I used to love baseball.
I plan to love it again.
I’ve let my attraction to the game wane. Even when I worked in the sports department of The Arizona Republic, unless there was a particularly choice assignment, I mostly concentrated on football and basketball, sports that long since had taken over my interests.
That’s going to change this year — this season.
I am going to become, in this 20th anniversary season of the team, an Arizona Diamondbacks fanatic, or at least a hardcore fan. And I am going to dragoon my family into this effort with me.
They’ll love it! Maybe.
The plan itself is relatively simple, the reasons for it less so. We will check in on the Diamondbacks every day. We don’t have to watch every game, certainly. But we do have to be aware of them, all 162.
We’ll look at the box score and the standings every morning. (That was a fun part of my childhood, when every score and every statistic was not readily available whenever you wanted one, but could always be found in the morning newspaper.)
Maybe we’ll go to a few games, though taking a family to a game is a pretty expensive proposition.
A bonding experience for the whole family
My hope is that doing this together will be a bonding experience for all of us, a reason to get together and talk at least for a few minutes every day about something that is absolutely unimportant in the big scheme of things, but that we make feel important just because we want to.
Isn’t that what being a fan is, after all?
It’s fun to care more about something than you need to. Remember the episode of “Seinfeld” when Jerry tells George that former New York Mets first baseman Keith Hernandez is a Civil War buff? George says he wishes he was a buff.
We’re going to be baseball buffs.
Lots of reasons, some going back to childhood. When I was growing up, I wanted to be a baseball player — during baseball season, anyway. I wanted to be a football player during football season and a basketball player during basketball season. That’s how it was.
No one concentrated on a single sport; when Evel Knievel was trying to jump his rocket-like motorcycle over the Snake River Canyon I thought becoming a daredevil might be a reasonable career goal.
So during baseball season, I followed Major League Baseball. I grew up in southwest Virginia, so there was no local team. Some people followed the Baltimore Orioles, some liked the Atlanta Braves. I liked the Cincinnati Reds, because they were on TV the most (this was in the days of the Big Red Machine — Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, etc.).
My friend Jimmy Wall and I sometimes stayed up literally all night playing dice baseball, a cool game that required dice, a scorebook and box scores, so you could set your lineup.
If you grew up in a small town, without a local team to root for, adopting a team made you feel like part of something larger. It was a connection to a bigger, presumably more-exciting world.
You weren’t on the team, but you were a part of it. There was no question in my mind that if I ever actually met Johnny Bench, he’d recognize me as a fan and treat me as a real friend. (Note: I never met Johnny Bench. Probably for the best.)
Learning how to be a baseball fan again
Covering sports cures you of fandom. You don’t root for teams, you root for good stories and early finishes so you can make deadline. It’s part ethics, part utilitarian. You watch games differently.
I’ve covered the Diamondbacks on a few occasions. I was there the day the stadium opened; I interviewed the first fan through the gates. I followed Mark McGuire around during his home-run-record pursuit, a weird assignment that went far more smoothly than it might have after he complained that, in every city he went to, an editor just assigned someone to tail him and write about whatever he did.
I said, “Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m doing,” and he laughed and said, “All right, then.”
(In retrospect, if I’d known then what I know now, my questions might have been more pointed.)
I tagged along with the AAA Phoenix Firebirds on their last road trip before leaving the Valley to make way for the Diamondbacks. I wrote about the World Series in 2001 from a TV perspective — I was a TV critic, and that series produced more drama than most of the scripted stuff being broadcast then.
But all of that was from a distance. Those were assignments. I was working, not cheering.
Now I’m going to cheer. A lot.
So is my family. We’ve already got a good start — one of my daughters already has a Paul Goldschmidt jersey, and, of course, everyone already thinks Archie Bradley is a likable goof.
We’ll build on that.
I’ll check in occasionally with reports on our progress, by which I mean our fandom and the Diamondbacks’ success. Assuming they have some.
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