My I-70 Baseball colleague Bill Ivie recently told me about a blog called The Baseball Docent. One of the missions of that blog is to ask people a simple question: Why do you love baseball?
What a beautiful question to ask about a perfectly imperfect game.
For me, and perhaps for many others, the answer to the question is not so simple.
I love baseball because my dad and my mom took me to games, back in the days when the Royals played respectable ball and you could take a family of four to a big-league ballpark for less than twenty-five bucks - parking and food included.
I love baseball because after the games, my brother and I would go stand around next to the visiting team bus and the home team parking lot, asking for autographs. More players said no than yes, but the ones who said yes - regardless of how they performed on the field - became our favorites.
I love baseball because of my grandmother. A first-generation American, she was born and raised in the small central Missouri town of Loose Creek, and grew up in the days of Ruth and Gehrig. She became a fan of the Kansas City Royals out of spite, for the exact same reason she voted Republican: her husband, the jovial town barber, told her she ought vote Democrat and root for the St. Louis Cardinals. My grandmother did the opposite. Our family friend Ralph Lynch took my grandmother to a playoff game in 1985, and bought her a Royals jacket. The jacket, and a commemorative Dwight Eisenhower plate, were her prized possessions. She wore that jacket every spring and fall until the day she died.
I love baseball because of that jacket.
I love baseball because of Ralph Lynch. Ralph was the kind of guy who would throw away caps when they became too worn out. Once, when he was over at our house, shucking corn and drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon out of the can with my father, he decided his old Royals hat was too worn out and chucked it in a garbage barrel. I dug that sucker out of the trash and wore it the rest of my childhood.
I love baseball because of Bret Saberhagen. He was the kid pitcher on the Royals in 1985, and he went on to win a Cy Young Award and the World Series MVP. He was my favorite player, and still is, even though he sprayed bleach on reporters while playing for the Mets and wore his hair in a ridiculous perm.
I love baseball because of Game 7 of the 1985 World Series. A Cardinals fan tried to tell me recently that the Royals would have lost the series if Don Denkinger, the guy who blew a call in Game 6, hadn't been behind the plate for Game 7. The Royals won Game 7 by a score of 11-0. Cardinals fans are delusional if they think a different umpire would have changed the outcome of Saberhagen's complete-game shutout or the Royals' offensive explosion. But I digress... I love baseball because I was six years old during the 1985 World Series. My family watched the game from our living room, in the house where my parents still live. Ralph Lynch was there, too. My brother and I watched from the living room carpet, laid out on our stomachs, our heads cradled in our hands. When Darryl Motley caught the ball for the final out and Saberhagen leaped into George Brett's arms, we pounded on the carpet and screamed until our fists were sore and our throats were raw.
I love baseball because I love hating the Cardinals, and I love hating the Yankees.
I love baseball because of George Brett, the greatest player I ever saw. Years after he retired I witnessed him at an exhibition game. He was joking around with the crowd, signing a few autographs, and then he took batting practice and his expression became deadly serious. He whacked the ball all over the park, with that wonderfully ridiculous back-to-the-pitcher stance of his. I'll bet money George Brett could still hit .275 in the big leagues.
I love baseball because of birthday money. On my birthday, I would get $15 from my parents to spend anyway I liked, and my brother would get $10. On his birthday, we'd reverse it. One year on my birthday, I blew my entire wad on baseball cards. My brother had always had more cards than me, and it was sort of a sore subject. That night I came home and opened all my cards (probably 30 packs - they were a lot cheaper back then), and shoved all the gum in my mouth. Then, with a mouth full of sugary sweetness, I took my cards and stacked them up in a skyscraper. My brother stacked his cards up too. My stack, for once, was taller.
I love baseball because of the gum. My brother's friend once built a small box out of baseball-card gum and stored his valuables inside, because he swore the gum was fireproof.
I love baseball because of Buck O'Neil.
I love baseball because there's an old family rumor, largely propagated by my brother, that we're distantly related to Mickey Mantle.
I love baseball because my wife lets me teach her about the game, and she's come to love it, too, in a way only a perfect wife can, the kind of wife who doesn't just suffer her husband's obsessions, but shares in them.
I love baseball because it's the only game that matters. It's the only game I'll ever truly love. It's a game that belongs to me in the same way it belongs to all fans, and I belong to it as well.
-- Matt Kelsey