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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Off the TePoel

(MLB) Loves You Long Time 

Sorry for the ridiculous title, but I couldn't resist. I am a diehard baseball fan. Always have been and always will be. I eat, drink, and sleep baseball. As a kid I collected baseball cards like you wouldn't believe. And then during the summer before 8th grade, towards the end of my baseball card collecting nerd-dom, my brother Kyle and I took all of our cards out of their respective slots in their sweet binder clear page homes, organized them according to teams in huge stacks in the living room, then re-entered them into new homes inside those sticky clear pages in the sweet binder books. We also counted them (note: some football, basketball, hockey, looney tunes, and/or ninja turtles cards were also included). The final number was literally something like 12 or 13 THOUSAND.

Despite an embarrassing Twins team in 9th-11th grade, I still loved on my Twins. Well, at least till the all-star break. Then it was just too painful. But still, each off season I bought the magazines with the previews. I'd read up on my team and watch MSC (if you remember that wonderful station) to catch the Twins mostly lose badly or occasionally pull off an upset (take that dangerous Mariners of the 90s!). Then finally, the heavens opened up in April 2001, Brad Radke started out either 4-0 or 5-0, and the Twins were good again. My loyalty had paid off. People started wearing Twins hats and shirts like it was cool. Truly, I was cool all along. 

I rode that Twins wave into college. People associated me with Twins baseball. When they were knocked out of the playoffs in 2002, people came to comfort me like my Grandmother had just passed away. I mean, really came to comfort me. They looked sad and on the verge of tears. "No, I'm really ok," I'd assert. "It was a great season." 

Then the Twins made the playoffs again in '03 and '04. Baseball had become as big a part of my life as it was when I was that youngin' collecting cards. Followed everything, 30 spring training games, 162 regular season games, 4 divisional playoffs, 2 championship series, and of course, the World Series. That's just the beginning, then we start the Hot Stove talk, trades, free agents, Twins winter caravan, Twins Fest, and then oh yes, back to my beloved baseball season magazine previews. In depth analysis of all 67 teams.

All this and I haven't even mentioned listening to sports talk radio, baseball movies (See Eight Men out and Cobb), pre game and post game shows, reading the articles online, Baseball Tonight (one of the Lord's many gracious gifts), all the baseball books I've read (see Roger Kahn, especially) and perhaps what has taken up most of my time, one-on-one original Nintendo baseball death matches against my brother in the forms of RBI, RBI 2, Tecmo Baseball, Bad News Bears Baseball, and the ever popular Baseball Simulator 1000. Then I worked, mostly as an intern, for baseball teams during the summers of 2003 - 2006. 

There's probably more. Espousing all this has finally made me realize how pathetic I am.

That's not the point. The point is I love this game and I think the season is just too long. Don't believe me? Just ask the World Series teams the year following their run. They're exhausted. Too many playoff games. Too many exhibition games. Really, I wouldn't change Spring Training. It's part of what makes baseball so great compared to the NFL, NBA, and NHL. But when I think back on baseball's history, when people LOVED baseball, I sort of wish I could experience that. Just the AL and NL. No divisions, just two leagues and two winners meeting for a Title. Growing up with the ALCS and NLCS wasn't so bad either, there was and is some excellent drama in that, to be sure. Overall, I'd argue the quality and competitiveness of the playoffs has suffered with the expanded Wild Card/Divisional system.

I like the idea of a less saturated media market, too. After the game maybe you talked about it and read about it in the newspaper. Sounds good to me. Then you dreamed about it. Now we just absorb so much chatter and fodder and comparing this and comparing that, and what if this and what if that. Drives me crazy.

I know the changes in baseball have been good: attendance is soaring, more teams are making it to the playoffs and the World Series, more interest throughout the long season, inter-league play continues to succeed, and there are loads of other goodies. But then the World Series comes along and every year the ratings are terrible. No one cares at the end unless the Yankees, Red Sox, or Cubs are playing. It's like March Madness: interest is highest that first day. I think the divisional rounds of the MLB playoffs now generate a similar excitement among baseball nerds like me. I watched the World Series and always will, but we are a dwindling breed. 

Maybe I'm just old school and a purist, but part of why I loved baseball so much as a kid was because I forgot about it for a while. It was cold outside so I put my glove in the closet. The bats and balls went back downstairs. Baseball is all about the seasons. It starts anew each spring and dies with the fall. Then we wait. And once the days start to get longer, we dig out those gloves and start to dream of spring again, like we've never smelled the green grass or heard the popping of mitts ever before. 

Take a breather this winter, at least once. If it's one day even, just try it. Maybe go for a week. No Twins website checks, no SportsCenter, no Winter Meetings gossip. 

I promise, you'll find baseball's return in Spring unbelievably refreshing. 

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