I’ve tried writing this post several times over the last five months or so. Sometimes there is so much to say, no mere words can do the subject justice. Somewhere along the line, somewhere between childhood and adulthood, I forgot what baseball once meant to me. I also forgot just how intertwined baseball is with some of my favorite childhood memories.
It all started with me getting the crazy idea that my baseball obsessed boyfriend Brian and I should watch the Ken Burns’ documentary Baseball, all almost 20 hours of it. I checked it out from the library sometime early in September. Brian and I then spent the next couple of weeks watching the entire documentary, including great interviews with Bob Costas, Yogi Berra, and Rachel Robinson, the widow of Jackie Robinson, among others.
For me, the most memorable part of the series had to be the clip of Bob Costas discussing his first experience at Yankee Stadium with his father. As a young child, he was awed by the sheer size of the stadium and the size of the pitching mound. After the game, fans back then could cross the field to a second exit. As Bob Costas and his father crossed the field, he became very upset. He loved baseball so much that somewhere during his childhood he got the idea that Yankee greats such as Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were buried on the field. He didn’t want to disturb what he believed to be their graves. The stories of baseball memories bringing together fathers and sons, as well as fathers and daughters, stayed with me.
I found myself asking why baseball is so different from football, hockey, or basketball. I’m not sure, but I do know this: there is something about baseball that transcends time. I have memories of watching the Red Wings win the Stanley Cup in 1996 and 1997 with my Dad, as well as countless other games, but my most powerful memories all relate to baseball.
Many of my earliest memories of my Dad involve baseball. As a very young child, I remember watching the Detroit Tigers with my Dad and eating Schwann’s black cherry ice cream. Somehow my Dad ended up attending one of the 1984 World Series games at Tiger Stadium. At that game he bought a signed baseball that sat on the roll-top desk in his office for years. In fact, it might still be there. I loved that baseball and thought that it was amazing that my Dad attended one of the World Series games. I also remember rummaging through the top drawer of my Dad’s desk and coming across his father’s Mason ring. In the eyes of a young girl, the Masonic symbol was a baseball diamond. Above all, there were the games.
Throughout my early childhood, my Dad, a former high school athlete who played football, basketball, and baseball, played on a men’s softball team. As a preschooler, I loved watching my Dad play ball. I liked the entire experience. I was so proud to have my Dad out there in his lucky #3 baseball hat with his well-worn glove. I loved watching him bat.
Of course, it wasn’t just about baseball. I also loved playing in the dirt next to the dugout, running around the poker straight pine trees behind the dugout, and playing with the old-fashioned water pump between the dugout and the pines. More than anything, I loved going to the bar with everyone after the games. As my Dad and his friends, along with their wives and girlfriends, drank pitchers of beer and talked, I played pinball, foosball, Pac Man, and enjoyed pop and chips. It is no wonder I could relate to adults well as a child. I spent a lot of time around adults and enjoyed every minute of it.
I also loved spending time at my Grandparents’ house. A trip to my Dad’s parent’s home was never complete without spending time with their neighbor’s son, Brian K. We were the same age and he happened to have something I wanted desperately as a child, a tree house! I vividly remember one afternoon spent playing in his tree house. His dog somehow came off his lead and I became scared as I really didn’t know his dog. Brian K. told me to hang out in the tree house until he chained up the dog.
It was that day his Mom invited me to attend one of Brian K.’s Little League game with his family. In the eyes of six year-old, it was a very big deal. I felt honored to be setting on the sidelines cheering on Brian K. along with his parents. At the time, of course, I wanted to be out there on the field too. While I did play softball for one season at age 11, I am no athlete. My Grandpa R., who loved to watch me play, insisted he never saw anyone walk more than I did. As I’ve always been exceedingly short, no one ever learned how to pitch to me. Instead, I collected baseball cards.
I’m not exactly sure when and why I started collecting baseball cards, but my favorite will always be the Topps 1987 wood grain cards. They remind me of my Grandpa B. My maternal great-grandparents owned a cottage on Sage Lake in northern Michigan. I spent many summer weekends there with my parents, my sister, my grandparents, and most of my extended family. My Grandpa loved to get all of his grandkids, all girls at the time, in his station wagon to take them to the candy store. He’d let us pick out whatever we wanted. I picked out baseball cards to add to my collection, mainly ’87 Topps. I still have my baseball card collection and fond memories of my Grandpa asking me if I was sure that is what I wanted.
I loved everything about collecting baseball cards. Organizing them by team, deciding which packs of cards to purchase, and looking up prices all were fun. It is fitting that I lost interest in collecting cards as I became a teenager. My last full set dates to the strike shortened 1994 season. Around that time I lost interest in baseball. Coincidentally, it is also the same year the local grocery store, my favorite place to purchase cards, closed.
Around that time my Dad took my little sister, my little brother, and me to a Tigers game at Tiger Stadium on the corner of Michigan and Trumbull. That day happened to be Little League Day. My Dad knew this, so he had my sister wear her softball shirt, my brother his t-ball shirt and hat, and me my old softball shirt. As a result, we had the opportunity to go out onto the field before the game. I’ll never forget looking back at the stands of old Tiger Stadium from the field. I’m grateful to my Dad for ensuring his kids had that experience. There is nothing better than going to a baseball game with your Dad. Having the opportunity to get out on the field of a historic stadium made it that much better.
Somehow I lost interest in the game, but it is still there, was always there, waiting to be rediscovered. While it was not our first date, Brian and I did go to a Lansing Lugnut’s game at Oldsmobile Park in 2004. It happened to be Senior night for MSU students. We had a wonderful time. It should’ve been my first clue as to what extent baseball would play a role in our relationship.
Since we began dating in 2004, I attended his cousin’s wedding at Comerica Park, the new home of the Tigers, an experience which deserves its own post; I endured the 2005 World Series win of the Chicago White Sox, Brian’s favorite team; I suffered through the loss of a World Series with the Tigers in 2006; and each year, the baseball rivalries begin again. Brian’s Mom, Cindy, roots for the New York Yankees because of Curtis Granderson. Brian roots for the Chicago White Sox for no apparent reason. Meanwhile, Brian’s younger brother Todd and I root for the Tigers as proud Michiganders. Baseball season is never boring as long as Brian is in my life.
The Detroit Tigers all reported to spring training in Lakeland, Florida yesterday. I can’t wait for the new season to begin! I may personally not know the stats week to week, but I do know who does. I hope Prince Fielder becomes an important part of the team. Here’s to a great season for the Tigers! May they beat the White Sox and the Yankees always and forever.
Below are a couple of previous posts in which I discuss the Tigers: