Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Dread the end

So we've reached Game Six. 

I think most of us are rooting for Game Seven.  That’s all I wanted to see. Come 2015, I’ll probably have forgotten half the Royals lineup, these overachievers, given that I rarely see them play and that I’ll be focused on the Reds and Nats. We’ll all be back to rooting for our teams so rudely excluded from October by misfortune or incompetence.

It’s going to be a long winter. It always is. November. December. January. February. No baseball. Cold, colder, coldest, cold cold cold…we’ll descend into winter’s darkness, a condition probably brought about by no baseball. The color will be drained from the world, the life, the warmth, all gone. Ballparks will stand empty, desolate. Our souls will hibernate. Are there diversions? Sure - hockey, football, Christmas - but no crack of the bat, no thump of a fastball, no verdant diamond or little white sphere or collective breath holding as a ball sails towards a fence. Eventually, baseball will bloom, but when it’s absent, it feels like it will never return. January is the longest month. Winter is the longest season.

Grab it now, embrace it, this Game Six. Grab it so tightly that a Game Seven comes. Because come Thursday, baseball is gone.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Marry us, baseball

Chris and I watched Game 2 the other night at the usual bar. Half price drafts made for a guilt-free beer event. The bar was full but not crowded, and we had seats in the front row.

I'm noticing something.

Several years ago, it was a struggle just to get the playoffs or World Series on. You often had to ask to get a screen turned from some talking head moving his mouth on mute. Forget it if it were Sunday - the football behemoth swallowed everything. That's how I came to dislike football. (That, and the fact that so many of the players are wife beaters and criminals.) I hated Sundays - hid from Sundays - and rooted for the cancellation of the NFL season when that was a possibility, because football usurped attention from baseball.

But the postseason is on now, no asking necessary. Even a screen or two is tuned in when a game falls on a Sunday. What's more, people are watching. Not just the KC or SF expats gathering to watch their teams from half a world away, but others, too, people enjoying baseball. And they're talking about it when the games aren't on. Water cooler stuff. The bar was full of people who wanted to be there to watch baseball, who were rooting for teams that were not their own, who groaned when players erred or umps couldn't keep a consistent strikezone.

DC is hardly a controlled lab for baseball fandom experiments, given that baseball was absent for so long. The increased general interest in the city where I've lived for a dozen years could be a result of a decade of growing interest in the local team. But I look at the numbers from around the country, the increasing attendance, the dominance of television ratings in most markets, the online jabber from fans of every team everywhere, and I have to think the physical observations I've made are not simply the result of Washingtonians learning to love baseball because they have a good team now, but are part of a growing phenomenon of Americans falling in love with America's pastime again.

I only hope it's true.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

World Serious

This article on Fay Vincent jolted my memory of the 1989 World Series and baseball Before The Strike. It included video footage of the ABC broadcast with Al Michaels and Tim McCarver.

I watched the video with curiosity, wondering if the broadcast in my memory was how it really had happened. The human memory is a funny thing, faulty, warped with time and colored by the bias of our experiences, but I swore that what I remembered about this particular moment in history was right, so I hit play.

It was exactly as I had remembered it.

I was in seventh grade when it happened, that massive quake, the shifting tectonics, the collapse of bridges, the death, destruction, and postponement of the World Series. My mother was hosting a Home Interiors party in our Englewood apartment, so I was allowed to move a small television into my bedroom to watch the game, which added to my enthusiasm for the event. (Why she decided to host an HI party during a World Series game is something I can't answer. Haha.)

I loved that Oakland A's team. I can still recall the players as if they were on a current roster - The Bash Brothers, Rickey, Dave Henderson, Carney Lansford, Terry Steinback, Mike Gallego, Walt Weiss, Stan Javier, an aged Dave Parker, Dave Stewart, Bob Welsh (RIP), Eck...I had asked for and received an A's hat, one of the mesh variety, that I wore everywhere that summer. The highlight of the season was a trip to Cleveland with my grandparents where we and about five thousand other people watched the A's play the Indians in Memorial Stadium, which was anything but memorable. The A's lost, but they were already well on their way to the fall classic.

