National Pastime

I have a strange, long-running relationship with the game of baseball.

As a professional sports viewer, it is likely the United State Big 4 sport (NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB) I pay the least attention to (tied with hockey, although that’s debatable), and soccer honestly falls several rungs above it.

(SIDE BAR

Ranking of emotional commitment to pro sports teams: San Francisco 49ers, Everton, Charlotte Hornets and then any national team in those three sports from the United States)

All that said, the relationship has been an odd one. Growing up, I tried my hand at playing most sports that kids in the US grow up playing; first soccer, than predominantly basketball and baseball, then tried my hand at football, before ending my “playing career,” ironically, as a 9th grade first baseman/pitcher on my rec league team. Baseball, then, was the sport I played the longest and–although this is relative–the best. I wasn’t very tall or particularly fast, so if I had entertained any thoughts of playing sports through high school and into college, baseball would have been my thing. Then I ditched out on baseball tryouts my freshman year after two days of conditioning (my athletic experience up to that point had been largely void of such things), and that was the end of it.

So it’s exceedingly strange that of all the sporting events I’ve ever attended, I’d gather baseball tops the list in terms of games seen. I paid some attention to the MLB in middle and high school, but generally couldn’t give you a list of the current top teams (the Cubs are still the best right?) or more than a cursory stab at the game’s top players (I know Mike Trout and Bryce Harper are good, and then there’s that one guy for the Cubs…). You can blame it on a lot of things: the MLB season is too long to keep up with, the games themselves are also very long and some of the worst to watch on television, and the fact that other than my brief stints in the San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, DC areas, I’ve never lived in a geographic location that lived and breathed baseball (and that even those cities listed above are more basketball, football or even hockey towns).

Yet again, I’ve attended more baseball games and visited more stadiums than all other sports combined; and the reason for that is simple: there are a lot more baseball teams than all sports, save for maybe soccer, especially in the United States. While I haven’t lived around a MLB team for much of my life, I have almost always lived near a minor league team, which meant that baseball was a relatively inexpensive way to spend a late Spring/early summer evening, an event that could be shared by people of all ages and interests-in-sports levels. As a kid, we used to go to Norfolk Tides games all the time. I can remember half a dozen trips to Harbor Park just to celebrate my birthday–which is in mid-May–alone, let alone the other trips centered around family outings or church youth group trips. And while my time in the DC area took away cheap baseball as an option, my current locale offers yet another Triple-A baseball team (and a brand new stadium, to boot) in the Charlotte Knights.

But here’s the weirdest part: I go to these games and I enjoy going to the stadium and all that entails (peanuts, Cracker Jacks, etc), but I honestly don’t care much about the outcome of the game. The tricky part about minor league baseball is how often things change–players get called up or down, get traded or released all the time, making it difficult to really know who is on the team from year-to-year, and frankly the success of the team doesn’t move me much, nor would it impact the city of Charlotte if they were good or bad. People attend these games because they are relatively cheap to attend and provide a family friendly way to spend a summer afternoon or evening. And while I am usually the most interested in the outcome out of all the people I generally attend the games with, I find my attention waxing and waning throughout the course of any given contest.

Yet I keep going to these games. I get excited about the start of baseball season because it means something to do that costs less than a movie and technically counts as being outside. I don’t think it has much to do with baseball, so much as it does the distraction of something to do. If I had the money I’d much prefer to attend more Hornets games than I do Knights games, just because I find myself caring more about the way Charlotte’s NBA team performs than does its White Sox Triple-A affiliate. Yet baseball continues to be something I come back to time and time again.

I’m not trying to divulge some deeper meaning out of this, by the way. It’s just strange to me that I spend so much time and money integrating myself into something that doesn’t matter that much to me. This also isn’t intended as a knock on professional baseball, especially of the minor league variety. It’s merely a curiosity of my life, and these peculiarities are fascinating to me.

In either respect, I imagine this will continue to be a part of my life experience. E isn’t a huge sports fan, but she enjoys a trip to the ballpark, and as we get married and add to our little family, I imagine us packing up our car and taking our brood out to the ball game quite often throughout those long summer nights. And whether the outcome matters or not, I believe the experience of nights will be the point.

And that–in or lose–is why the game is played.

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