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On Baseball Love

Here is the piece I read at Night of the Spoken Word here at the Ashe County Arts Center. Keep in mind when you're reading that it was written to be READ, and so excuse quirks of punctuation and grammar designed to help me in the performance. The truth is that by the time I finished writing this essay, I had to spend most of my editing and "tarting up" time cutting it, so it would fit into my 5-minute time limit. It seems I have a lot to say on this topic. And yes, I did wear my Tiger jersey to the event, the home jersey, the one with "Sparky" patch on the sleeve.

On Baseball Love

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me “Why do you love baseball so much?” Now, a lot of times people ask me a version of this question in a kind of snooty way. What they’re really saying is: “Really, baseball is so boring.” Or “Oh, baseball, that appeals to the tobacco-chewing sort, right?” But his was a serious question. He was honestly trying to figure it out.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about how to answer this baseball love question… I talked to one of my baseball-loving friends about it. He told me he always reminds his snobby writer friends of all the truly great writing about baseball. Ah ha. He was on to something there…

Because, coincidentally, I am currently on a gluttonous run of reading baseball books, and there are lots of them: classics, updated classics, biographies, and “as told to” crappola gossip books, which aren’t really about baseball at all, but about celebrity and money, and what happens when the stupid and ill-mannered get a hold of both. There’s even a book out called “501 Baseball Books Fans Must Read before They Die.” Really.

And there is some fine writing, too, like last year’s “The Art of Fielding” by Chad Harbach – which IS and ISN’T really about baseball at all. It’s about purpose, and family; friendship and worship; growing up and growing old; life and death; and there’s some sex in it, too, just to lighten things up.

I’ve also just read a new biography of Mark Fidrych called: “The Bird: The Life and Legacy of Mark Fidrych." The Bird was a 70s icon – some even say he literally saved baseball from certain demise, in the decade when football took over as the most popular American sport. He was the first athlete to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone -- and he got people watching baseball – in person and on T.V.

I have my own rituals for watching baseball, and aside from the classic book by Zack Hample called “Watching Baseball Smarter: A Professional Fan’s Guide for Beginners, Semi-experts, and Deeply Serious Geeks,” I’ll stick with my own routines.

Generally, if you live in a place where people don’t have ready access to a team, you have to either drive all over hell and back, or MAKE DO by watching the friggin Atlanta Braves on T.V. And let me go on the record here to say that I hate those guys on principal – I mean how can you have the NERVE to call yourself America’s Team?

So, what I do is fork over $29.99 a month during the season for MLB.TV, where you can watch just about every game – except for the ones that actually are on television where you live – which here in Ashe County, is very damn few.

OK, so that seems like a lot of money, but really, it’s not if you watch as many games as I do. And, since this is a streaming service, you aren’t glued to the room where your television is. I can watch on my computer, IPad, or even check in on my phone. I confess this has led me to watching baseball in some new places, like a bubble bath.

It was my husband Henry who encouraged me to get MLB-TV. He may regret it now -- I do get in trouble for hollering out at odd moments, and keeping my household up late sometimes -- but man, do I get my money’s worth! Earlier this week, my game had a rain delay and went pretty late -- I ended up watching the 9th inning in the bathroom on my IPad.

I even have a crew that I watch the games with on Facebook. I do multi-device games. One screen is for the game, another is for Facebook. I start a thread right at game time with the words TIGER BUDDIES in all caps. That’s the cue for my Tiger fan friends, from all over the country, to jump in. On any given day, there are as few as 2 or 3, or there might be as many as a dozen TIGER BUDDIES watching the game together. We comment on what’s happening, and rank-out the opposing teams and players. For example, the Houston Astros are the A-holes, the Texas Rangers are the Rankers, and we always always refer to the Yankees as the Skankees. During the playoffs last year, we posted as many as 500 comments during the game on our thread.

My team, as you have surely surmised, is the Detroit Tigers. That’s who I grew up with, and yes, I do love them. Right now, they are an especially fabulous team to watch, certainly up there with any team, as contenders for the World Series. We have Miguel Cabrera (Miggy), the best hitter in baseball, Prince Fielder (The Prince) hitting right behind him, Justin Verlander (JV) arguably the best pitcher in the game, and Jose Valverde (Papa Grande) who gives us Tiger fans frequent angina attacks in the 9th inning.

I could go on and on. There are many more Tigers with great nicknames and many more stories.

You see what happens? Watching or listening to the games, you get to know the players, the managers, the coaches, the owners -- where did they come from? Who are they? Where is your team in the standings, who’s hurt, who’s on a streak, who’s in a rut… What do you love about them -- why do you hate them? What’s going to happen?

So, here is my answer to that question -- why do I love baseball? -- every game is a short story – every season is a novel. It’s why there is so much great writing about baseball – and it’s why I love to watch it. That’s the whole thing about baseball – that’s why I love it – it’s all about the STORIES.
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