Sunday, April 02, 2006

My troubled relationship with baseball

Josh Marshall's relatively lighthearted post at Talking Points Memo about picking a new baseball allegiance struck a sentimental chord. From about 1985 through roughly 1995, I was a huge Tigers fan. Not all the games were televised, even on cable, so most nights I'd listen on the radio. From 1987 to 1989, I listened to or watched part of each of the year's 162 games. I was obsessive. I still idolize the starting lineup of Frank Tanana, Doyle Alexander, Jack Morris, and Walt Terrell. They were the first team that I loved.

Later, in college, it was normal for a group of us to spontaneously drive to Detroit, buy cheap seats in Tiger Stadium, and catch a game. Tiger Stadium was beautiful and empty. The Tigers weren't the pure pitching team that they were in the late '80s, when their starting rotation had the lowest ERA in baseball. By then, they weren't much of a team at all. They were the American League's abcessed tooth: horribly rotted, essentially hopeless, leaving the 17,000 people in Tiger Stadium to resign ourselves to a loss.

I moved on to Boston, where I instantly hated the Red Sox and their fans, all people in a constant state of self-loathing and luxurious despair. Like all of Boston, the Red Sox and their followers obsessed about New York the way Michigan State obsesses about the University of Michigan. (No offense, Geoff and Brian.) Fueled by grievance and insularity, the Boston media and the team's bile-filled followers killed any hope I once had of attaching myself to one of the great traditional teams in all of sports.

By the time I came to New York, the pitching game was dead in baseball. There aren't many 2-1 or 3-2 scores. A lot of time, the final score looks like the tally of a MAC football game. What I like(d) about baseball was the late-inning tension of a well-pitched game. My offensive template is still Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker and Tom Brookens, not Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. If I wanted loads of offense, I'd be a basketball fan. The rhythm of the game doesn't appeal to me as much.

Even so, I miss baseball, and every season I incorrectly expect that I'll find it again. New York is a great baseball town. Trips to Shea and Yankee Stadium are pretty easy. I like both the Mets and Yankees better than the Sox, but both teams are unloveable. The roaring LaGuardia flights make Shea Stadium a buzzkill, and the team's tradition is only about 16 years older than I am. The Yankees have the history and the cachet, but loving the Yankees is like loving Goldman Sachs. There's only so far you can go with tons of cash and a mercenary attitude. It's too difficult to follow the Tigers from afar, and the organization's willingness to let the team rot killed my passion. Their departure from Tiger Stadium for yet another Camden Yards knock-off was another blow.

Where baseball is concerned, I now understand how it feels to be on your own, with no direction home, a complete unknown, like a rolling stone.

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