Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I Love This Game

Ken Burns has a new piece of his seminal baseball documentary called "The Tenth Inning" airing this week on your local PBS station (mine is WETA here in the DC area).  Covering the modern era of baseball - the 1990s and 2000s - it has brought back so many memories to me and reminded me how much I love this game.  There is an element of poetic drama, story, history, and passion that just doesn't exist in sports like football, hockey, or soccer that is encapsulated in the game of baseball.  My particular appreciation for the nuances of the game is born from countless summer nights over the past eight years, but my love for the game came from my dad.

I remember watching with him, Cal Ripken in 1996, trot around Camden Yards, high-fiving every fan around the warning track, playing in his 2,131 game, breaking Yankee great Lou Gehrig's record, and cementing not only his place in history, but also the return of baseball from the strike of 1994.

I remember the dominance of the Atlanta Braves in the late 1990s and how my cousin adored and idolized them and how my brother wrote to Chipper Jones (still waiting Chipper, all these years later).

I remember 1998 and the excitement of the home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, and how on the day after McGwire hit his 62nd home run, breaking Yankee Roger Maris's 30yr+ record, I wrote it down in my high school agenda with big exclamation marks - "McGwire HITS #62!!".

I remember the dominance of the Yankees and their 1998 season in which they broke the record for winning the most games AND won the World Series - Joe Torre, Tino Martinez, Andy Petite, Derek Jeter, Paul O'Neill, David Cone, David Wells, Chuck Knoblauch, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera.

I remember the 2001 World Series (2 Yankee comebacks and Derek "Mr. November" Jeter) and the blooper hit of Juan Gonzalez from the fake team of the Arizona Diamondbacks and how To. This. Day. my heart hurts at the loss and the loss of a Series by the Yankees that started their downward slide and how they were never the same team after that loss and how they should have won because of 9-11, and all the poetic justice of what should have been.  I couldn't talk to my roommates for a few days because I was so upset - hopefully they've forgiven me :).  I've only slightly gotten over it.

I remember 2002 and falling in love with the backdrop of the forgettable World Series between the Anaheim Angels (Rally Monkey) and the San Francisco Giants.

I remember 2003 and the utter joy of the Yankees beating the Red Sox, coming from behind, and winning the pennant.  Aaron Boone will live forever in Yankee lore for one hit.  That is all  you need to live forever in baseball - one hit.

And then I remember the Yanks losing to the Florida Marlins (who had beat the Chicago Cubs) and watching Josh Beckett pitch a complete game to win the Series and being ok with it because it was such an unbelievable pitching performance.  A performance that I could respect.  Not a blooper hit from a fake team. 

I also remember 2003 because it was the summer that marked my beginning with college summer ball and a newfound appreciation for the game.  Learning how to score a baseball game opened my eyes to the drama, the strategy, and the nuances of this game.  It also introduced me to the utter goofiness of baseball boys.

I remember 2004 and the heartache of the Yankees losing to the Red Sox in Game 7, after leading them 3 games to 0 (Stupid Curt Schilling and that damn bloody sock).  And then watching from the sidelines as the Sox beat the Cardinals to win their first World Series since 1918, ending the "Curse" of the Bambino.

Truly, my life in baseball is centered around my Yanks.  The Series of 2005-2008 are forgettable - I think the White Sox won one, the Red Sox won another, the Cardinals one, the Phillies one.  I do remember the Tampa Bay Rays beating the Red Sox and being sooooo happy.  The only thing worse than the Yankees losing is the Red Sox winning for this girl.

Then the world was made right when the Yanks won their 27th World Series title in 2009.

And then there is 2010, a year with its own highlights - No-hitters, perfect games, unbelievable pitching performances - a true baseball fan's delight.

The steroids that rocked the game during this era is even more apparent in watching the documentary.  Players were a different size in the beginning of the 90s than they were in the 2000s.  How these guys got away with it for so long is the real question and both the players union and the baseball owners were at fault.

Burns' documentary does a great job of highlighting the complications of Barry Bonds - who in 1998, without steroids, became the first player to hit 400 home runs and steal 400 bases.  Then, once on the juice, broke Mark McGwire's home run record set three years before and then broke Hank Aaron's home run record, and yet became the scapegoat of baseball.

And then there are many other great stories to discover, like the Hispanic and Asian players who have made a huge impact on today's game, that the documentary covers and provides even more trips down memory lane.

Countless sleepless nights, silently screaming at the TV so as to not wake the roommates; leaving the room or changing the channel not being able to watch games; watching playoff games with a pillow over my face, jumping up and down on the couch; watching history made and records broken; scoring decisions made on the fly, meticulous attention to detail, hot summer days and endlessly, tortuously long games; memories cemented forever for me.  I truly love this game.

Play Ball!

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