I don't remember if I was wearing my A's hat when I ran out of my bedroom and announced to the party that San Francisco had just had a major earthquake. I probably sounded like I was announcing the end of the world. The quake had quite an effect on me - for weeks I cut out every article about it that I found in the Dayton Daily News or whatever magazine happened to come my way and pasted it into a spiral notebook. I read about some of the people who had died and others who had gotten off the bridge just in time, the BABIP of life. I read about collapsed buildings and those that had burned to the ground and those that had staved off damage, including Candlestick. And I read every tidbit about the World Series, wondering, as did everyone, if it would be cancelled.

It wasn't, and San Francisco survived, but at the time, I didn't think it would. I was just becoming cognizant of the world at that age; the quake seemed like the worst thing that had ever happened because I had seen it happen. It was real. Other disasters I had read about were just passages in history books. That moment when Al Michaels realized what was going on was surreal, scary, even, and the effect was such that I have formed a perfect memory of the moment.

What are the chances that a quake like that would happen when both area teams were about to play in the World Series? Think about it. Quakes are rare as it is. There were 26 teams at the time; that those two were meeting for only the second time in franchise history makes it even weirder. And at that time, too, before they started the game rather than in the middle of it. I mean, what are the chances?

Turns out, experts say that the having the World Series in the Bay Area may have saved lives, that people had stayed home to watch the game and weren't out on the roads. The Series, when it resumed, had a healing power, too, as baseball is wont to do, as if baseball were a divine game. For a twelve year old kid in Southwest Ohio, the resumption showed that life goes on after disasters, that repairs are made, people healed, and this, too, shall pass.

Monday, October 13, 2014

And his friends, family, neighbors, and strangers as well...

This is the story of Chris, age 53, Washington Nationals fan.

Chris is a townie. I'm not sure I had ever befriended a native Washingtonian before I met him. I had called Washington, DC a transient town, where people whose home states had nothing to offer them came to live, work, and increase the cost of living, but Chris grew up in Rockville, Maryland and I was suddenly thrown into a world where everyone was from this area. (We can get into semantics about who is allowed to be called a Washingtonian, arguing over whether or not the suburbs and exurbs count, but Chris has lived or worked in DC for most of his adult life, so the term suits.)

This Italian-Irish family with ten children were a family of sports and music. Baseball was important; they were Senators fans, with Chris coming into this world in the first year of the expansion version, the one that saw none of the stars who would win more often than not in the vast expanse of Minnesota and the Ice Palace. No, this was the new version, another awful rendition of a baseball team for the annuls of Washington's less than stellar baseball history. Frank Howard was perhaps the lone saving grace of the short-lived Washington redux, that massive man who hit the massive home runs and had a massive effect on a loud-mouthed kid from Rockville. That kid saw his first Major League home run fly off the bat of that man who hit moonshots to the upper echelons of the Washington stratosphere, his spaceman feats still marked by faded white paint within the confines of the aged Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy Stadium.

Ten year old Chris lost his baseball team, too, but none came to replace it.

But this was a family of baseball fans, and there was another team slightly further away, a team that had just defeated the infant Big Red Machine in the 1970 World Series, and their allegiance migrated to the Baltimore Orioles, themselves having broken the hearts of kids in the swampy-aired town of Saint Louis, Missouri by moving away. This was the team of Brooks and Jim and Boog and later Cal and Eddie and Robbie for a spell. That was their baseball team then. That was Washington's team. There were some pennants and World Series and division wins over the years. Hall of Famers passed through. A streak made history. An Orioles team store was located on Farragut Square downtown DC. This was Birdland, too.

This is the story of Chris, age 53, native Washingtonian and Baltimore Orioles fan.

Chris has this joke he made up long before the Nationals came into existence. "Don't blame Angelos - he's doing asbestos he can." Angelos has always been a Grade A Jerk. He ran that storied franchise into the ground to garner sympathy for losing part of his market, and Orioles fans never deserved it. As a fan of a Reds team whose past ownership also ran a franchise into the ground, I know exactly how it felt to be an O's fans in those years of losing. We were losing, too. At the same time. Frankly, it sucked. Peter Angelos is something O's fans have to endure - something baseball fans have to endure, and they are not to blame.

