Baseball season is in the air with Spring Training less than a month away. Baseball fans can barely hold their excitement in. Whether you root for the thriving San Francisco Giants, the legendary New York Yankees, or the Houston Astros, the anticipation isn’t much different for the individual. Baseball is an every day event for seven months including the playoffs. For those seven months we are engaged with hope, excitement, disappointment, but most of all it brings fans together. They are unified in rooting for a sport that is the most real, the most demanding of the bunch. Girlfriends, jobs, phases of life, they will come and they will go. Baseball will always be back and no matter how much it can let the fans down, they can’t wait for it to be back.
It is hard to believe that it has already been eight years since the Astros last playoff visit. The Carlos Lee era has come and gone. We have seen all our favorites of years past move on by way of trade, free agency, or retirement. The stretch from 2009 to 2012 could be marked as one of the darkest eras for Astros baseball. Despite the facts, baseball is still a top figure on baseball fans’ minds. As baseball junkies we choose to watch a grueling sport. A sport that doesn’t have flashy jerseys, players with reality television shows, or one game that counts as 1/16 of the season. We watch life played on the field. Baseball is the ultimate escape from reality for three hours. We escape to watch another reality, in which the athletes live. We watch athletes who give everything to their sport. They have to come out almost every day and give everything they physically have. They sacrifice their bodies, their family life, and sometimes their peace of mind. They have to narrow a 162 game season down to one pitch of an at-bat. The big picture ends up on ESPN, but the small picture we as fans view every night. It’s a game of inches and life is no different.
I began watching baseball as an eight year old in 1997. I didn’t have much of a social life. I was a shy kid trying to find my place among my peers. My greatest heroes were Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, and Derek Bell. Like a lot of youngsters, my dream was to wear the hometown uniform. At the time I thought it would be on the AstroTurf carpet in the Astrodome. I didn’t quite get there, but I accepted the next best thing by working up to my current role in sports media.
As a young child I grew to learn the players strengths and weaknesses. Biggio couldn’t lay off the low and away slider, Bell’s consistency wavered from week to week, and Bagwell well it’s hard to say he had any weaknesses then. No matter how bad my day was at school, I always knew what I had to come home to. Astros baseball was there for me on the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. A common phrase in baseball is how you can’t be too high or too low. It is a phrase I used for the rest of my life.
Anything worthwhile in life has a lot of growing pains that may make you question everything. Any success is only temporary, new challenges always arrive. In baseball you may win three series in a row, just to get swept right after, effectively undoing a week’s worth of work. The team may reel off a 10 game winning streak but then lose their best player. Adjustments, teamwork, and a level head will keep you alive in baseball. Adjustments, teamwork, and a level head will keep you alive in life.
The attitude of never giving up, the attitude of knowing it’s a marathon and not a sprint, is big in baseball. It is a lesson I took from the game that made me a better person. Baseball strengthens you. It lets one accept failure, but know there is always another chance. There is an unlimited amount of at-bats in life to improve.
I was reporting on the Astros the day Lance Berkman was traded to the Yankees in 2010. As a professional I had to suck it up. It was a hard day for Astros fans, watching their guy go to the evil empire. It is a feeling like losing your girlfriend of a couple years to that guy you can’t stand. It leaves you feeling empty, but it also leaves you feeling it’s for the best. As an Astros fan we wanted to see Lance get his World Series, even if it was with a disliked team. Lance finally got what had eluded him for so many years. Unfortunately, we had to watch him jump for joy in a Cardinal uniform.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched people take jobs I wanted, lost friends, lost girlfriends. Watching it play out in person or on Facebook can be tough. However, as fans we are drawn to it. It’s the same way the public is drawn to baseball. It is not only the joy they love, but also the pain. The pain drives people to want the team to be better. The pain drives you to want the Astros to completely clean house and rebuild as they are doing now.
We all want a better future. If a squad finishes .500 the next year the fans expect 90 wins. If the team loses a big hitter they are expected to make up for him with a series of moves. Our futures can break a million different ways by one single decision in life known as the “Butterfly Effect.” Two youngsters named Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg can change an entire organizations attitude. One big series victory can change the way we view our team. Just like one big promotion can change a crappy job into a destination to be.
The 2013 Houston Astros are generally not lumped in with the word excitement. The casual fans have been all but driven away, and most sources have the Astros finishing as the worst team in MLB. Does that stop you from coming back? Does it stop you from dating that fiery hot redhead because your friends don’t like her? The answer is no, because baseball fans are the most unified in sports. I’d wager to say they are also the most determined, driven, and ambitious people in life as well. The first cracks of the bat in Spring Training, to the last strike of the year they will be there. Baseball will always be there, and it will always come back after a cold winter. Words can not describe how much I love this game. It’s the hope that the 2010 San Diego Padres had when they won 90 games out of nowhere. It’s the, “where did they come from?” factor when the Oakland Athletics knocked off the Rangers last season. Baseball will be filtering all of our brains daily, in less than three months. There is nothing like this fraternity, and I am glad to be a part of it. Here’s to a happy Spring Training just weeks away.