All I remember is this first baseman, who used to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers, coming to bat for the St. Louis Cardinals. He didn’t look like an athlete, more like the bus driver that took me school. The same player who slammed his glove when Ozzie Smith made St. Louis go crazy was an RBI machine for the Cardinals, and my admiration of his unique set of skills was the commencement of my love for the sport.
Baseball is the best sport. My favorite. Don’t argue with me. Just give it to me. I need it, like a coffee needs a cup. Like a steak needs a cast iron skillet. Like an omelette needs a fork. Once I started watching when I was seven years old, I got hooked quick. Runs batted in. Home runs. Complete games. Gibson. Brock. Musial. Dizzy. Enos. Coleman. All of it. Sports can be like a drug, an addictive device that brings pleasure, heartbreak, and endless intrigue.
The Major League Baseball season is 162 games long, and feels like 362 by the end of September. A dedicated fan or columnist needs 15 days on the injured list by that time due to exhaustion of the eyeballs, a sensory overload that won’t be apologized for tomorrow.
It’s a sport that needs explanation, devotion, and a good street to pace up and down on after a hard loss. It slows down just enough for you to get on the train. A good baseball game cooks low and slow, like those ribs in your smoker out back. The intricate details of a baseball game take years to digest and even longer appreciate. It’s not just scoring runs. It’s preventing runs, devising news ways to score and prevent, and repeating those practices at a faster rate than the other guys.
A bunch of grown men playing a child’s game will come off as idealistic to some, but it’s a romantic investment. You’ll laugh, cry, shout, scream, smile, and gasp inside of one game. Remember when the Houston Astros had the Cardinals down for the count, and then David Eckstein reached base? Moments later, Albert Pujols came to the plate and hit one s so far that NASA told a random space shuttle that Houston had a problem.
Here’s the thing. Moments like that, and the David Freese 2011 heroics, and the Jim Edmonds catch in 2004, will NEVER go away. They will live on like dreams being replayed in a carousel located in your heart, ready at your command. I know that sounded sappy and soaked with life syrup, but remember, it’s a romantic sport. Women and men have gotten more mileage out of baseball than most of their relationships, and the sport has kept their relationships with their fathers, mothers, and brothers over decades of time. When in doubt, turn on the game and get lost.
When baseball is on, the nagging presence of unpaid bills die down. The noisy neighbor is kidnapped from your brain for three hours. The lawn still needs to be mowed, but you can save it for later, or do it when the game reaches the safe confines of the seventh inning with a 7-1 lead intact. Adulting can wait when baseball is on.
All I needed as a kid were Jack Buck and Mike Shannon to tell me what was happening, like spies looking out over the mountain down at the enemy at the gates. I hung on every word, and I even relearned how to say a few words thanks to Shannon. It’s not Jason Simontacchi. It’s SIMO-MAN!! Who cares if it didn’t make sense. Coming out of Shannon’s mouth, it was poetry soaked in empty sunflower seeds, cheap beer, and a worn out scorecard.
These days, it’s Shannon and John Rooney calling the shots, and some nights I will drive around for no reason other than to drink a cup of coffee and listen to their call. The best part of a radio baseball game is hearing the roar of the crowd as a long ball is launched. You can point to your left and right and see someone who has pulled their car over on Kingshighway to listen to a ninth inning situation. Operating heavy machinery while listening to a “deuces wild” moment is hazardous. I think.
Most nights, I watch the game on the television and listen to South City rep Danny MAC McLaughlin tell me what’s what. It doesn’t matter who calls the game with him; McLaughlin makes it seamless. He’s the point guard who just needs a forward to pass the ball to while he drives the lane. There are few voices like Danny Mac in the game.
I’m rambling here, but I’m not sorry. Baseball brings it out of me. While I love and write about the consistent thrill and constant sorrow of the St. Louis Blues, the Cardinals and baseball controls my blood pressure. Don’t ask me to explain because I can’t even do it for my doctor. Bad losses haunt me. Big wins lift my day up. I am not credentialed media, so I can scream in my own home at this team and curse their wrongdoing. No matter what, I am moved by the sport. Only a closely contested boxing match gets me more worked up than a baseball game. It messes with me. Ask my wife. She shares me with the Cardinals for most of the year. I marry baseball in April, divorce them before Thanksgiving, yet come back before Valentine’s Day. It’s not complicated.
At its best, baseball is like a heart-wrenching three hour movie. Some days, you’ll get The Godfather II. Others will give you The Godfather III. Thankfully, you rarely get Rocky 3.
I can’t tell you what the 2019 Cardinals will do. They added a 5 stWAR stud in Paul Goldschmidt, but are relying on a couple question marks and youth to fill out key parts of their bullpen. No one knows what Dexter Fowler will do, but you can be sure Matt Carpenter will find new ways to boggle the minds of pitchers. What does Adam Wainwright have left? Is Yadier Molina a Marvel Avenger or just one of a kind?
So many questions, and six months to figure the answers out. No other sport asks you to commit like this. Baseball demands the best of you without offering a happy ending. More than likely, your team won’t make it.
I hate predictions, but I think the Cardinals have a 90 win team. I’d bet on the playoffs, but wouldn’t wager a mortgage on it. Whether it’s more or less, and why, is not something I want to investigate right now. Every team is 0-0. Even. Perfect record. It’s spring, where the weather is innocent. It’s safe to feel relaxed right now. There will be a time when things get hot and heavy.
For now, I’ll celebrate the return of the best sport … and I’ll oddly think about Pedro Guerrero. The unlikely first baseman who started this addiction.