Chris and his family became Nationals fans upon the team's immigration to America, as many Senators-turned-Orioles fans did. That ten year old boy was in his forties then; he had endured. He had survived the turmoil and the heartbreak of losing his favorite team to the adult realities of greed and indifference. He had been an Orioles fan and he had loved that team as his own. There were many like him. Had the Orioles not been so awful for the previous half decade plus, perhaps it would have been more difficult for some people who'd been watching the O's for decades to switch allegiance to the Nats. But the baseball fans in Washington, DC had something new to spice up that losing, something that should have been there all along, a baseball team in the capital of the nation, and they were playing in the Senators' old stomping grounds where so many childhood memories had been made and so many kids had learned the joys of a game called baseball. Three words couldn't have had more meaning: Baseball is back.

I had arrived to Washington by that time, frequenting those grounds, perhaps at the same time as some of those Italian-Irish folks from Rockville long before they had entered my life and I had entered theirs. Boy, were those days fun. It was baseball, that's all it was. No look-at-me-fly-by-night members of the Washington ego class, no Johnny-come-lately bandwagoners, just people who loved the game. That the team played well for much of the first season was a bonus, and you know Angelos was cursing every time he heard about another Nationals win. The baseball blogosphere was fun, too, back before social media rendered the world incapable of reading more than 140 characters at a time. Blogs like Oleanders and Morning Glories, Distinguished Senators, and Capitol Punishment were part of my daily reads. Granted, there wasn't much to cheer about, but it was baseball, and that's all that mattered.

The winning in recent years by both of the BWI teams has made for an interesting baseball atmosphere. As a baseball fan, I couldn't dream of a better postseason environment than having not one, but TWO area teams in the playoffs, despite the uninspiring season had by my beloved Reds. I revel in the fact that I get two baseball games on television every night, that local bars will put both of them on, that there are fans of both riding on the same trains and walking the same streets. It's a baseball fan's paradise. And it's unique. It's not like Chicago, where both teams have basically been around since the baseball hour glass began. It's not like New York, which saw two of its storied franchises divorce the East Coast and move in with California. It's not like LA, whose teams have so much concrete between them that they might as well be in different time zones. The Baltimore-Washington situation most closely resembles the Bay Area, especially in its white collar-blue collar divide. But it's not really that close, as both Bay Area franchises have been around for an eternity, and even in their current incarnations, they both have a lot of winning in their histories. Baltimore baseball is simply part of Washington baseball, whether new fans like it or not.

This is the story of Chris, age 10, Washington Senators fan.

When Major League Baseball wanted to relocate Les Expos to the capital of the nation that invented - or at least perfected - baseball, the MLB powers that be let Angelos bully them into a sweet deal for himself. Allen Drank-too-much-Bud Selig, owner's best friend, handed Angelos control over Nats television rights. The issue is a mess right now, as most baseball fans know, and the Orioles owe the Nationals $300 million. But this has not impoverished the Nationals, as some fans would lead you to believe. It's as if these Nats fans think that Peter Angelos is the reason the Nats didn't advance to the NLCS. If the Nats were short anything this season, it's because the Lerners are cheap bastards who would rather let a local university pay to keep Metro open late during the playoffs than fork over the money themselves, not because they couldn't afford to pay for impact players. Did Angelos try to block the move to Washington? Of course. Any businessman would take measures to protect himself from competition. That's capitalism. It is the ugly side of baseball, the corporate side, and it breaks hearts sometimes more than the game itself. It broke ten-year-old Chris's heart when his team left - it broke the hearts of so many in the Washington area. I'm sure my great great great grandfather was heartbroken when George and Harry Wright moved the first professional baseball team from Cincinnati to Boston in 1870. Professional baseball has always been a business first.

But baseball did come back to Washington, and Chris, the Senators fan, became a Nationals fan. You know what? He still has an Orioles shirt. You know what else? He's rooting hard for the Baltimore Orioles, because he was once an O's fan, because he is still an O's fan, because he is a baseball fan.

The twenty-somethings new to baseball and a few disgruntled others would have you believe that all of Washington is rooting against the Orioles. It simply isn't true. Baseball has existed in its professional form since 1869, when that other set of Wright Brothers took the field in Cincinnati, Ohio. Baseball did not begin in 2005, not even in Washington, DC. In fact, there is a long tradition of baseball here, and that, for three decades, at least, includes the Baltimore Orioles.

This is the story of Chris, age 53, baseball fan.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

A Baseball Story

It was dilemma.

