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April 17 2001: Tonight I Love Baseball

If you’ve been reading “Why I LIke Baseball” for a while, you know where my team allegiance lies. If you haven’t, it’s no secret I’m a lifelong Yankees fan, born in New York City, raised in the Nettles-Reggie-Munson era, and avidly following the recent championship dynasty in the Bronx.

But what I’m discovering this season is that I may love baseball itself as much as I love the Yankees. This season I’m following the fortunes of several teams, I may even get to play some myself in a women’s league, and I’m quite enjoying the performances of several non-Yankees this April.

It wasn’t always so. As a kid and on into my teens, I only had eyes for the Yankees. I didn’t keep track of the standings, and was only barely aware of other teams and other players. I remember hearing about Tom Seaver, Lou Brock, George Brett… that was it really. The Red Sox, the Dodgers, and the Royals (oh, and the Mets) were the only teams I could recognize–all the rest were interchangeable to me. The National League only existed for me in October.

But if it weren’t for the Yankees, I don’t think I’d have the deeply-rooted devotion to baseball that I do. Those controversy-filled championship years in the mid-seventies imprinted me with a love of the game that burns hot now for good baseball in any form.

Because I often don’t get home from one of my jobs until 10 pm or so, I often miss the broadcast of the New York games. Ten pm is the perfect time, however, to listen to the Seattle Mariners.

Most of the reasons I might have once had, as a Yankees fan, to dislike the Mariners, are moot. Ken Griffey, Jr. — Yankee nemesis in the 1995 postseason–is gone. Alex Rodriguez, so reviled for dissing his “buddy” Derek Jeter and for being a general jerk ever since signing with Texas, has, well, signed with Texas. Some of us still like Lou Piniella, and it’s wonderful to see what he’s done with a club that every single year is supposed to be worse after losing its superstar, and yet every year seems to get better. As a baseball fan I appreciate the Mariners and what Sweet Lou has done.

This year the Mariner superstar in the making is Ichiro Suzuki, the first Japanese position player to play in the North American major leagues. Ichiro is so famous in Japan he is known only as Ichiro and dozens of Japanese reporters are following him stateside. Tonight he is four for four with a triple and a sensational play in the outfield to steal a home run from Rafael Palmiero.

When Ichiro came to bat tonight, the crowd chanted his name in unison. Not even chanted–they exalted him. The only way Ichiro’s performance could have electrified the crowd more would have been to steal a home run from Alex Rodriguez.

As it is, A-rod must be experiencing a kind of living hell. The only time I’ve ever heard the Safeco crowd louder than when they were screaming “Ee-chee-ROOOOH!” was when they were booing A-rod as he came to the plate last night. The communal boo was more intense even than a Fenway crowd’s disapproval, and spectators in the upper deck showered the lower with Monopoly money. But what does he expect? A-rod seems to have gone out of his way to alienate his former home town, even going so far as to write a letter to Boeing (who have announced they will be moving some jobs from the Seattle area) telling them they should follow him to Texas. Huh?

I take it back–there was one time the Safeco crowd was louder. When in that at bat, last night in the sixth inning, A-rod struck out. As the announcer put it, “You’d think the Mariners had just won the World Series.” My comment: well, it’s just nice to know that young Alex can still thrill the home town crowd.

Tonight Alex has made two errors, to the delight of his thousands of detractors. On one of them, Ichiro scored from third, preserving the Seattle lead, which the Rangers had been chipping away. As I type this A-rod is at bat again. He fouled off a ball and the fans threw it back onto the field. The next pitch hit him, he’s standing on first with the tying run at the plate in the form of Rafael Palmiero, who hit two homers last night. But it doesn’t sound like the crowd is unhappy about it–after all, this gives them even more chances to abuse A-rod. Whoops, Rafi hit a long ball, but only to the warning track. Then I-rod, another one to the warning track. Then Andres Galaragga.

Galaragga is another player I enjoy. Perhaps it’s because I am a sucker for a comeback story, and they don’t get much better than having a pencil-sized cancerous tumor removed from your spine, then return to the game and hit 28 home runs, with 100 RBI. It’s just too bad he’s with the Rangers now. It’s also to bad he hits a ground ball to force A-rod out at second, end of inning. Mariners still lead 6-4 and it sounds like the crowd is positively gloating.

Now I know that this will shock some people out there who have strong preconceived notions, but I have a strange affection for the Boston Red Sox. Yes, I know, when I was eleven years old, I too chanted “Boston Sucks” at Yankee Stadium (prompting my mother to unwittingly clue me in for the very first time as to what “sucks” actually referred, but commenting “I don’t see what a person’s sexual preferences have to do with how well they play baseball.” Oh.). Many of the best games I have seen have been Sox defeats. And I do so love to see the Yankees beat them.

But any serious baseball fan has to appreciate the drama and history of the Red Sox. Despite all the reasons that I should loathe the Sox, including he atrocious way in which Sox fans have treated me and my family in Fenway Park, I can’t help but flirt with them. I know, I know, they’ll break a fan’s heart. But I rooted for them against Cleveland in the 1999 division series (because I wanted to see a Yanks-Sox postseason matchup) and experienced the rollercoaster ride Sox fans are used to. The Sox can be the best in the game, and also the worst in the game–often within the course of a single game. I have no problem rooting for the Sox against most other teams, just not against the Yankees.

And how about this? Barry Bonds just hit his 500th home run. Yes, I’m skipping around what game I listen to through the MLB web site, since the Yankee game ended quite some time ago (a loss, to the Blue Jays). Could Bonds have timed it any better? His final at bat tonight, in the eighth, was a two run homer into McCovey Cove that also handed the Giants the lead. I am ambivalent about Bonds as a person–he seems quite a cranky character. But 500 home runs, there’s no diminishing that achievement.

Someday, if A-rod hits 500, maybe I’ll cheer him again. My feelings for specific players can change with time, but not how I feel about baseball. Robb Nen just struck out Gary Sheffield with the tying run on third to preserve the Giants win. They say the game is timeless, and so is my devotion.

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