Wednesday, September 29, 2010

On Baseball

I just got done watching The Tenth Inning, the follow-up by Ken Burns to his brilliant Baseball documentary of the 90s.  I'm a fan of Burns, a fan of baseball and a loyal supporter of the Kansas City Royals.

My first Royals game was in 1978, the night that Cookie Rojas retired as a player from baseball.  I went back to Kauffman Stadium pretty regularly from then through the 1994 season. I've been back since then maybe three times. Maybe four or five. The '94 strike really hurt me. My team was competitive in '94 and in the hunt for a wild card spot. I got to see Ken Griffey Jr. play in KC that year. The team was actually pretty good and certainly a helluva lotta fun to watch.

But the strike killed me. I thought everyone involved was being greedy and not considering the game. The Game of Baseball is what I meant to say. I watch the stats every year for the first two, maybe three months, then I lose interest in the game as the Royals head for the cellar and I don't really care about any other team. I mean, I hate the Yankees like any other baseball fan and I hate the trend that Barry Bonds started of strutting down the first base line to watch his homers sail out of the park. I don't hate a lot of things, but those I hate. (Actually by 'hate' I mean 'really dislike'. I don't expend the energy to really 'hate'.)

I grew up playing baseball with friends and briefly in the local Parks & Rec league. I played until I got 'traded'. Yep, traded in the Parks & Recreation league. I tried to be a pitcher, but center field was my real home on the field. My only home run came when I hit a ball beyond the lights during a night game and the center fielder was too scared to go out into the shadows to get it. I chugged around the base path while the left fielder came over to get it and make the throw back in. I quit playing soon after in any sort of organized league.

My love of the game came from my grandfather, who played professionally in the 50s. I've told that story elsewhere, but one of the things I always looked forward to was talking to him about the Royals. We knew, every year, that there was a chance they could be good and that it would likely be squandered but we connected through baseball. He had a million great stories about being a player back then and so that was probably where I got my inclination to want to tell stories, too.

Burns' series is brilliant, I said that above. More importantly, it's unflinching in its look at the game I love. The Tenth Inning is brutal about all that's wrong with the game but also celebrates what makes it great. It's a terrific balance between the dark and the light and if you love the game you need to watch it.

I remember Monday Night Baseball on network TV. I remember Nolan Ryan and Robin Yount and Graig Nettles and all those guys who made the game so GOOD. I was disappointed that my Royals haven't been good enough over the last fifteen years to merit much of a mention in Burns' update, but I understood their omission. There's been so much since Burns' 1994 original that needs to be talked about.

In the end, it's really about Baseball the Game. My team isn't one of the good ones, isn't even in the same league as the Cubs or the Padres or the Giants. It's a small market team and we've only had one star, George Brett, who made an impact. Lots of others have passed through on their way to greater recognition (Johnny Damon, David Cone, Tom Gordon, Jermaine Dye and so many others) but no one says Kansas City like Brett. He stayed here for his entire career. At times, it's looked like the Royals are really a farm team for the rest of the major leagues.

So those are my thoughts on Baseball for now. If you're inclined, tell me what you think about your team or Ken Burns or just baseball in general.

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