I came from a baseball-less family.
I had two older brothers who didn’t play and a father who was indifferent about it.
My dad would take me to Opening Day every now and then, but it wasn’t an annual deal like some families. When we went to a game it was most likely in the summer and more about sitting in the bleachers to get sun than explaining the game to his son.
My brothers probably couldn’t tell you a single Cleveland Indians player, our hometown team, before 1995 when the Tribe made the World Series and then all of a sudden they were huge fans.
As Opening Day 2012 approaches, I’ve been reflecting on how I came to love the game on my own.
The kids in my neighborhood played it all of the time as we rode our bikes through the woods to get to the park where other neighborhood kids would play with us during the summer.
I collected cards and back then Topps also put out a sticker book. My mom worked at a convenience store and often brought cards/stickers home after her shift.
The Baseball Bunch, a television show hosted by Reds catcher Johnny Bench with appearances by Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith, and others, was on every weekend and I never missed an episode.
The Chicago Cubs were on WGN everyday during the day and the Braves came on TBS at night. During the summer, there was nothing better than an Indians West Coast trip as we put them on the radio while we took a “night dip” in my buddy’s pool at 10 p.m. to coincide with the first pitch.
So I found my way to the game anyway with the help of all of those various reasons.
But it wasn’t until I started going to games with two of my oldest brother’s friends — CWeb and Skupps — that I really got an idea of what the game really entailed.
It was back in the day at old Cleveland Stadium when there were 3,000 fans at a stadium that could fit 80,000 on Opening Day.
We’d buy a cheap ticket and they taught me how to sneak down to seats behind home plate. It was all about acting like you belonged by walking confident, no hesitation whatsoever, and if you really wanted to sell it, wave to the usher.
I remember one time after I ended up being the “baseball mentor” to the younger kids in my neighborhood, we snuck down to the good seats and there was someone in front of us who was annoying (basically being incorrect about stats and not knowing the players) so I asked the usher to check his ticket.
He got booted and here I was all of 17 years old seating in a section I didn’t have the right to be in either and I had the guts to tell the usher to kick the guy out of his seat because he didn’t belong.
CWeb and Skupps would have been proud.
They taught me other stuff as well like how to keep score, playing mound ball (after each inning when the teams switch from field to dugout you’d bet $1 on whether the ball would be in the grass or on the dirt mound when the other team’s pitcher picked it up to start warming up) and another game where you’d bet quarters on how each at-bat would end (strikeout, walk, hit, etc.)
I am forever grateful to those guys for taking me to games and showing me stuff like that along with debating who was better, Ted Williams or Joe DiMaggio (I was a Williams guy), or the use of the designated hitter.
I tried to do the same with the younger guys in my neighborhood once I got my driver’s license. What makes baseball different than other pro games is the opportunity to talk while the action is going because there is so much down time.
People say that slow pace is why today’s younger generation doesn’t have a connection, but it was just the opposite with me. Yes, the game action isn’t constant compared to football and basketball, but those are moments were you can take advantage of just sitting and talking like you are on a front porch.
In today’s technological world how often do people just sit and talk anymore without some kind of device in their hands?
Now that I have a daughter I am trying to make sure she understands my love for the game — she has taken to calling “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” our song and usually does a rendition before she goes off to bed this time of the year — but right now when we go to games she’s interested in DBaxter and the Sandlot area of the upper deck at Chase Field.
My hope is over time she becomes interested in keeping score, playing mound ball and wants to debate the merits of the DH.
One thing she will know for sure is that she doesn’t come from a baseball-less home.
Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.