As the World Series draws to a close, ending another baseball season, I can’t help thinking about the place the game has in my life. And it’s not because the franchise I’ve rooted for my entire life, the Philadelphia Phillies, is one win from claiming the championship ... although that feels pretty special.
For many of us, baseball is a passion that’s difficult to explain rationally. By “us” I tend to mean men in their mid-thirties and up. I’m not stereotyping but simply employing demographics; plenty of women and plenty of younger people love baseball, but not in the numbers we older guys do. If you were a boy in a big city in the 1960s and 1970s (and certainly before that), you probably played baseball every day all summer and you probably fell in love with a Major League team that continues to be your companion in adulthood.
There’s a good chance your parents and/or your aunts and uncles took you to see the local team, and you probably saw quite a few games with your Little League team, your Boy Scout troop or your church group. If your team had a noteworthy run of success, such as the Big Red Machine here in Cincinnati, you were hooked. If your team stunk, as my Phillies did in the late ’60s, you still cherished the time spent with your dad, your brothers and your other relatives and the rare opportunity to be in a huge stadium with so many wonderfully strange sights, sounds and smells.
Do you remember your first Reds game or your first Major League baseball game in your home town? You probably do. I do. Connie Mack Stadium against the Pirates and Roberto Clemente. It started raining and they made us all go home before the game was over, which really confused me at the time.
Do you feel similar romance or nostalgia about your first Bengals game or UC or Xavier basketball game or Cyclones game? I fondly recall certain football players and teams or special moments from other sports, but nothing like the connection I made with baseball.
The only comparable level of passion, tradition and intergeneration sharing I can think of is college football, which grips many rural and small-town areas of America in the way Major League baseball grips urban America. When you consider TV ratings and water cooler talk, though, it seems that college football is growing and thriving among all age groups while baseball sadly continues to lose its connection with younger people and some minority groups.
I’m a lifer. Bud Selig can screw with the game all he wants — wild card playoffs, All Star Game shenanigans, interleague play — and I keep coming back for more every Spring. Major League Baseball probably counts on lifers like me not to walk away as they bastardize the game to lure the Wii generation, but one day they’ll go too far and I might have to give it all up. Sometimes I already feel like I’m getting too old for this crap.
But not yet. Not one win from the World Series trophy. Not while my dad is still alive and my brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles and I can share our memories. Not while I can still teach my son to love the game.