would immediately wander from the action in the infield and I would spend most of my time fiddling with my hat, shoestrings, or staring at dandelions. In the unlikely event that a fly ball was actually hit into the outfield, the aggressive dyslexic in the adjacent field would usually run over, push me aside, and catch the ball.
One time all our team’s pitchers were either sick or injured and in desperation, the coaches gave me a try-out as a hurler. After a dozen or so wild throws, one of which hit an umpire, they banished me back to the outfield. I guess they finally decided that I was too dangerous to be allowed to pitch. We ended up forfeiting the game.
As the season progressed, our team started actually winning some games and I soon found myself sitting on the bench most of the time, which was just fine with me. I rationalized it to myself this way, “Cool uniform. Cool baseball glove. No pressure or yelling. And best of all, no fastballs upside the head”. I think our team finished third, but I hung up my cleats after that one season and decided that the summer was better spent bumming around on my bicycle.
After retiring from the game at the age of eight, I considered myself a veteran ballplayer and like everyone else in my neighborhood, an expert when it came to the St. Louis Cardinals. This is the closest I came to being a baseball fan and it only lasted a few years. It was all due to peer pressure, media hype, and the proximity of the Cardinals, just across the Mississippi River from where I lived. I was at Busch Memorial Stadium the day it opened in 1966 and was listening when Cardinal pitching ace Bob Gibson had 17 strikeouts during the first game of the 1968 World Series. I also leaned to despise our archrivals, the Chicago Cubs. While I pretended to like baseball to fit in with my peers, the only game I actually attended was miserable and as exciting as watching paint dry. Once I left the St. Louis area, my interest quickly waned.
Although I don’t follow major league baseball as an adult, I recently checked the standings and was annoyed to see the Cardinals trailing Cincinnati, in the central division. This is especially egregious since my son-in-law, Jeff, is such a rabid Cincinnati Reds fan. His family visited from Michigan recently and he went to three Reds games in a single weekend weekend. Jeff is also playing on a softball team at his work. That father influence seems to be at work, because this summer our four year old grandson is playing on a baseball team for the first time.
My wife Diane says that I was negligent with our own three boys, because I never took the time to teach them how to properly catch, throw, or hit. In my defense, I didn’t have very good skills or the knowledge to be a good coach. I did, however, work with our youngest son some, when he expressed interest in playing on a team. Although he seemed to have the hereditary Stawar fear of being hit by the ball, he did learn some of the basics and was adorable in his uniform. In order to be competitive in baseball, however, I think you have to grow up playing the game. Just being cute isn’t enough. I’m afraid I produced a bunch of dandelion gazing outfielders, like myself.
As for major league baseball today, all I can say is, “Congratulations to the Giants’ Matt Cain on his recent perfect game. I’m sure those lousy Reds are bound to fade in the stretch and at least those despicable Cubs are in the central division cellar, where they belong.”