I know we’re nearing the mid-point of the shortened 2020 MLB season, but please just “let the kids play.”
Amidst the worst labor-related you-know-what-show I’ve witnessed during my time following MLB (approximately a decade, I’m 19), I sat in the corner of my apartment and gazed out the window. It had been nearly eight months since I last watched my beloved New York Yankees play an inning.
In that time, I have relocated from the only town I knew as home for 19 years, experienced myriad changes in my personal life for the first time, and watched my healthcare-hero-mother work on the fight against this pandemic 24/7. Many people have that one person, relative, friend, coach, musician, or some other being or source of comfort, solitude, consistency, and solace to which they have turned repeatedly in trying times throughout life, when it dealt them a difficult hand.
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For me, that was two things:
- Bruce Springsteen’s music, and
Whether it was losing one of my close relatives, a dear friend relocating, or much more personal matters creating a sense of misdirection, disruption, and angst, if it was one of the 183 days of the annual MLB season, I would always be overtly cognizant of when the next time I would hear Michael Kay shout those magical words, “Let’s do it, here in [insert site of that particular game]!”
If it was the offseason, I had Moneyball, the past season’s rendition of MLB The Show, every Bill James or sabermetrics-related book you can imagine, and about eight group chats across three different applications with constant news, discussion, and of course, banter.
Plus, our general manager was Brian Cashman, which meant you never were too far away from the next transaction, be it a headline-stealing acquisition (such as Gerrit Cole, James Paxton, Giancarlo Stanton, Gleyber Torres, Masahiro Tanaka), or an under-the-radar stealth move that paid unexpected dividends (see Luke Voit, Gio Urshela, Brandon McCarthy, Didi Gregorius).
I’ll never forget eight years ago. I was just over a month off of corrective surgery on my foot and ankle and was doing exactly what I had done for most of the previous seven weeks: watching something related to baseball. On this particular day, it was Moneyball. (The film that prompted my dream ever since to work within professional sports. The one quote that most resonated with me, that summates my thoughts within these margins, was, “How can you not be romantic about baseball?” More on that later.) My phone rings, and it’s a classmate of mine.
“Ryan, the Yankees acquired Ichiro Suzuki.”
I, forgetting every single rule of “elevation, no weight-bearing, no ambulating without my special boot”, lept off that couch screaming like a grade-school child on Splash Mountain, and texted every baseball fan in my circle with the news. Ichiro to me was a baseball god.
Whether it was his five-tool ability and durability on the field, or his composure, grace, dignity, and honor off of it, one word sums up Ichiro more than any other: consistency. To understand my admiration for Ichiro, I will briefly share my two favorite stories involving him that made me a fan for life (for those who don’t know).
In 1999, playing in a game in Japan for the Orix Blue Wave, Ichiro committed two acts that were rare occurrences for him as a player.
- The first: he struck out.
- The second: he obliterated his black Mizuno baseball bat.
Ichiro would be so overcome with remorse, regret, and embarrassment over his bout of frustration, that he wrote a letter to apologize to the individual who had handcrafted the bat. Thenceforth, he vowed (and held true to his word) to take great reverence and care in handling his equipment, to such great extent as to neatly stack them and keep them locked away in a special protective case adjacent to his locker.
While Ichiro was evidently a man of great class, he was not without a quick wit. In the two-plus years I watched him as a Yankee, he would play the game with such vigor, passion, and enthusiasm that called to mind visions of a carefree child in little league.
As I would later learn, he was also good for a one-liner. (WARNING: NSFW) As he remarked to Bob Costas one day, “August in Kansas City is hotter than two rats f–king in a wool sock.” The fact that Ichiro came up with this one makes it that much more priceless. Ichiro had it all going for him, whether he was in a game or representing his team and his country off the field, and that caught my attention as a young, impressionable fan.
In my life, I’ve been fortunate to attend about a dozen MLB games across nearly a quarter of existing stadiums. Most of them included the Yankees, though admittedly, my favorite park is Fenway.
I am a sucker for tradition and when you stroll through Fenway, you know that you’re amidst the same architecture and surroundings that Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Cy Young, and Jimmie Foxx embraced. There’s nothing comparable to standing atop the Green Monster, sitting in the old green seats, breathing the fresh coastal Massachusetts air. I turned 18 and entered legal adulthood in the seats of Fenway, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
I’ve surprised friends at games. I’ve been surprised by them. I’ve scheduled plans to attend a game months in advance, and I’ve looked at my mom one night and asked if we could drive to Toronto or New York the next morning to take in a game.
From the time I was 11, I couldn’t imagine my life without baseball. So much so, that it was the driving motivator behind one of the most influential and rewarding decisions I’ve ever made.
That aforementioned surgery? I elected to have that operation to correct a congenital birth defect that had impacted my walking and mobility. My number one reason? I wanted to play baseball after being a manager for a season.
That surgery was in June 2012. In April 2013, I was the starting right fielder for coach John Mason’s “Mason’s Landscaping A’s” of my local 12U baseball house league, and played out the season en route to a championship, realizing one of my dreams alongside some incredible teammates and lifelong friends.
Baseball has an interesting way of projecting a very human element as well that isn’t always positive, however, and can become bittersweet at times. Many fans will recall the tragic accident that took the life of Marlins phenom José Fernández (descansa en paz, “Niño”).
The very next game the Marlins played, they faced the Mets. Dee Gordon, donning his late friend’s jersey, hit a home run. Gordon has played in nearly 1000 MLB games and has a career total of 18 home runs. Gordon collapsed into his teammate’s arms in tears as he reached the plate, and I lost it. I’m pretty sure every other fan watching that game did as well. Gordon said what we all were thinking that night when he said, “For that to happen today, we had some help.”
To me, baseball and sports, in general, aren’t just entertainment. They are a lifestyle. They are a part of my identity.
Again, from the time I was 11, I couldn’t imagine my life without baseball. Until the last several months, amid all of those aforementioned changes that have transformed my life in different ways that makes my reality right now a practically unidentifiable one comparative to just 12 months ago. And I came to this conclusion on our baseball-less reality staring out the window on that night eight days ago: it sucks.
As such, last month when I was watching MLB Network, it was tears and it was cheers when I and others had the opportunity to listen to Jeff Passan declare, officially, finitely, and finally, that we will have Major League Baseball in 2020.
Start Spreading The News.
(And, wash your damn hands!)