A Letter on Valentine’s Day

To my wife?  No, to baseball.  ‘Tis the season.  From Jim Caple on ESPN.com:

Off Base

Because this is Feb. 14, I present a valentine to my first, deepest and most lasting love …

Baseball, you had me at “Play ball.”

I loved you from that first day my father played catch with me and I held you in my hand for the initial time — and vice-versa.

Perhaps I rushed into things, for we went to bed at an early age when I would sneak a radio under the blankets to listen through the static to distant Giants broadcasts. I was probably too young and too immature for I did not understand then that you would break my heart. Repeatedly. You allowed me to follow the Giants that entire season, copying boxscores into my notebook, clipping newspaper photos (I still have the picture of Willie Mays homering for the fourth time in as many games to begin the season), collecting their baseball cards. I said their names so often that I still can repeat them as if they are members of my own family: Bonds, Fuentes, Mays, McCovey, Henderson, Dietz, Speier, Gallagher, Marichal … You let my spirits rise and fall and rise again as the Giants battled the Dodgers during the pennant drive, allowing me to feel pure joy when they clinched the division.

And then you abruptly crushed my hopes in a five-game series against Pittsburgh in October. You didn’t even let the series go five games! It was my first painful lesson that you are a frustrating lover, a tease. One night you allow me to go all the way and score. The next you leave me stranded at second base. And some nights you won’t let me even get to first base.

Did I forgive you then? Of course I did. I always do. I forgive you everything. The 1981 strike. The canceled 1994 World Series. The Expos’ move. Luxury suites and corporate naming rights and rising ticket prices. I forgive you for bullpen carts and orange polyester uniforms and the Moose. I forgive you for the Bartman game and Grady Little and the Yankees. I even forgive you for heartlessly snatching the 2002 World Series away when the Giants held a five-run lead with eight outs remaining.

Why? Why do I put up with the pain? Why do I put up with a game where the very best I can hope for is failure seven out of every 10 at-bats (at least since Tony Gwynn retired)?

Ball Four

That’s easy. I do so because I love you wholly and unconditionally.

I love you for the anticipation I feel opening a new waxpack of baseball cards (even though I know I will get another Ryan Franklin instead of an Albert Pujols). I love you for the paperback copy of “Ball Four” worn and tattered from annual readings. I love you for the home run Roy Hobbs hits into the light towers, the Durham Bulls discussing candlesticks and rooster sacrifice on the mound and the Black Sox walking out of the cornfield. I love you for “Who’s on First?” and Charlie Brown and the chorus of “Centerfield.”

I love you for Babe Ruth calling his shot (or not) and Lou Gehrig saying he was the luckiest man on the face of the Earth. I love you for Bobby Thomson leaping onto home plate with both feet after a 300-foot home run and Willie Mays catching a 450-foot fly ball with his back to the field. Carl Yastrzemski holding his bat high and Rod Carew holding the handle as if playing the flute. Bob Gibson scowling at a batter and Kirby Puckett smiling brightly enough to light up a state. Carlton Fisk waving his home run fair and Jack Morris stomping to the mound for the 10th inning of Game 7. Cal Ripken Jr. running a victory lap at Camden Yards and Mark McGwire hugging the Maris kids. Omar Vizquel backhanding a ball in the hole and Big Papi walking up to the plate.

I love you for the Pine Tar Game and Oscar Gamble’s hair and the Tigers’ old English D. For Ernie Harwell and Vin Scully and Jon Miller. The Game of the Week and “Baseball Tonight.” The 1969 Mets and the 1995 Mariners and the 1976 Bad News Bears.

I love you for doubleheaders and extra innings and bat day. I love you for spring training and the Boys of Summer and the Autumn Classic. I love you for peanuts and crackerjack. I love you for long drives with the game on the car radio. I love you for the Green Monster and Wrigley and Cooperstown.

I love you for boxscores.

Of course, you know all this already. I have written you almost daily love letters and poems for my entire adult life.

    “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day at Wrigley Field?
    Thou art more lovely than Derrek Lee’s stroke and more temperate than a can of cold Old Style in the bleachers.
    Rough winds do carry Lilly’s curveballs onto Waveland Avenue,
    And summer hath all too short a lease on first place.”

But no mere words of mine can resonate as deeply as “The outlook wasn’t good for the Mudville Nine that day … ” or “Now batting for the Yankees … the shortstop, Derek Jeter, No. 2 … Jeter … ” or “Pitchers and catchers report today … ”

Pedro Martinez, Grady LittleI would give you diamonds but you already have those. I would give you chocolates but the concession stands only sell red vines and ice cream sundaes in mini-helmets. I would give you intimate apparel but I don’t know your cap size. So all I can offer you is my love and devotion. I love you baseball, because for all the suffering, you fill my life with endless joy and stubborn, continual hope.

After all, the Giants did sign Barry Zito this winter.


8 thoughts on “A Letter on Valentine’s Day

  1. This is very good. I can say I get all the references, but I did enjoy the read very much!

    As a recent convert…you should DIGG it…I’d click.

  2. I can honestly say I didn’t read this post – after the first line about your first love being baseball, I was done – – – – I am sure that it was a good post though – – – – –

  3. Would Stephanie’s comment qualify as a change-up?

    — I don’t suppose you would be so kind as to delete the previous comment….no, I didn’t think so…

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