I don’t care what it looks like outside today. This is a sign that spring is coming.
A funny thing happened to me last year. I became obsessed with baseball. And not just in the normal sense of ‘root, root, root for the home team’, but in a ‘need to know all the news for the whole sport’ kind of way. This is quite a 180 from when I used to turn away free tickets to Brewers games even though the stadium was literally on my way home. But now I’m following baseball players, analysts, and trade rumors on Twitter, obsessively checking the ESPN MLB site, and reading every word in the official MLB Insider magazine that I have a subscription to. How did this all happen?
Let’s go back in time. When I was growing up, baseball was the only sport I had any real knowledge of. My dad used to be a pitcher for a local team and when we played outside together, we were most often throwing a baseball back and forth. I had a Nerf football, but had never seen a Green Bay Packer game. I had a basketball and hoop, but didn’t even know that the Milwaukee Bucks were a professional basketball team. However, I had been to several Brewers games. I knew who Robin Young, Paul Molitor, Jim Gantner, and Rollie Fingers were. I was always nerdy and not too athletic, but baseball was the one sport that I knew something about and spent the most time attempting to play.
As I got older and more into video games and my Construx building sets, I lost interest in baseball and sports in general. Fast forward to my senior year in high school and a desire to find some level of popularity before heading off to college. As it’s always been, the cool kids were into sports. While baseball should have been my go-to sport, loving it was very tough to do. This was 1994 and the sport was tearing apart at the seams as it collapsed into the worst strike in all of professional sports. On the flip side, a 25 year-old guy from Mississippi with a name I wasn’t quite sure how to pronounce (Fahv-ree?) was doing amazing things up in Green Bay. It’s no surprise that I jumped on the football bandwagon and almost completely shunned baseball.
I went to a few Brewers games in the years following college, but I did not enjoy them at all. Baseball appeared to be slow and boring. I didn’t like that each team played 162 games a year. It just seemed like overkill. I even went out of my way to tell people that I didn’t like baseball one bit. I wasn’t just a non-fan, I was a hater.
When my wife and I were first dating in 2009, she told me that she had never been to a baseball game and would love to go someday. Even being the hater that I was, I couldn’t deny her the opportunity to take in a professional ball game. It was an experience she needed to have, even if I would have preferred to go to a movie. So for her birthday, I took her to her first major league game. She had a blast and I thought it was okay. She decided that she wanted to start a tradition of going to a Brewers game for her birthday. While I would have wanted a different tradition for my birthday, I could handle one game a year. And that’s all I did handle. It was 365 days, and her next birthday, before I saw another ball game. This second time I had even more fun. Two months later, we received a few tickets from my brother and his family for my birthday. We took my soon-to-be mother-in-law and again had a great time. I was enjoying the games, even if I couldn’t necessarily call myself a fan, yet.
The Brewers went on an impressive run in 2011, winning 96 games to take the National League Central championship. We went on an impressive run, too, going to 8 games throughout the year. Our first game was just 2 weeks into the season. Our last game was the night that they clinched the championship. We went to a game for my wife’s birthday and we went to another one with my parents as a “thank you” to them. We went to one with my brother’s family with a big tailgating party. We went with my best friend’s family, scooping up tickets on a whim to join the fun. We went to random other games throughout the year, sometimes grabbing tickets at the last minute just because the game looked too good to watch at home. I was obsessed. I finally, after years and years away, discovered the greatness of baseball. What used to be slow and boring became tense and exciting. All the nuances that I never took the time to notice before were exploding in front of my eyes and they were riveting!
And then the unthinkable happened. The Brewers lost in the NLDS to their rivals and future World Series Champions, the St. Louis Cardinals. I was afraid that, like football, I’d abandon the sport and not pay attention to it again until Opening Day 2012. That couldn’t be farther from what actually happened. I kept watching baseball every night. I watched the rest of the ALDS series between the Detroit Tigers and the Texas Rangers. I watched the World Series, but that’s when I thought I’d be done with it for a while. Nope. It turns out that baseball’s offseason is a lot more interesting than any other sport’s offseason. I found trades, arbitration, contract extensions, free agency, and rumors about all those things to be very interesting to watch. Like the game itself, there are incredible nuances to the offseason “game” of putting a team together.
Last Saturday, Brewers pitchers and catchers reported for their first day of spring training and I had an extra spring in my step. 2012 is going to be very different as a Brewers fan, but I still can’t wait. I have my MLB Insider subscription and I’m considering getting MLB.TV so that I can watch any game that I want for any team all season long. I’m in a state of disbelief when I think about my complete turnaround in regards to baseball. How can something I used to hate now be something that I adore? When I ask myself that question, the answer is simple. It’s “No Code”. “No Code” is Pearl Jam’s 4th album and I hated it. I bought it the day that it came out, listened to it, and then stayed away from it for 3 or 4 years. I just couldn’t stand it. When I finally did listen to it again, I fell in love with it. It’s now, hands-down, my favorite Pearl Jam album. I just wasn’t ready for it in 1996. I wasn’t ready for baseball all those years, but I am now. I’m SO ready for baseball.
44 days until Opening Day.