As you might have guessed by now, I have a passion for sports.
Wait, check that, I live and breathe sports every single day.
Baseball, in particular, is the sport I can proudly say is my favorite of all time. “America’s Pastime” may not exactly be the greatest compared to the jazz music on hardwood known as basketball or the cerebral chess game that is football. Baseball occupies a special place in my heart because it forged an everlasting bond between myself and a special person. A bond created quite by accident, I should mention.
When I was around seven, I didn’t attend church learning holy virtues or striving to become a “thy good neighbor” as an adult. No, I received my Sunday learning from my Mom’s parents at their quaint country home about 30 minutes away from my house. In the big living room, my bespectacled and suspender-wearing grandfather was “watching” the ballgame on television nestled in his favorite recliner.
Now my grandfather’s unique style of “watching” the ballgame was he would rest his eyes for a quick second and listen with his hearing aid-fused ears the play-by-play announcing of Bob Carpenter & Rick Horton on KPLR 11. As I quietly stroll into the massive living area, my plan had already been set in to place.
My mission was simple: Snatch the remote resting on the recliner armchair or table stand and enjoy the comedic stylings of Hey Arnold! I silently begin grabbing the remote similar to a claw machine lowering itself down to retrieve a stuffed teddy bear for a small child. When I successfully obtain the key to my enjoyment for the afternoon, I instantly punch in the numbers assigned to my destination of happiness. Just as the commentary concerning Matt Morris’ pitching performance transitions into Arnold consoling the Stoop Kid, a stern voice gains my full attention.
“I was watching the game!!! Turn it right back on!!!”
“Dang it!!! Thought I had it, man!!!”
Anyway, for some strange reason, I continued to embark on the impossible journey and ended with the same outcome: My grandfather chewing me out ’cause I was flipping the channel right before a Ray Lankford home run landed in the bleachers. In the midst of those lousy attempts, common variables of the game sparked my youthful mind.
“I like the bright, yellow bat on the Cardinals’ uniform.” “How did Scott Rolen glove the ball and throw it that far away to first base?” “That Bob Carpenter has a neat voice!!” “Can a player ever hit the ball into the retired numbers section?” “Why does Albert Pujols have such a weird ball stance?”
My grandfather had inadvertently immersed me into the game of baseball!!!
As the years went by, I eventually scrapped my plan of watching cartoons to chat with my grandfather every Sunday about Edgar Renteria’s stellar play at shortstop and how the Cardinals would favor against the Cubs at Wrigley Field the following weekend. He casually introduced me to superstars like Jim Edmonds & Yadier Molina, fan-favorites such as David Eckstein & So Taguchi, and established veterans like Larry Walker & Jason Isringhausen (a fellow Brighton, IL native). We owned a comfortable living room seat bare witnessing the epic clashes between the Redbirds and the Houston Astros in the NLCS, Pujols blasting three home runs on Easter Sunday 2006, Eckstein’s improbable walk-off grand slam in 2005, and Reggie Sanders’ epic 10-RBI performance against the San Diego Padres in the 2005 NLDS.
Baseball and the St. Louis Cardinals continually served as the meeting ground to strike up a conversation with a man who promptly recalled Ozzie Smith’s acrobatic exhibitions he performed at the shortstop position.
Soon, the regularly-scheduled baseball chatter on Sundays translated into an instant obsession for the sport. I wore Cardinal shirts on a daily basis and no one barely recognized me if I was not wearing my signature “STL” cap. The only genre of books I checked out of my elementary school’s library was, you guessed it, baseball-related literature. I was probably the only kid in the entire sixth grade who memorized Stan Musial’s lifetime batting average by heart. It reached a point to where my mother bragged to her co-workers that instead of her son watching cartoons on Saturday morning, he viewed highlights of the previous night’s games on ESPNEWS.
Thank you, Papa!! Without your light sleeping habits, I wouldn’t be a sports fan for life.