What a start time, 5:30 on a Thursday, the time when most of the people that live in the faded cities of Baltimore and Detroit go home from work. Why did baseball schedule the best matchup in the LCS at such an hour when the second game doesn't start until 9pm? (One could argue that the Taint Louis-LAD matchup is better. I prefer to disregard that scarlet bird team although if I face reality I know it's probably true.) (Before I get too far, I must say this. I like the Tigers. I have since I was exposed to them in 1984. Read about it if you want.)

I have fallen in love with this Orioles team.

I've had an affinity for the O's since...well, I was going to say 2003 when I first moved to Washington and that was the Major League Baseball team near here, but I have an Orioles hat that I bought in 1996, the year after my Reds were so rudely dispelled from the NLCS by the hated Barves, a year when I needed a team to root for in the post season to get over yet another disappointment. That was the Jeffrey Maier Year, the one in which a tenth man, er, boy, changed everything, or at least it seemed that way, judging from the wild hand gestures of an irate future Hall of Famer. I did like that team. I did like the idea of the Orioles, and I don't know why I felt connected to them. I remember as a kid getting Orioles baseball cards - the 1987 Topps set stands out - and not understanding what or where "Baltimore" was or why it was a city or why it had a baseball team. I'm not sure I even knew what state it was in. It was a weird word, all the way over there on the "East Coast," and it sounded more like a foreign country than anything American. Even when I took my first trip to Washington - during my sophomore year in college - the entire state of Maryland seemed like a fake place, a place that only existed in primary school social studies textbooks when you were learning the capitals and had to know of a city called "Annapolis." It was October 1996, and I said aloud to other people on the trip, "I've never been to New England before!" as we entered the state of Maryland. I was promptly corrected by a girl from Connecticut.

But...I knew of the Baltimore baseball team, and I knew it was a good one once, and I knew they had "stolen" Frank Robinson (I'd later learn the harsh truth about his departure and the worst trade in baseball history even to this day, but, you know, innocence and all. Milt Pappas? Annie Savoy was right.) I knew that they had beaten the Reds in the '70 World Series during the infancy of the Big Red Machine, and I remember being kind of mad at them about that. I respected the franchise even though I suppose I thought it existed in space, just floating there above the "East Coast." It's funny to think about now, but aren't all the things you thought when you were a kid? I once had a Jim Palmer baseball card, a card from his twilight years when the underwear commercials had dried up and he was still pretending he was young enough to pitch, and I remember when my mother saw it and told me he had been a great pitcher and I knew it was true from the look of him on the card. I think he had retired by the time I acquired it so I couldn't even watch him pitch.

Though there was such thing as the "world wide web" in 1996, I don't remember Major League Baseball having a website that year. I had a subscription to the literally made-of-paper New York Times and I remember a picture of some Serbian kids on the front page and instead of thinking about why they were protesting, I was fascinated by the fact that one of them was wearing a New York Yankees hat. I think it was the first time I truly understood the phenomenon called "globalization" and to this day I remember that picture. I also corrected a guy in class after the professor asked what the big deal was about the Yankees being in the playoffs because the student had given the incorrect date of the last time, which was a glorious 14 years, though I didn't think it glorious then. It was a great series with the Orioles and it stands out in my mind more than most, but I never would have guessed that I would one day have a direct connection to the Baltimore Orioles or Maryland or that I'd learn how to eat crabs and Old Bay.

When I packed up my car in 2003 and drove it across the country to start a new life in our nation's capital, Spring Training was underway and almost over and our Holy Opening Day was approaching. I had spent the previous two baseball seasons rooting for Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants (when the Reds weren't playing them,) having lived in Monterey, California, but I was a baseball fan, and I had no problem driving up to Baltimore several times that summer and the next. That Orioles hat came in handy. The team wasn't particularly good either of those first two seasons or several after that, and the most exciting thing to watch was Rafael Palmero's homers. That was in 2004, before steroids ruined the idea of him.

The Nats arrived in 2005, and though I still drove up to Baltimore a few times that summer, it was AWESOME to be able to get on a train and go to a ballpark, a dream, really. It was the first time in my life that it was so easy to see baseball, having grown up near Dayton (45 minutes from Cincinnati) and in Sidney (1.5 hours from Cincy.) I still watched the Orioles when they didn't interfere with the Reds and Nats games, but I got away from them a bit. My visits dwindled to once or twice a year, then none at all, and I only watched when one or two or both of the others had an off day or game time was different.

