Posted on December 2, 2019
It’s 123 days until opening day for the Washington Nationals. This is important to me and about a million other people, but not at all to anyone else.
I played Pop Warner football growing up and spent the time before I discovered girls obsessively following the NFL. But the game changed and I also changed and we drifted away from one another. Decades later when I sat down to reconnect with my old favorite sport, I found it unrecognizable and dull.
About the same time, I discovered the Ken Burns documentary on Baseball. Watching it repeatedly allowed me to bask in the history and culture of a sport I had never known. I literally got my love of the sport from that PBS series before I ever went to a stadium to watch a game.
My wife and I began attending University of Texas baseball games, trying to puzzle out the rules and strategies with the help of more seasoned fans. Eventually, I got it. The hook, firmly sunk and the line taut, I ordered our first big screen flat panel plasma television for the express purpose of becoming an MLB fan.
One thing about baseball that really leaned into the more obsessive traits of my “if one a week is good then one a day is even better” personality is the sheer number of games. Football’s regular season? 16 games. Baseball’s? 162. For six months, I am able to watch a game almost every day.
I immediately drew a line in the sand on some of the more sanguine issues of the sport — Infield fly rule: good. Designated hitter: a sin against humanity — and quickly became an acolyte of the National game. The Houston Astros, then, became the only logical choice for my home team as I’m from Austin and spent some of my childhood in Houston.
I bought into the Astros at the top of a terrible slide. For six seasons, they did worse and worse (something I discovered was common to a team that had just missed a world series run and was up for sale). Then the unthinkable happened. The team was bought by carpetbaggers who moved it to the American League.
I can’t put into words how awful that was — not because I don’t have the words, but because there are so many of them it would simply take too long.
There was only one thing to do: Find another team in the National League with the kind of announcers I liked. When you watch 150 or so games a year, the quality of the announcers is critical. I landed on the Washington Nationals and immediately became an ardent fan.
Two seasons later, the Astros won the World Series.
And I ate my own liver with rage.
But I never regretted staying with the National League. It’s the one true expression of the sport, unmuddled by new wave rules like the DH. And this year I was rewarded with a Washington Nationals Series win.
When my daughters asked me why, later in life, I suddenly developed a love of sports, I quoted a line from the baseball documentary, “An American needs something to kick about without really meaning it.”
The passion we feel for our sports teams is a shallow thing that dissipates shortly after every season. But while it’s flowing, it gives us the feeling we’re experiencing something both wonderful and terrible.
So, it’s 123 days until opening day and I’m counting down.