October 01, 2004

Baseball and Me: A Fan's Story

Today's Musical Selection: "Talkin' Baseball" by Terry Cashman

Hi, everybody! Today I pick up on Frinklin's question from yesterday, about how I ever managed to become a Brewers fan, living in the Fedroplex as I always have. It's a natural question. Most people look at my fondness for the Brewers (as well as the Bucks and the University of Wisconsin), combine that with my mild-mannered nature and my pale skin and assume I'm from Milwaukee. I'm not, though. So how did I become addicted to the Brewers, the Third World franchise of baseball. Well, sit back and let me tell you a story.

I became aware of Major League Baseball when I was about 8. I would have gotten started earlier, but the Yankees were in a down cycle, and Dad (in the proud tradition of Yankee frontrunners everywhere) was doing a fair job of pretending that there was no such thing as "Major League Baseball." But I found the game anyway, through baseball cards. I used to buy packs of Topps out of the grocery-store vending machine, 50 cents a pack. That was my first window into the game.

The next year, my best friend turned me on to The Sports Page, the local card and memorabilia shop. Entering The Sports Page for the first time was like stepping through the Pearly Gates. It was a cramped little shop and the owner tailed us like a private eye to make sure we didn't shoplift anything, but I didn't care. They had cards, hats, pennants, everything. The Sports Page was a second home for me.

My family didn't have cable, so my exposure to the major-league game consisted of cards and the Game of the Week. At least until I was 11 and my dad and my grandfather took me to Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. My dad had asked me who I wanted to see the Orioles play, and I requested Pittsburgh, whereupon Dad gently explained about the American and National Leaague and how the twain never would meet. So instead we went to see the O's take on the Red Sox.

It was a 6-5 Orioles loss, but I was hooked on the game. After the game, my grandfather took me down into the warrens of the stadium. I asked where we were headed, and he said, "You'll see." We wound up in the team offices, where I was introduced to my great-aunt Helen, who worked for the Orioles. She set me up with a bunch of promotional freebies -- postcards, a gym bag -- and a small box which she instructed me not to open until I left. The minute we got in the car, I opened the box... and found a ball autographed by the whole team! It's one of my prized possessions; it sits on the shelf over my head as I write this.

So what does any of this have to do with the Brewers? I'm getting there.

As a result of attending the game, I briefly flirted with Oriole rootership. I was so encouraged by my Oriole-fan grandfather. It didn't last long, though... as I learned pretty early on, Baltimore is not Washington, and just because some people tried to tell me the Orioles were my "home team," that didn't mean I had to believe them. So I was casting around for a team to call my own pretty much from the start.

So naturally enough, I started rooting for the teams that owned my favorite players. I was an aspiring catcher in those days (before I learned just how hard to find a left-handed catcher's mitt), and so I came to admire two top-notch catchers of the era, Benito Santiago and B.J. Surhoff. Santiago was a Padre and Surhoff was a Brewer, so they became my favorite teams, one in each league. (That's right, Frinklin, I was a Padres fan once.)

What happened to divorce me from the Padres? Well, in 1993 the Padres started selling off pretty much everything that wasn't nailed down. It was in this year that I first learned the definition of the term "fire sale." I refused to abandon the Padres, though... I believe in sticking with your team through thick and thin. No bandwagon-jumper, I.

At least until the Padres abandoned me. My dad came home from work some day and said, "Well, your guy has a new home."
I cleverly replied, "What?"
He said, "The Padres traded Santiago to Florida. I heard it on the news."

Like any devoted fan, I refused to believe him. But I opened the paper the next day and it was true. And the Padres and I were through from that day on. Trade my favorite player, and we're history.

I thought of taking up Florida, but I decided my loyalties weren't that easily transferred. I decided to root for Santiago as a player, independent of the team he was on. (And given the way he subsequently bounced around, from the Marlins to the Reds to the Phillies to the Cubs to the Reds again to the Giants to the Royals, I think this was a prudent decision on my part.)

So that left me with the Brewers. Remember what I said about sticking with my team through thick and thin? I've had more than a decade to contemplate the depths of my love, and I've held firm. (Surhoff left Milwaukee in 1996, but I didn't blame the Brewers for that. They turned down more money from them to sign with Baltimore, so that he could care for his autistic son at Johns Hopkins. I respect that.)

My Brewers fanship bloomed into a wider love for all things Wisconsin: the Bucks, the Packers, the Badgers, and the state in general. Last year, I went to Milwaukee for the first time in my life. I felt instantly at home. I fell for the town and the people almost from the minute I stepped off the plane at Mitchell Field. If I ever leave Washington, I hope to wind up in Milwaukee.

So what will happen with my and the Brewers now that we have a team in DC? It's a tough call. If the teams were in different leagues, it would be easier, but they're both NL clubs. I've come too far with the Brewers to throw them over; I grew up with the team, and that's not something you just wash away. But the Washington team... how can they not be #1 in my heart? Any fans with advice are welcome to weigh in on this.

Right now I'm watching the Giants-Dodgers game, and the announcers were cracking a joke about the age of the Giants' outfield. "The last time we saw an outfield this old," the play-by-play man said, "there was baseball in Washington. Not the new Senators, the old Senators." The mention of the new Senators put a blissful grin on my face. It's finally starting to sink in... this isn't a trick. This is the real thing. At long last. Hallelujah.

Ah, what a glorious and tiring week! I need to rest. See you Monday!

Posted by Fred at October 1, 2004 11:19 PM
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