The 2005 Nats team was fun until they fell off a cliff that August. I even rooted against the Reds when they came to town late that season, as their season had ended long before and the Nats were still clinging to wild card hopes, albeit desperately. That was tough. So was putting up with all the losing for the next many years. But I still went, and I still cheered, and I still was considered one of those in the Nats inner circle of fandom as an early adopter of the team. I was given a season ticket package from my family as a 30th birthday present in 2007; the stadium was so empty most of the time that I moved from my seats in the upper deck to somewhere closer to home plate on the lower. RFK was a dump, a relic from another time, but the ghosts still roamed through it, and though they had seen a lot of losing, those ghosts still made the baseball experience wonderful.

I wasn't in DC during the inaugural season of Nats Park, so it wasn't until 2009 that I saw my first game there. I was less than impressed. It was a mall. It couldn't decide which history to embrace. Was it the city's baseball history or the corporate side of things? They couldn't even get the view right, choosing parking garages over the Capitol Dome. One thing they did get right was the idea to put a statue of Josh Gibson in a spot equal to Walter Johnson and Frank Howard. But they blew it by approving such a hideous design.

Being on the East Coast makes it easy to go to a lot of different ballparks. I covered them all - The Beautiful Relic, The House that Jeter Killed, The House that Jeter Shopped In, The Blue Dump in Flushing, Shitty Field, Citizen's Prank, and even further west, that pretty aberration in Pusburgh. In those years I went to all of them as well as Big Box Store Field, Ivy Drunkard Paradise, Beer Park West, and probably some others that I'm leaving out. Every one of them was a better baseball experience than Nats Park.

I've been struggling to put why that is into words. It makes me an enemy in certain parts. I suppose I'm long overdue to explain, but I've been trying to write about it for awhile. (That's coming.) The bottom line is that even though I've been to about a quarter of the home games at Nats Park in each of the last six years, aside from 2011 when I spent the summer in Ohio, I don't get that feeling of awe when I'm there, unless something big is happening, like Randy Johnson's 300th win (though they made sure to get their money from us in the rainout game before it) or a playoff game or Opening Day.

At some point, I stopped enjoying baseball.

The Reds may have planted the seeds, being awful with seemingly no end to the losing in sight, which exacerbated the disappointment I felt over their 2010, 2012, and 2013 post season performances. We had waited too long to flame out so quickly and awfully. The Nats were perennial losers except in 2012, as were the Orioles, and though I continued to go to Nats games, I think my heart was breaking. A lot of it had to do with the emergence of social media and the nastiness of people on the internet, too. I had put my heart and soul into this blog about the wonder of the game of baseball, and I think even I couldn't live up to the high standard I had set for the game. But when you create something that a lot of people appreciate, you start to attract those who appreciate nothing, the bullies, the sociopaths, the trolls. I became bitter. (I don't know why I criticize sports journalists who are nasty with fans; I saw what they see for a time.) Then, social media destroyed my ability to write and the audience's ability to read, and my posting became less frequent until it was almost non-existent. 140 characters at a time was all I could muster.

I've been watching the Orioles much more frequently in the last few years. I think it is because I moved to Columbia Heights and started going to Lou's City Bar, which usually has the Nats and O's games on side by side. I often ask for the Reds game, too, so I have three games I'm watching at the same time. I tweet from there quite regularly. But sometimes watching felt like more of an obligation rather than a love.

This post began as a story about my commute, the dysfunctional Metro, working far from where I live, scrambling to get to a television where I can watch a baseball game, and the impetus for it all. This post is about a rediscovery of a lifelong love, a rediscovery that I think happened in the city of Baltimore, at one of the best ballparks to have ever had the privilege of hosting a baseball team, and a development that I desperately needed. When Chris's older brother came to visit his siblings at the end of July, when the Reds had already showed their disinterest in October baseball, we went to an Orioles-Angels game, and I rediscovered the magic of baseball. What a ballpark! What a crowd! What a team! What a history! WHAT A BALLPARK! That game was like playoff baseball, a preview of what could be the ALCS, an extra inning affair in which the team that Angelos didn't seem to care about for many years was victorious over the Angels. Wow. That feeling was never replicated in Nats Park, despite a similar bandwagon rolling down the beltway.

