Few moments in our lives have the power to transcend reality and make us feel as though we are actually living in a dramatic movie.
For baseball fans, that first moment might be when we walk up to a Major League Baseball stadium to take in our first game.
The ballpark is a powerful place. Whether full of people during a game or empty beforehand, it has a majestic feel that can overwhelm the senses. There might as well be dramatic music playing during that first trip through the tunnel from the concourse to the playing field.
To a young baseball fan, that moment is one of the most awe-inspiring experiences he or she can have.
I was seven years old when I entered Busch Stadium II for my first St. Louis Cardinals game. I had no idea what to expect. To that point in my life, the most impressive things I had seen were the Christmas lights hanging from the street lights in my small hometown or the excitement that filled the town when the carnival arrived for the Fourth of July celebration.
Busch Stadium blew all that away. The lights, the sounds, the perfect grass, it felt like I was in a completely different world. Baseball heaven, maybe?
Baseball has a magic that other sports don’t. It is a sport that might have been able to turn the Grinch into a hopelessly emotional sap if he had seen it before entering Whoville. What is that magic? It’s hard to explain, and that’s a good thing.
Baseball is different from other sports. Yes, it is exciting when the home team jumps out of the dugout to take the field for the first time, but the lose-your-voice excitement often doesn’t start with the first pitch.
In basketball the first three-pointer or first dunk will send the crowd into a frenzy. In football the first tackle charges the stadium with electricity. Baseball is not a sport where you can “tune in to the fourth quarter” to catch the excitement.
A baseball game is more like a novel. It is a game that takes us on a nine-inning trip that will shake its finger at you if you ask, “Are we there yet?”
No, we’re not. Sit still and enjoy the journey.
In many ways, baseball mirrors life. The big leaguers play baseball every day, not just every couple of days or once a week, just like we go to work or go to school every day. There are also good times and not-so-good times where every minute of every day isn’t filled with excitement.
Today’s Sportscenter-driven world likes to chop our experiences into highlights where we only see the “good” parts of the game. That’s not what baseball is about. One of the great parts of baseball is that it makes you wait for the exciting moment.
Take the Tampa Bay Rays final game of the season against the New York Yankees, for example. The Rays fell behind 7-0 in the first five innings and it looked like their season was finished. Then they charge back with six runs in the eighth and back-up catcher Dan Johnson hits a game-tying and season-saving homerun in the ninth. That homerun and Evan Longoria’s walk-off homer in the 12th are the moments of screaming excitement, but the journey to get to those points is what made them so rewarding.
No matter which players are found to have done steroids, which players leave their team to chase more money or how the playoffs are set up, the game itself will always be great.
Baseball can build drama unlike any other sport. The strings cannot be pulled any tighter than when Brad Lidge has the Houston Astros one out away from their first World Series appearance in 2005 and Albert Pujols hits a home run to win the game for the Cardinals, or when Texas Rangers closer Neftali Feliz has his team one strike away from winning the World Series and David Freese hits a triple to keep the Cardinals’ season and hope for a championship alive.
The emotions that baseball injects in people are fantastic. From brokenhearted, lifelong Chicago Cubs fans who were one game away from a World Series in 2003 to the joy entire cities feel when their team wins the championship, baseball teaches us lessons about how hard we have to work to succeed, as well as how to handle the times in our life when we don’t.
Baseball is great in the fact that there is always tomorrow’s game, so each regular-season loss isn’t such a crushing defeat, but it also makes the season’s final victory that much greater and the final defeat that much more harder to swallow.
That is why I love baseball.