The cover of the Dodgers’ 1978 yearbook, which being that it was only $1 I’m surprised I didn’t get. Photo courtesy of nationalpastime.com
ONE GUY’S EXPLANATION OF HOW THE NATIONAL PASTIME BECAME HIS AS THE MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL SEASON COMMENCES
When I look back on the forty years that I’ve regarded baseball as my all-time favorite sport, it’s inevitable that I recall how it got to be that way.
At the root of it all was my Asperger’s Syndrome, in that as a kid I would get absolutely obsessed about different things; I remember when I was seven or eight being obsessed with maps, studying road atlases and tracing maps of Riverside, CA, where I lived, from the back of the phone book.
This map obsession and various others would fade after a time, but one didn’t.
I was always exposed to baseball as my grandparents, who I lived with as a young boy, were fervent fans of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Starting in March, a game would usually be showing on the television screen, Vin Scully spinning his stats and stories like he was your best friend.
One of my obsessions as a little boy was the Peanuts comic strip. I practically worshiped Charlie Brown and company – I still make it a point to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas, the best animated feature ever made, every holiday season – and part of their antics was their pathetic attempts at playing baseball.
Thirteen youngsters who influenced me in a significant way as far as my getting involved with baseball. Photo courtesy of aclementsillutration.wordpress.com
When I reached double-digit age in 1977, something else happened to enhance my attraction to baseball…
The Dodgers played in the World Series that year, and being that they were in the Fall Classic I of course watched the games on TV; I’ll never forget how disappointed I was when the New York Yankees’ Reggie Jackson solidified his “Mr. October” status with those three home runs in Game 6, clinching the title for those pinstripers.
Imagine my further disappointment when those Yankees repeated, at my Dodgers’ expense, the next year; I remember wanting to be a major leaguer so I could get revenge on those Bronx-based people.
One of those influencing baseball moments for me: Bob Welch striking out Reggie Jackson in Game 2 of the 1978 World Series. Courtesy of YouTube.
My first visit to Dodger Stadium, on my 11th birthday in 1978 – I remember it vividly; my mom, some cousins and I sat near the right field foul pole on the field level, Davey Lopes stole four bases, and Don Sutton shut out the Montreal Expos 5-0 – only crystallized my entry into the baseball world, as did a certain movie released a couple of years before depicting a certain little league team whose ineptness remains legendary, The Bad News Bears.
Which along with that first Dodger Stadium visit was the last straw in my becoming obsessed with the game.
What attracted me and countless others to that movie was the fact that these were real kids playing ball, with an emphasis on the real as that movie did much to influence me.
Part of my first exposure to baseball. Image courtesy of clipartkid.com
It was because of The Bad News Bears that I felt that girls could do anything that boys could do as Tatum O’ Neal made like current Dodger ace Clayton Kershaw at mowing down the boys with her fastball.
It was because of The Bad News Bears that I began playing baseball myself – Sunset Little League at Memorial Park in Santa Monica, CA, about a ten minute walk from my home.
And it was because of The Bad News Bears that, having a natural ability at putting the bat on the ball, I dearly wanted to hit like Kelly Leak, the bad-ass delinquent played by Jackie Earle Haley, and worked hard when I transitioned to pick up softball in later years to hit like that character.
One of the greatest endings to a sports movie ever – the last scene of “The Bad News Bears”. Courtesy of YouTube
The next four decades saw me involved in nearly every aspect of baseball and softball, from playing Pony and Colt League Baseball up to age 17 as well as Little League,
To coaching at mostly the youth level, from my brother’s T-Ball team to eventually earning a spot on a high school coaching staff in 2007,
To playing intramural softball in college and pickup softball for the bulk of my adult life.
My obsession with baseball has also manifested itself in my significantly large cap collection, as over the years I have owned the caps of every major league baseball team as well as several college teams, with roughly twenty of them being the cap of my alma mater, UCLA.
Another way in which these Bears influenced my love of baseball, when they played in Houston’s Astrodome in the “Bad News Bears In Breaking Training”. You can spot Astros stars (from left to right) J.R. Richard (my favorite), Bob Forsch, Cesar Cedeno and Bob Watson in the dugout. Photo courtesy of brokenbatsbaseballfiles.wordpress.com
And being the history buff that I am (my bachelor’s degree is in that subject), I consider Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary one of the greatest TV productions ever made as I have extensively studied the game’s past.
While baseball’s not as much of an obsessive thing with me as it was as a kid, I consider Opening Day of the major league season the REAL New Year’s Day, a holiday to celebrate as being an adult about to enter his 50’s, I see baseball as like a warm quilt on a cold day.
It gives me a comfort that other sports like football (though I like the college version and am a longtime fan of UCLA’s team) don’t and can’t give me in that its pace, which people tend to frown on and is a factor in the preference for sports like football and basketball, is leisurely and not stress inducing.
But that’s just me.
All I know is this…
Because of its familiarity and comfort food-like feeling, baseball will always be my favorite sport.
And I have the Dodgers, those Bad News Bears, and Charlie Brown and his crew to thank for that.
The official team photo of the 1978 Los Angeles Dodgers, one of the reasons why baseball became very dear to me. Photo courtesy of 1978toppsbseball.blogspot.com