To My Favorite Valentine….Baseball
It gets me all giddy inside. The anticipation, the excitement, the thrill of knowing one of my greatest loves in this World is only days away. Baseball to me is my first and only true love who has stood the test of time. Others like the NFL, NHL and defunct NASL lost their luster and soon were just memories tuck into darken alcoves within my mind.
Someone asked me today why I have such a deep devotion and love for this game. The same one that can have you on the edge of your seat one moment, then crashing down in disbelief in another. Well, to be honest my long time love for this game started a long time ago in a series of batting cages that have long since been replaced by residential blight. My first memory of the game was going to the miniature golf course on S. Pasadena Ave across from my dad’s friend Jim Brook’s gas station going 18 holes then getting into a cages to hit some balls.
My first field I ever played baseball on as a 8 year old was a back lot clay and semi-grassed enclave at the Little League Regional Headquarters just between Gulfport and St. Petersburg, Florida. It was here I first had a grounder come up and bite me in the nose (broke it), experienced the joy of hitting a ball as far as I could throw it, and made my first head-first slide. It was a couple years later when I played in the concrete arena (stadium) and against some poor kid I slugged one out of the park and onto the railroad tracks that ran just North of the stadium.
My love for the game started young. I did not know the true exploits of Don Zimmer and Stan Musial who used to come to my father gas station and fill up their cars during the Gas Wars era. They would throw the ball with me a bit after I did their windshields and checked their oil and air in their tires, but I shudder now in disbelief I did not venture into my baseball books or research the Sunday paper’s stats sheet to know of their greatness.
I still hold that same young kid within me every time I enter Tropicana Field or venture out to Spring Training practices or games. I still carry the glove more for sentimental reasons than to catch a BP or foul ball. Heck for years my glove sitting on that green painted metal pipe that ran down the concrete wall in Section 138 was more of a fixture than me sitting in my Season Ticket seat. I still thrill when a ball comes in hot with sound streaming off it and hear the “pop” of the glove as I grip it or feel a sting from its impact. Usually a kid near me is the final recipient of the ball as I have many now, and want to give other that same thrill and love of this grand game.
Maybe that is why this game has never soured for me, even during those awkward first 9 years of the Rays when victories were slim and frustrations mounted within my belly wanting something special to happen like stealing a win on a walk-off or shutting a high power offense via a display of power by striking out the side for the save. The sound of the ball off the bat still sends my heart a-flutter, watching a player run towards a ball at the wall and leaping either to crash on the wall or come down with that white sphere within his grasp still excites me to no end.
My favorite baseball movie is still “For the Love of the Game”. Not for the aspect of a pitcher throwing the game of his life on his last outing, but the flooding of baseball memories that will be fodder for conversations and trips down memory lane for the rest of his life. The recent upturn of the Rays fortunes since 2008 have kept me wishing and wanting for more, hopefully seeing a ticker tape parade and being able to kiss or hold that glorious golden trophy myself as so many other greats of this game.
I am about to hit the big 5..2, and now am starting to get into a baseball frame of mind and physical state to some day possibly play with the Kids and Cubs down near Vinoy Park. Sure at that stage in my advanced level of baseball skills I will not be the speed demon I was in college, or even hit one 327 feet down the line, but the chance to play baseball with people like myself who’s kinship with this game has not waned or been shackled would be not only a tremendous thrill, but another thing to make off my lifetime Bucket List.
Baseball holds a huge part of me firmly within its grasp, and on a day when loves rules the air, ground and seas I consider myself blessed to have discovered this game, cherished its traditions and idiosyncrasies to a T, not blinking an eye in the process. On this constructed day of affection and bliss it is time for me to again profess my undying devotion and honest commitment to always be there for the game, take the good with the bad and cherish the moments as if they were my last. The valentine is usually a heart-shaped reminder of love, commitment.
For me that symbol is a diamond that encompasses four 90 foot sections, it is the sounds and actions played out upon that perfect field among those young at heart who remember their first hit, throw and cherish it always just as myself. The elements of my valentine fits in my fist, with 9 inches of circumference covered with white cowhide and red stitching. I swear when I leave this Earth they will open me up and find a pearly white baseball where my heart should be…..Or at least I hope they do.
Happy Valentines Day