Project 365 : For Love of the Game

I love baseball. I always have.

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t watch the game. When I was too young to play ball, I watched the game of the week. I started playing organized ball in elementary school, and loved putting on the uniform and getting out on the field. The tragedy of it was that I sucked. Couldn’t hit, couldn’t field. But I loved playing.

I remember my folks taking me to the field to play and practice. I remember walking three or four miles back from a game with my mother when her car wouldn’t start. I remember the feeling of wonder opening the innumerable packages of baseball cards I bought at ten cents a pack. I remember feeling like I was on top of the world in ’74 when I collected the entire set of Topps cards for that year.

Growing up in the South, we only had the Braves to watch. And in the 70s, they were bad. Really bad. But I got to see Aaron play. I saw Aaron! And my dad was there with me. Just as it should be, watching side by side. That’s the way baseball should be experienced. I wish he and I could share just one more game.

When I got to high school, I began trying out for the freshman team, chose girls over playing ball, and shut the door on my baseball career. It was probably for the best. I really wasn’t that good, and my passion started to drift elsewhere, to other hobbies, other pastimes.

But baseball was always there.

I suffered through watching the horrible Braves teams of the 80s. They were horrid, and no matter how I wished they were better, I continued watching. Watching and waiting. And then the 90s came, and the Braves started winning. And winning. And winning. I moved to what is probably America’s best baseball city in the mid 90s — St. Louis — and was at the old Busch Stadium in ’96, watching the Braves and Cardinals duke it out in the playoffs.

And over the years of living here, my allegiance turned to the Cards, and I’ve never looked back. I’ve watched McGwire and Lankford and Pujols and a host of other great players come through our stadium, and have enjoyed every season, finally living in a baseball town.

I’ve only been to one World Series game. It was the night the curse was reversed, and Boston took the fourth game of the ’04 World Series. I hated that we lost, but it was glorious to see history being made. That’s what this game is to me — a string of memories. Gibson’s homerun, watching the Cards win the Series in ’06, following McGwire and Sosa’s assault on history in ’98 while working in England, the strike, the earthquake during the ’89 Series, that crazy Braves’ game in ’84 that ended at 4am. It’s such a part of my history and my life, and some of the best memories I have are centered around sharing those experiences with my parents, wife and daughter.

And now, it’s time again.

The 2010 campaign begins this weekend, and I’ll be there. Cheering, watching, yelling at the TV. I’ll question the calls, revel in the successes, and cry over the losses. I’ll take the down times hard, and have to strive to keep my feet on the ground when times are good. It’s time again.

Play ball.