Rediscovering an Old Friend

Like most American male teenagers, I loved baseball. When I discovered Bill James’ incomparable Baseball Abstract in 1983 it was like finding a slice of heaven. The Baseball Abstracts were baseball for geeks – full of hypotheses that were either confirmed or refuted by masses of statistics and equations. Before long, I had programmed Lotus 1-2-3 on my parent’s IBM PC (yes – one of those) to calculate all sorts of statistics about the players on my favorite team back then – the New York Mets (who were truly dreadful at the time).

But year by year my love got whittled away. Most of it was destroyed by watching the insufferable fights between multimillionaire players and owners. And then more was whittled away seeing the huge competitive disadvantages between small and large market teams – where’s the fun if you know that 2/3rds of the teams have no chance of winning the World Series? And when a small market team actually did make the playoffs, the Yankees, Red Sox or one of the other privileged few inevitably swooped in and took away their best players.

By the mid-90’s I’d pretty much given up on baseball. Sure I’d go to a game or two a year, either to hang out at Camden Yards when I lived in DC or at Coors Field after moving back to Denver. But that’s because both fields are great ballparks, and it was always a fun evening hanging out with friends or going out on a date.

It didn’t help that my new favorite team, the Rockies, were lousy. And perhaps even worse then being lousy, their roster was the definition of a revolving door. Their general manager (Dan O’Dowd) made 39 trades involving 130 players in his first three years on the job. Its hard to get excited about a team when you haven’t got a clue who plays for them.

Jumping on the Bandwagon

And then the Rockies made baseball fun again this year. They’re an easy team to root for – young, talented, hard-working and team-oriented – the perfect underdog. And it was clear they were getting better – anything less than a winning record this year (2007) would have been a disappointment.

By the end of August, they had met expectations. But then they put together the best September in baseball history and capped it off with one of the most extraordinary baseball games I’ve ever seen – a one game playoff victory against the Padres.

I was lucky enough to be at Coors Field that night – my dad had bought two tickets. And it was quite a night – you could just “feel” the Rockies were going to win until they blew a lead in the eight inning. And then a funny thing happened. The game stopped being fun and became downright scary. The capacity crowd stood from the ninth inning on – fidgeting nervously before every pitch, cheering wildly for strikes and outs and groaning with each ball or Padre hit.

And I’ve never heard a crowd so mercilessly boo a player off the field after Jorge Julio crushed our dreams by giving up a two run home run in the top of the thirteenth inning. And I’ve never heard a crowd so joyful then after Matt Holliday was called safe to win the game in the bottom of the the 13th.

If you’re not into the sports then none of this makes sense. But if you are, then you understand that its greatest moments are pure joy or pure devastation. Its every bit of life all wrapped up into one moment, and its a high that makes people root for their favorite teams year after year after year until the one ultimate moment arrives.

And obviously I was hooked on baseball again.

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