I left the office of my job of a mere three weeks last Thursday on the first bus out of there, worried about missing the first half of the game during my hour and a half commute. Then I remembered MLB At Bat, and as a half hour of my commute is outside, knew I could listen to the radio broadcast. (Young people, let this be a lesson to you: learn to listen to baseball on the radio. You will cherish it forever. And by radio I mean your phone.) I have a twenty minute bus ride to the Silver Line Metro before I suffer an hour and ten to thirty minute train ride. Thursday was one of those longer ones, where you just sit on the tracks for ten minutes at a time, not moving, which feels like an hour or forever. But I realized I didn't have to go home. As one of those "won't cross the river" people in DC, working in Virginia is a new experience, and it had never occurred to me to get off the train in one of those cities along the Metro line. A light bulb. Ballston it was, the first stop under the tunnel, where no radio broadcast would go. I went to the only place I knew - Front Page - where they had the sound on and every screen tuned to baseball.

As it should be. This is America, after all. Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie.

I was excited for playoff baseball that day, but I was particularly excited for Orioles baseball. Though I had been watching the Orioles this and other seasons prior, that one game on a beautiful July night in Camden Yards gave me something that had been missing from my life. I felt the soul of the game again, that awe, that magic. That beautiful ballpark, the Oriole history, the intensity of the players, the excitement and rowdiness of the fans...wow. I had not enjoyed a baseball game like that for a long time. I suppose if you haven't been a baseball fan all your life, you probably can't understand that.

So, Orioles fans, I hope you will accept me as your guest this post season, because I am not from your country but hail from the land of Cincinnatus, one steeped in a grand tradition that even your proud city can't imagine. I am not of the bandwagon crowd. I come from the Church of Baseball, I worship the same saints as you do, the revered Cals and Brookses and Franks and Jims and Earls and all of those who have performed their miracles in your city (in nearly half the time as my beloved Reds sect.) You are baseball fans. You appreciate the game. Your team is damn good. And you're gonna get another one of those divine golden trophies, I'm pretty sure of it.

Note: I will be torn in a Nats-O's World Series, which, from the looks of it, probably won't happen. Chris and I might break up if I root for the O's too loudly in the event it does, but I'll probably root for both at the same time and be satisfied with either outcome. I'm half kidding. Regardless, I want to see good baseball. As long as Taint Louis isn't in it, life will be ok.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Dear Kansas City

Hi. You don't know me. I don't really know you, either, but I have some ideas about you. I call your state "Misery." There are a number of reasons for that. Ferguson, for one. And Taint Louis. And the Missouri Compromise, which declared people with certain melanin levels only part human. And you went from a swing state to blood red in recent years. I can't forgive you for that.

I don't know too much about the city of Kansas City itself, either. As a kid, I thought it was in Kansas; I think most American adults still think that. More than once when I've made the "Misery" comment I've received blank stares. I don't like Kansas, either. They wrote a book about it called "What's the Matter with Kansas?" It was a New York Times bestseller for many weeks.

What I do know about Kansas City is this: you actually love soccer. You were one of the cities with the greatest support and enthusiasm for the World Cup. I find this strange, given your location. Being surrounded by corn-fed, Bible-thumping, xenophobic rednecks would seemingly make you a weak candidate for being a soccer city. But you are. That's great.

I know that you have a football team whose fans use the racist tomahawk chop and that one of your players killed his girlfriend and then himself, perhaps because of the brain damage he suffered while playing football. I can't name a player on your current team at the moment because I don't watch much football, aside from the occasional Washington game. But I do know you have a good team. Good for you.

I know that Ernest Hemingway got his start at the Kansas City Star. That was back when you didn't need a "journalism degree" to work at a newspaper; you just needed to be a good writer. He was one of the greatest of all time in any country in any language. Because of Hemingway, I know a little about what Kansas City was like in the early part of the twentieth century. He liked it for awhile but then he found it dull. I imagine it still is. Sorry.

I know that U2 once made a disaster of your streets while making the video for "Last Night on Earth." The video was amusing. The song was underrated.

I know that your mayor is Sly James. I know because he follows my @BeiruttoJupiter account on Twitter. Or he did at one point. Maybe he still does. I unfollowed most of the politicians I once followed because, well, politicians.

