What Baseball Means To Me by Mike Carter

By: Mike Carter:

My earliest memories of baseball are of my father talking to the TV during the 1979 World Series. I recall the 1979 World Series and my dad purchasing an autographed Willie Stargell poster to hang in our basement, which became a shrine to all things baseball. This was the hook, the beginning of the love affair that will never quit me. Watching Pops Stargell lead that Pirates team, and watching Dave Parker chain-smoke in the dugout, had a lasting impact on me!

As a teenager my goal developed into visiting the old historic ballparks. At seventeen, I remember the feeling I had when I walked into Fenway Park and at nineteen, old Yankee Stadium. The feel is different; your soul awakens as you walk up the runway behind home plate. The stir of echoes of the all-time greats is with you; it’s palpable.

Babe Ruth played here. Lou Gehrig. Joe DiMaggio. Mickey Mantle. Jimmie Foxx. Ted Williams. Carl Yasztremski. The hair on your arms and neck stands on end…and then you take in the diamond as you get to the top of the runway. Boom.

I walked out to the monuments at old Yankee Stadium. I walked out to touch the Green Monster, to touch the pole that Carlton Fisk banged his famous homerun off in 1975. It was like religion. I can remember it like yesterday, even more than 20 years ago.

My brother and I even talked my dad into taking a side trip to Cooperstown on the way home. It was equivalent to a pilgrimage to Mecca for someone whose lifeblood became the truly American game of baseball. I walked around telling people that I had touched the Green Monster. They probably thought I had lost my marbles.

We grew up on the South Side of Chicago and were thus born into the unceasing frustration of being a White Sox fan. Year after year, we became accustomed to teams that would play hard but always be short on talent. The Jerry Dybzinski and Vance Law years….waiting for Lorenzo Gray to finally solve our third base problem…the waiting for Scott Ruffcorn to rescue the rotation and get the team back to a dominance that none of us had ever witnessed in our lives. Alas, it was not to be. The eye of heaven never shone brightly upon our beloved team.

Until 2005, when it all changed. To say that was the greatest year of my baseball life is a gross understatement. I recall where I was for every key moment of the White Sox’ postseason stomp to the ultimate title and test of endurance.

game2_583Jumping around a friend’s basement when Scott Podsednik walked off the Astros in Game Two. Sitting alone in my car after Geoff Blum won Game Three with a line shot home run and thinking to myself, they’re one win away. They’ve got this thing.

And I recall bursting into tears when I realized it…it finally hit me…that I would be able to watch my favorite team win the World Series. When they won Game Four to complete the sweep, all I could think about was talking to my dad and my brother. I was so overwhelmed that after I talked to them, I sat down outside and cried some more. The only other times I recall blubbering like that were when my two wonderful children were born, in 2006 and 2010.

I remained on that cloud for most of the offseason, with the realization that I would likely never witness another march like that again in my life. It was like a lifetime achievement award. All the years of heartache and frustration just washed away. Last week I was at SoxFest and I got to ask questions of Joe Crede, Scott Podesdnik and Geoff Blum in a panel discussion, and my knees were shaking and I felt like a stammering kid asking them about their approach to huge at bats like those in the Series. Baseball has the power to reduce us to this, even as functional adults.

See, as a baseball fan, you have to learn to savor the best of times, because baseball also provides such drastic, cringe-worthy lows, that you feel like throwing in the towel. Two years ago the White Sox won 63 paltry games. Yet I watched. You can’t turn away from the perfection of this game. Even if your team stinks, a three hopper to shortstop, fielded correctly, will always result in the runner being out by a step at first base. Always.

I think of joy. The joy you feel when Ichiro in his prime rips one down the right field line and you know he’s thinking three bases. The joy you feel when you see Giancarlo Stanton crush a ball 450 feet. The joy you feel watching Miguel Cabrera use the whole field and hit it the other way. The joy you feel watching Greg Maddux go 3-2 on guy just so he can throw his change-up. The joy you feel when you watch Jim Edmonds make impossible plays in center field. The joy of watching Omar Vizquel play acrobatic shortstop every day.

There are just too many to mention; the grace and beauty of play almost seems beyond words at times, doesn’t it, my friends? It’s a gift that keeps on giving, and despite money-grabbers and attempts to ruin it, the game is above that and will never be ruined, by anyone. It’s too majestic and too powerful for that.

Baseball for me will always be about my brother, dad and I taking in games at old Comiskey Park. My dad’s company had season tickets that no one used regularly because the Sox were awful. We would go early to watch batting practice, trying to get autographs before games. I would look at the schedule in the newspaper, and wonder when Cal Ripken and the Orioles were coming through, or when George Brett and the Royals were going to be in town.

My dad would always secure those tickets, and we’d go right when the gates opened, and watch…batting practice, guys just playing catch, but it was the way they did those things, so effortlessly and gracefully, that impacted me. I knew I’d never have that ability in spite of my best efforts and I watched in complete, jaw-dropping awe.

Our mission as fans is to pass this obsessed love and passion on to the next generation. I’m teaching my kids the inherent beauty of watching the Trouts and McCutchens float through the game on air, witnessing the sheer power, will, beauty and mastery of Kershaw and King Felix. I watch as my kids quietly watch in awe, even as they don’t understand yet the power and majesty of the skills of these guys in this great game.

We need to give them the same vocabularies we use who obsess about the greatest game ever. As I type this we are less than two weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training, which is the best thought I can muster in this long stretch of winter in the Chicago suburbs. Baseball means everything to me. It has for most of my 41 years on the planet. And I don’t see that changing for me, ever.

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