I was never a baseball fan until I was about to turn 23.
When I talk about my 'fandom', I usually qualify which season drew me in by saying "I was hooked on the game in April!", lest someone thinks I threw myself at the first bandwagon rolling by.
It's true. I never really watched a baseball game until that year. However, I was dating someone (who I have since married) that practically eats, sleeps and breathes Yankee pinstripes. It was hard to ignore the sport with a baseball fanatic around.
One morning in April 1996 we sat on Bruce's cracked brown faux-leather couch and debated how to spend our day. His eyes got wild and big. He flew for the phone book, made a quick call and came back triumphant. "Let's drive to the Bronx and go to a Yankee game."
"Oh goody," I thought, while my mouth formed the sounds, "Ahhh, umm, k? Baseball, huh? I know nothing about baseball."
It sounds cliche, I'm sure, but it's a factual statement - when we walked out into the concrete cathedral to the sport I was in awe. There's something about the lush green grass and the climbing rows of stadium seating that gets your attention. I had a good time even though the Yankees lost. More seasoned fans were actually even more elated than I was - the team might have fallen short but that game was the best one Doc Gooden had pitched in his return that season. It gave them hope even though they couldn't guess what would lie ahead.
Days later I was on a plane headed out to a trade show. The coworker sitting next to me said, "Did you see Doc pitch? Isn't that great?"
I confessed my status as neophyte, adding that I had been at that game. Dennis took it upon himself to tutor me in baseball. From that day forward he'd send me emails and instant messages that went something like this: When you talk to your man tonight, say "I don't know about you, but I swear Boggs was safe in the 7th inning. That 6-3-4 double play with a hard slide coming down is tough to execute and I don't think they did it! Those umps are blind."
I, of course, dutifully repeated his lines, often adding in "At least that's what Dennis told me to say." Over time I didn't need his insights. I knew Doc Gooden's no hitter was a big deal. I knew Jeter was having a rookie-of-the-year caliber season. I knew it was worth staying up late and watching the World Series underdog surge to take the crown from Atlanta. I was hooked. I was a Yankee fan.
I still am.
Even in 'Roid era.
Of course, the events leading up to, through and beyond the Mitchell report have left their mark.
I am also a football fan, although not as glued to the set each week as some (read my husband) people are. I'm a Giants fan and I have been since childhood. I had no expectations for them this playoff season and so I'm not only elated to find them Super Bowl bound, I'm unbelievably shocked about it.
We were watching the game last night, as you might expect having read this far. I watched the offensive and defensive lines take their places for the first drive. I turned to my husband with a snarky smirk on my face and said:
"This line up brought to you by Balco."
And he laughed in return saying, "Yeah, no kidding."
It's sad, isn't it. An athlete in any sport can't excel, can't hone their skills or build their body without the shadow of doubt looming over them. A player can't hit a peak and then fall off the statistical cliff without a fan wondering if the guy's simply "Giambied" (as in Jason who earned multiple MVP awards while admittedly juiced and then, upon giving up the cheating aspect of his game, failed to break out of the mid-200 batting average range...which for you non-fans out there, is a bad range to be mired in.)
It's sad that each record set in the last decade or more is looked at with a question in the eye of the beholder. "Did he really win that many games because he's that good or because his trainer injected HGH? Can that guy really knock the cover off the ball that many times in a season...in a career...after 40? Is that rookie really that good? Is that superstar clean?"
It's sad that the greed and self-doubt of some cast a shadow on all.
It's not stopping me from watching, I admit it. It is stopping me from watching it with the same innocent awe at a person's raw talent.