That's not a lot of information that I know. I find myself lacking a desire to learn more when there are so many cities in the world I have never visited, cities and places I'd much rather go. Barcelona, for example. I've never been to Spain and plan on going in the spring. Moscow. Even though Putin's a dick. Tokyo. Bali. Casablanca. Rio. Machu Picchu. Easter Island. I don't know if we could ever be friends because of your location, but we can try. You see, I've come to like your baseball team.

If you had asked me a month ago, I would have struggled to name your lineup. I did, actually, when I was mentioning the possibility of you winning the AL Central to someone who thought I was joking when I said you were leading the division. Salvador Perez was the easy one. Then it got harder. Eric Hosmer came to mind after a moment. Billy Butler. Alex Gordon. Lorenzo Cain.

I didn't know who Dyson was, or Moustakas, or Gore. I know, of course, the well-traveled guys like Infante, Nix, Ibanez, and Willingham, but I didn't realize they were on your team. I couldn't name a pitcher who took the mound for you. I forgot you won the bidding war for James Shields.

I'm a National League fan, for the most part, though I love the Orioles and watch them when I can. As someone who watches two National League teams nearly every night during the season, I can name nearly the full rosters of most NL teams. But you only play the Orioles twice a year, so I don't get to see your team play. That's why I didn't know or care about the 2014 Kansas City Royals.

But there is that 29 years. Now, I like the Tigers, and I'm happy they won the division (but since they're playing the O's, I'm not rooting for them now.) But 29 years. Twenty-nine years ago I was learning multiplication tables for Ms. Ryan's third grade class and wondering why Jessica Palmer had such a difficult time getting past her fours. Twenty-nine years ago Pete Rose was still playing baseball. He's 70 now. Twenty-nine years ago the Soviet Union was undergoing glasnost and perestroika while waging a devastating war against Afghanistan while the US was secretly funding Bin Laden. The Rockies, Marlins, Dbacks, and Rays didn't exist, while the Nationals were Les Expos in Montreal and the Angels represented the entire state of California, apparently. My favorite baseball player of all time, Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, hadn't even played a Major League Baseball game.

I understand 29 years, because the Reds also had a long drought. From 1996-2009, Cincinnati was not a city that hosted baseball in October. Fourteen years without playoff baseball is nearly half of your wait time, but it's still a long time, and we've approached the quarter century mark in terms of World Series victories. A generation of Royals fans has never known October baseball. And so I'm happy for you.

Then there's the team itself. How can you not like them? There's such a thing as "wanting it." You can see the fire in them. They're too young to know bitter disappointment. You can look into their eyes and see the intensity. I like their speed, too, and the single digit numbers on their uniforms. They are fun.

I am enjoying watching the Kansas City Royals baseball team. I am enjoying them immensely. (It doesn't hurt that Pujols and Hamilton, two of baseball's greater demons, play for the ironically named Angels.) No, I'm not jumping on the bandwagon, but I'm rooting for you in this first round until you play the Orioles. Because man, has this been some fun baseball. So permit me to say thanks for your hospitality.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

I didn't know what to call this but it's about the playoffs. And nostalgia. And being a baseball fan.

The memories of coveted trips to Riverfront Stadium during the eighties grow fuzzier with each passing year, but the feeling of awe that I felt as a child when I was there is just as strong as ever. That stadium is long gone now, replaced by one of the more underrated of the new ballparks, and with Riverfront's destruction went a little piece of our identities. We grew up in that ballpark, us Cincinnatians and Daytonians and whatever you call people from Middletown. Even some Columbus...onians? called that ugly old cookie cutter their playground.

If you were a kid in Southwest Ohio in the eighties, you learned the mythology of the Big Red Machine. You were taught to be proud to be a Reds fan, that your team was steeped in tradition, that professional baseball started on the banks of the Ohio River back when our broken nation was trying to put itself together again. Cincinnati was a divided town during the Civil War, owing to its location on the line between tribes who clung to geographical estrangement and different definitions of racism and economics. I don't really know why George and Harry Wright chose to start pro ball in such a town; if they were in love with Cincinnati, they didn't show it, fleeing a mere two years after the founding of the Cincinnati Red Stockings for greener pastures in Boston. But the fact remains that it did happen in Cincinnati, and though it is merely a historical coincidence in our lives, as Reds fans we remain proud of that fact.

