Friday, August 12, 2005

Baseball Has Been Bery, Bery Good to Me...

Petco Park - Towards Home
Originally uploaded by Other Lisa.

Petco Park - Western Metal
Originally uploaded by Other Lisa.

Petco Park - Outfield
Originally uploaded by Other Lisa.

I grew up on baseball. My mom and I would listen to the games on the radio. I still remember precisely how the ballpark announcer would enunciate certain of the players' names: “NumberelevenENZO…Hernandez!” And I loved going to the games. My mom, who did not really drive until she was an adult, would load me and my sister into the 1970 Mustang and brave the stadium traffic. We’d sit in the general admission seats, cheap entertainment for a household headed by a single parent, and watch our San Diego Padres play. And at that point in the team’s history, generally lose. But that wasn’t as important as you might think. Baseball is an atavistic loyalty. It’s connected to all these deep concepts – things like “Home.” You root for your home team. And like all primal imprinting, it’s difficult to alter.

For example, I've lived in LA for nearly twenty years, and they'll always be the stinking, effin' Dodgers to me. Though I am gaining some affection for the “Los Angeles in Close Proximity to San Diego Angels of Anaheim.” Except that I have to say, American League baseball is not proper baseball. The designated hitter is an abomination. Really. Using a DH removes an entire layer of strategy from the game. We got a man on second, two out. We need this run. But the pitcher’s under his pitch count, and his stuff is really great tonight. Do we pull him? Get into the bullpen?

Besides, is there a better example of the mysterious serendipities of life than when the pitcher gets up there and drives in the winning run in his own cause? I think not.

The love of baseball tends to be genetic. You usually inherit from your parents. But there are exceptions. My friend Christy, like me, another female football fan (also an inherited trait, we both got it from our mothers) had little use for baseball. I’d have it on TV when she’d come over, and she just didn’t get it.

But you have to go to a game, I'd tell her. Once you've gone, you'll understand. Going to the ballpark is like…well…it’s just soooo cool…

And she'd sort of shake her head, like it wasn't gonna happen.

About a month ago she calls me. Well, I'm a baseball fan now, she announces. My team is the Yankees.

How could that happen? I demand. Great that you now love baseball, but the Damn Yankees?! But how did it happen, regardless?

Well, it was easy. She was in New York, on vacation, and a friend took her to Yankee Stadium. One day at the ballpark. That's all it took...

In recent years, it hasn’t been so bad, being a Padres fan. They made it to the World Series, even if they didn’t win a game. We had Tony Gwynn, the best hitter of his era. And the Padres have consistently done better than the damn stinkin’ Dodgers.

This year, it looks like the Pads are the good bet to win the National League West. Granted, the NL West is probably the suckiest division in baseball this year, but hey, we’ll take it. And there are a lot of cool Padres players to root for. There are consummate pros Mark Loretta and Brian Giles, sparkplug Dave Roberts, future Hall of Famer (he of the heavenly shoulders) Trevor Hoffman, tough, soulful catcher Ramon Hernandez, “gave his all for the team on opening day, separating his shoulder making a catch against the wall, no one thought he'd be back this season but he's playing and contributing cause he's 39 years old and they're in a pennant race, dammit,” Eric Young, mega-talented, long-haired, groovy Khalil Greene, the inspirational Woody Williams, and maybe one of the best pitchers in baseball, Jake Peavey, who defines intensity and calls everyone “the boys” even if they’re a decade older than he is. Xavier Nady, Robert Fick, Mark Sweeney, Scottie Linebrink…

But my current favorite might just be set-up man Akinori Otsuka. There’s no mistaking him on the mound; he stands up straight, legs spread like he’s doing a yoga “warrior” pose and hurls his pitches like he’s going to launch himself at home plate; he’s got a killer sinker that when he’s locating his pitches absolutely confounds batters, and moreover, he’s just so damn cute…

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