As I grew into a young man and began to find my way as an adult, the two "possessions" I prized the most were my relationships with music and sports. No wonder I didn't get married until my mid-thirties.
When you're trying to establish yourself as a unique person, someone distinct from everyone else your age, you cling to whatever detail you can find. Sometimes it's your ethnic background, sometimes it's a talent for playing a game or doing magic tricks.
Young men -- OK, boys -- often try to turn themselves into experts on certain topics in order to impress each other, first, and then eventually to impress girls. And just about any topic you can imagine is fair game.
For me, the chosen topics were music and sports.
I never learned to play a musical instrument, though I played all kinds of sports as a kid and even into adulthood. But the mastery of these topics didn't involve first-hand skill -- it was all about facts, imagination and attitude.
It was about finding friends and brothers to share your interests, to dig into long-lost trivia, to unearth off-beat characters with whom we could identify and to become experts. All of which led us to becoming self-made unique individuals: Someone Who Knows Baseball or Someone Who Knows British New Wave.
Interestingly, one of the main ways I can tell I'm getting old is how these self-made identities have slowly slipped away from me and how I don't care. Mostly don't care.
My relationship with baseball, in particular, has held on longer than anything else.
Like a lot of men, I started loving baseball as a little kid. I grew up in Philadelphia, and I remember several times going to see the Phillies at Connie Mack Stadium with my father, my brothers and/or my aunt and uncle.
My favorite player was Johnny Callison, the Phillies' outfielder who had a decent career in the 1960s. I'm sure I liked him because his name was Johnny, which is what I was called as a boy.
I was too young to remember the Phillies' epic collapse in the 1964 season, the famous choke when they lost a 6 1/2 game lead with 12 games to play. Otherwise, my team was terrible until around the time I went to college.
I played Little League baseball for a few years, but I wasn't good enough to be on a real team beyond age 10 or so.
Still, we played baseball all the time with kids in the neighborhood.
My brothers and I did all the other baseball-oriented things kids in those days did: We collected and traded baseball cards, we listened to games on the radio, we cut out articles from our dad's newspaper, we made up baseball games with cards and paper, we imitated great hitters' batting stances, we pretended to do live game commentary and we memorized statistics.
When we got older and had a little money, we'd buy baseball books, mostly about the game's history. We discovered The Baseball Encyclopedia. We loved the numbers and the names, and we'd quiz each other all the time.
To this day, with the few functioning cells I have left in the trivia lobe of my brain, I can still remember who holds the Major League record for most triples in a career. It was my brother Pete's favorite question to trip people up with.
A few years after the Big Red Machine put Cincinnati at the top of the baseball world, the Phillies finally won their first (and only) championship. They were actually one of the best teams going for about six or seven years, though they made it to just two World Series.
I continued to embrace baseball into my adulthood. There was a period of time when I tried to see as many live games in as many stadiums as possible. I once saw five Major League games in five different stadiums in six nights, traveling with my college friend Jerome. He eventually would see games in all 30 existing ballparks; I made it as far as 20 or so.
I once saw a San Francisco Giants day game at Candlestick Park and then saw an Oakland A's game that night. I've seen two no-hitters in person. I was at Riverfront Stadium when Pete Rose hit No. 4,192.
I still play fantasy baseball with some college buddies, though we call it by its original name, Rotisserie. This is our 20th season, and I won last year for just the second time. I actually care that Mark Teixeira got traded to the Atlanta Braves, because I'm trying to add him to my team. (We use only National League players, so anyone coming over from the American League in a trade is available to be picked up.)
I've owned a baseball glove continuously since I was 7 or 8 years old. What else can I say that about?
Clearly baseball is part of my life and the lives of lots of people I know, much as people in Brazil, England and Italy must feel about soccer and people in Canada must feel about hockey. It's more than a "distraction," which is what those who aren't sports fans tend to brand the games we play and watch.
Baseball isn't as important to me these days, but that could be more about me than the game. I'm busy with work, family, a house and other interests. I don't see many games at Great American Ball Park. I'm not motivated to go very often.
Ultimately, though, the game has turned its back on me. First with the strike in 1994 that cancelled the World Series for the first time ever, and now with the steroids scandal.
Barry Bonds is a miserable person trudging toward baseball's ultimate record, the career mark for home runs. When he gets it in the next few days, he'll remain a miserable person who likely feels unappreciated for his greatness.
Bonds' lack of joy and lack of respect for the game are the antithesis of everything I loved about baseball as a kid.
The concurrent scandals involving Michael Vick in football (dog fighting charges), that NBA referee (point shaving) and the Tour de France (doping charges among key riders) are simply piling up evidence that professional sports aren't honest and that star athletes care about something bigger than themselves.
As an adult, those lessons aren't difficult to swallow. We know the world isn't fair and our idols aren't perfect. I'm happy I'm not a kid today trying to process the idea that some of the biggest stars in sports are cheating.
But isn't the world of sports supposed to provide a little haven from the real world? Isn't that why we spend so much time watching and cheering and playing?
Is it too much to ask that something we loved as a child or young man retain some of its purity? Is it too much to ask Barry Bonds to walk away today and leave the home run record to Hank Aaron?
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