As for the Big Red Machine, well, who but the densest of fans can deny that Bob Howsam assembled two of the top teams in baseball of all time, teams that would have given the '27 Yankees a run for their money. I am of the opinion that the '76 Reds would have beaten that hallowed team of yesteryear, that Rose, Bench, Morgan, Perez, Concepcion, Foster, Griffey, and Geronimo would have sent Ruth, Gehrig, Collins, Lazzeri, Koenig, Dugan, Meusel, and Combs home for the winter with thoughts of what could have been. I have in my mind been prone to daydream of this matchup from time to time.

But I was a child of the eighties, not the seventies. I was born two months after the Big Red Machine had won their last World Series. I knew of Pete Rose, because who didn't know Pete Rose, but I was confused about his Phillies attire. Indeed, free agency and the strike of 1981 dawned an era of mediocrity for my beloved Reds, but, armed with the mythology of the Big Red Machine, they were still the greatest team in the world.

There were a lot of second place finishes that decade. The Phillies had stolen our team and won a World Series and then we got two of them back, battered, bruised, and aged. It didn't matter. They were ours, and they belonged in the Queen City. Of course, the end of that decade was disastrous, and Pete Rose the myth became Pete Rose the man. The whole world was in chaos; the Soviet Union collapsed, Germans with sledgehammers tore down a wall, the United States was embroiled in the first of its now regular campaigns in Iraq, and Osama Bin Laden was riding victorious after leading the Afghans against the Russians, all with US funding, of course. The destruction of a hometown hero was just par for the course.

Somehow, though Cincinnati baseball had been brought to its knees, we won. We won it all. We never even spent a day in second place in that first year of a new decade. We won with a team that lacked superstars, though one would become a Hall of Famer. We won and that was my childhood as a Reds fan. I entered high school the next year.

Once you taste that winning, once you see that golden trophy hoisted into the air, you know nothing will ever be the same again. I was 12 when it happened. Winning became expected for awhile. We had a couple bad seasons and Marge Schott's ordeal, a good middle of the decade run that included getting screwed again by a strike, and an end-of-decade 96 wins that just wasn't good enough for October. In those years without Reds baseball, I watched the post-season with excitement anyway, discovering an ability to detach myself from my beloved team, because I was a baseball fan. I loved the game, loved its history, loved its geometry and the proverbial poetry. I loved the ghosts at Yankee Stadium and the legend of Josh Gibson and the Curse of the Goat and the fan riots over burning disco records. I didn't cry in August 1994 because the Reds were getting screwed out of another post season. I cried because we were all getting screwed out of a post season. It still breaks my heart to think about, and it always will.

You'll find plenty of people these days who mock the romanticism of baseball, seemingly soulless creatures who look at the world as a spreadsheet or who view sentimentality with disdain, as if emotions weren't what make us human. You'll find others who are members of the history police, never failing to point out to those of us who embrace the nostalgia of the game that baseball was a segregated sport and who'll find racism in the statement "the way the game was meant to be played." The game was meant to be played as a game, to be enjoyed outdoors, to celebrate the warmth and light of summer, to savor the company of friends, and to relish the fruits of one's labor: October glory. That's what games are. That's why we call baseball a game before we call it a sport.

The other night, Kansas City played a game for the ages. Our hearts raced. We threw our hands in the air. We stayed up much too late. And, like we do time and time again, we fell in love with the game all over. Was it pretty baseball? No. Technically, there were many official and unofficial errors, missed opportunities, and terrible pitches. But it was beautiful baseball. The hero had been entirely clueless for much of the night. Yet, herein lies one of baseball's greatest marvels. It only takes one to change everything. One at bat. One pitch. One inch. One guy. The goat becomes the hero. We fundamentally knew why our hearts raced and our voices raised, even if we didn't consciously state it. That's life. We can screw up everything and our world may be falling apart, but this, too, shall pass. Ah, but it's just a game. A glorious game. Divine.

The goat becomes the hero. One guy. One hit. One team's 29 year drought ended by a monsoon of joy, real joy, the kind you find at births and weddings. That priceless shot of George Brett, aged hero, putting his hands on his head in happy disbelief. That woman who is getting a dog. The beaming faces of those youth in royal blue. Joy. October. Baseball.