This past weekend, I took a break from baseball–I generally need one or
two a year–and flew out to Las Vegas for a few days of college basketball
and checking out the sights. Honestly, it was the last place I expected to
get an idea for a column. But Sunday, I came across two people who got me
thinking about just how many people love the game, and love it in ways that
don’t get talked about much here at Baseball Prospectus.
Sunday morning, I was playing cards at the Las Vegas Hilton, and got into a
conversation with a dealer about the Cubs. Jim is an affable fellow, one
I’d talked with on a couple of prior trips. After exchanging opinions about
their winter–Jim was optimistic about the team’s pitching thanks to the
Ismael Valdes trade–he sighed and said, with a touch of sadness,
"You know, I wasn’t going to follow them this year. But I guess
they’re going to suck me in again."
To me, it was the one of the most meaningful statements I’d ever heard
about being a fan. My loyalty is to the Yankees, and while my adolescence
coincided with their 1982-1994 dry spell, those memories have all been
wiped out by three titles in four years, including one of the greatest
seasons of the 1900s. I take pleasure in ragging Rany Jazayerli about his
Royals, who were even more futile than the Cubs in the 1990s, and I have
become, sad to say, a bit complacent in my fandom.
Hearing Jim talk about rooting for his team as if it were painful, almost
something to be feared or avoided, was a reminder of how deep our loyaties
can run. Even though Jim has never seen a Cub World Series game, he finds
himself getting excited about their chance to show him one–or at least
give him hope for one–this year.
Later that day, I was playing a different game at a different table with a
different dealer. Leonardo was born in Italy, and came to America as a
teenager. When he found out I was a baseball writer, he began regaling me
with stories of his years in Cincinnati, of watching games at Crosley Field
and meeting Leo Durocher and Pete Rose and Johnny
Bench. Friendly to begin with, he became animated, even giddy, as he
related being mistaken for a player and getting into Riverfront Stadium for
its opening. He told me he once saw Art Shamsky hit three home runs
in a game after coming in as a defensive replacement (those of you fond of
Rob Neyer’s "Tracers" have your homework assignment).
Talking to Leonardo got me thinking about what baseball must have meant to
him in 1962, as a 15-year-old Italian kid new to America, in a time before
Super Bowls and Dream Teams and AYSO soccer. A time when America and
baseball were synonymous. And even now, his excitement about the Reds
having Ken Griffey Jr. and their run to game 163 last year was genuine.
Both of these men are fans. Neither has ever bought a copy of Baseball
Prospectus or considered the merits of Equivalent Average vs. Runs
Created. But they’ve cheered and booed, they’ve bought tickets and sat in
the sunshine, and they’ve loved the game just as much as anyone you’ll read
at this Web site.
And me? Well, I don’t really want that break anymore, and I can’t wait
until April 3, Yankees at Angels, 7:35 p.m.
Thanks, Jim and Leonardo.
Joe Sheehan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.