My Return to Baseball

Astros and Papa

My Papa, Alec Anderson, was a baseball fan. I remember his Toledo Mudhens hat and his high-fronted ill-fitting Astros hat. He took us games in the AstroDome where we howled with the crowd “Jose Cruzzzzzzzzzzzzz.” My Papa was a fantastic grandfather.

As a child I played one season of little league. It was elementary school and I was on the Angels with the halo “A” and I hated it. The game moved too slow and I while I can’t remember if I actually did quit, I know that was my desire.

I returned to baseball again in 5th and 6th grade. My family had crumbled during sixth grade, all summer long I feared the Fall when school would return and a huge dude named Donny promised to smash my face in. The last time I saw him he had his hands wrapped in chains on the last day of school looking for me while I was hiding from him. Between that very real fear and divorce my life was unstable, but not baseball. I could count on baseball.

I loved the A’s that summer. Jose Canseco was my hero and I checked the newspaper box score every morning to see how he did. My Aunt Sally and Uncle Roger on July 5th, 1991 took me to Kansas City to watch Canseco play while I was staying with them. He hit a grandslam. It was one of those  great moments that just seem silly looking back, but it meant so much to me. It was that rare moment that a hero actual lives up to the title.

The following day we came back to watch the next game and Danny Tartabull hit three homeruns in a single game. It was like watching the Greek Myths in real life.

In the years that followed David Waindel, Eric Haig and various other people played a version of baseball in our front yards with a tennis ball and a metal bat. The house roofs were homers and it was great. I even signed up to play in a league again. There were tryouts and drafts. David made the majors and I was in the minors. The fields were great, non-symmetrical like any stadium worth anything in the big leagues with advertisements across the outfield fences. It was great.

The following year Jeff Bagwell was destroying everything thrown at him. I met him and Craig Biggio at the card shop in front of our neighborhood. It was the best year of baseball ever and then the greedy players and the greedy owners couldn’t agree leading to a strike. That made me so angry at the game. It felt like my family’s divorce all over again. Two selfish people can’t work it out and it was the little people getting punished. In this case the fans. The once stable baseball was broken.

The owners and players did reconcile, but it just wasn’t the same. I still went to games. As soon as we could drive, Aaron Armstrong, Brian Attaway, Keith Carpenter and others would drive down to the AstroDome and get five dollar outfield seats. We’d heckle the other teams’ outfielders and have a great time feeling free to be in the city with no adults.

My love of baseball fizzled; I kept up with the home run war between McGuire and Sosa and later Bonds, but that all seemed fake even as it happened. When the steroid scandal bust open it was tough to hear. I mean we all knew it, but to hear my childhood hero was an actual fraud hurt even at an older age. (That bubble never burst with soccer. In fact soccer has been on an upward trend my entire life and I love that, but baseball has always been less sport and more life to me.)

In baseball, Spring time is like New Years Day where hope is alive no matter how unrealistic it is. It’s like opening the fresh pack of baseball cards that just might contain the next Honus Wagner card. It’s also long and slow and people play big roles and small roles and they all matter.

I was still on strike from baseball in 2005 when the Astros finally made it to the Series. We lived in Dallas and watched every game, but my heart wasn’t there; I still hadn’t forgiven baseball for 1994. While at Redeemer I was drawn back into baseball listening to Jon Meyers in the office and playing Wiffleball with Ubuntu and Sam Basham in the back field every chance we had. I’ll never forget Sam being robbed of a home run one day by a tree and then the next day looking out my office window to see he and Chris Earnshaw cutting down the tree with a chainsaw. Never again would he let that tree interfere with a home run. I know I should have stopped them, but it was just too great to interfere.

My love for the game began to return in Kansas City. Beckham and I play catch and Wiffle and go to games together in Houston on vacation. It’s a shared experience in life that will continue long after I’ve gone to be with my Savior.

Baseball is different than soccer and football and basketball. It doesn’t mimic what modern life is so much as model what modern life should be. It’s slow, it’s thoughtful, it facilitates conversation at the games and in the office. There is a clear villain in the New York Yankees with legions of  glory hunting fans. It’s unfair that one team can have a payroll of $230 million and another $23 million, but true to life that the favorites sometime fail to succeed and the underdog can triumph.

There is no clock, time just stops in this game. You can’t run out the remaining seconds, just holding the ball is not an option because you must face your opponent, you must play to get to the end successfully.

This is not a knock on soccer or other sports, I genuinely enjoy sports of all sorts. I’ll be ecstatic when the World Cup plays this summer, but baseball is unique, it’s been a comfort to me these last few years. As my Astros have played the three worst seasons in their history, I’ve enjoyed every second of it and I can’t wait for the new season to begin. I’m glad to be back in baseball.

I got a kick out of seeing our photos tagged with baseball in Flickr, here they are.

 

One thought on “My Return to Baseball

  1. I played one year in elementary school and quit. (I remember calling it baseball, but maybe it was softball?) Anyway, my dad was a really good baseball player. His college team went to the college World Series when he was a senior. He played for a coach named Al Ogletree, who was a very successful college baseball coach. (He’s in his 80s and still calls regularly to check on my dad.) Then my dad went on to catch for the Boston Red Sox minor league team. My short-lived baseball stint was quite the disappointment for my dad, I’m sure!

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