Spring Fling Thing

Larry Levin

Larry Levin

As the baseball season gets underway, I ask myself, once again….why? What is it that draws me into this particular six-month addiction year in and year out? 

Is it because of the pitchback net in my backyard that I threw to incessantly as a kid, playing thousands of imaginary games between the White Sox and whomever, and consequently ruining my arm before anyone knew about ruining an arm? (Irony of ironies–my childhood pitching hero was Tommy John). 
 
Is it because the box scores, well before SABR or Baseball Prospectus or OBP or OPS, entranced me with their ability to quantify and create objective certainty over what looked and felt like such a fluid and graceful game on the field?
 
Is it because I was able to build yet another bridge l’dor va dor between my self and my little league-playing, math obsessed son? Or the countless years of fantasy league competitions, some ending in great success but far more spent hovering in mediocrity or the cellar?
 
I really don’t get it, at almost 60 years old, why it is. I just know that it is.
 
As my interest in other sports has waxed and waned — from a diehard hockey fan to not much of one at all, to a NBA-playoff-only kinda guy, to even not the oomph I once felt about March Madness — baseball has fixed resolute in my psyche, and no matter how much I look away or pretend not to care, it reels me in time and again.
 
I wouldn’t dare get through a season without knowing what’s happening on a daily basis at Busch Stadium. Whichever Busch Stadium happens to be the Redbird home at a given time. Without keeping abreast of the expectations and the disappointments within MLB. Without knowing who the hottest prospects are and being surprised both at the ones who shine and those who fizzle.
 
It’s all cool to me, and my age has absolutely nothing to do with it. No matter the year, no matter my station in life, the roots are unshakable and the limbs, if anything, keep growing.
 
It’s also an antidote to the frigidity of winter, the hibernation of the cold. It resurrects (probably a bad word for a Jewish news outlet, but apropos here) the excitement of spring and freshness, of limitless opportunities and eternal hope. 
 
As Jews, we utilize the holidays to help us recall, appreciate and respect the cycles of life.  Baseball does the same for me. It may not be sacred turf, but it’s definitely hallowed ground (at least from the perspective of the definition of “hallow” that means “revered or respected.”
 
I respect baseball so much. For its essential stability year after year. For its achingly personal connection to the players, unencumbered by shoulder pads, or helmets, or much of anything other than some elbow guards and cleats. Its familiarity, its recognition, its powerful symbiosis between player and fan.
 
Sure other sports have laid claim to the American favorite. But I don’t really feel the nexus with any of them the way I do with baseball. I feel like I could sit next to Adam Wainwright and commiserate about a bad outing, or chat with Matt Holliday about that breaking ball he took on the corner to end the game.
 
Maybe, just maybe, it’s because I still see my kid-self on that mound, or in that batter’s box. While I possess no talent, it’s not beyond the realm of imagination to imagine that I do. And that that could be me out there, and I could fail just as well as the superstar can fail.
 
Like I said, who knows? It’s something that has always had a hold on me, and always will. And like my Jewishness or being an American, there’s nothing that will ever break that bond.