By: Jonathan Moore
I often find myself being asked the question, “Do you ever get tired of watching baseball?” Or “what’s different from baseball than any other sport?” As sarcastic as I am my response usually ended with a question like, “Do you ever get tired of breathing?” Sure those words are harsh but, no one ever really took the time to ask. Recently, I was asked to write a response to a blog by 9 inning know it all, about what exactly baseball means to me. I didn’t respond for a while, sorry Kelly. It was simply because I felt like it was a secret that I would forever take to my grave. Did I really want those around me to know? Or was it even a secret at all?
Well if you made it this far, I have kept you interested. I have to take you back to my little league years, to a specific game. The same year the movie *61 came out, 2001. I grew up just south of Houston, and had the luxury of playing baseball with my younger brother in my final season of the little league minors. He was 9 and I was 11, age range was strict at the time, but the league made an exception to allow my brother to play on the same team as me. When we found out, we decided he would wear number 7, Mickey Mantle’s number and I would wear number 9, Roger Maris’ number. Number 7 was taken, so he wore 6 instead. Which was fine, wasn’t a deal breaker and our team would be the Rockies. We played every sport imaginable, but our favorite at the time was “backyard baseball.” Nothing remotely close to the sandlot days either. It actually consisted of my Easton baseball bat, a small basketball and my father’s bow target for a backstop. An oak tree for first base, a sprinkler for second, a fence post for third and home of course. We would play for hours and hours, he would pretend to be Mickey Mantle and I would pretend to be Roger Maris. Now, we didn’t grow up Yankee fans, just to be clear here. We just grew attached the movie *61, watching it every game day and envisioned ourselves on the same big stage. We were actually Astro fans at the time, the era of Biggio, Bagwell and Bell.
The season was coming to an end, and my brother went hitless all season. We played the Reds that game. My brother, defeated twice already by the pitcher. The game was coming to a close as two outs marked the scoreboard. It was bottom of the ninth of a back and forth game. As he left the bench, he asked if he could use my bat, I told him no, because it was too heavy for him. I could see the disappointed look on his face. I changed my mind and handed it him, “just choke up on the bat some.” He exhaled and shrugged his shoulders, I told him “just stick your bat out there and see what happens, just like at home.” He nodded and walked towards the on deck circle. The previous batter had ripped a shot and was now on second, it was a one run game. We were down at the time. I remember him turning back to me and exhaled again as he walked toward the batter’s box. He never would take a practice swing, even after each pitch. No dirt kick ritual, just stood planted in the box. It drove me nuts! He pulled is helmet down low, brim touching the rim of his glasses. Strike one was called, strike two followed shortly after. I yelled, “Just like at home!” The pitcher set and fired one down the middle. He hit, it was a rope to center field. He shot out of the batter’s box and was immediately held up for first but took second without missing a stride. I couldn’t believe it! He did it! He scored the tying run on a double. He stood up and jumped on second base as if he was trying to bury it below him. I stood there staring through the chain link fence in shock. He finally did it. All those hours at the batting cages and in the backyard finally paid off. Countless hours, rain or shine, paid off for one special moment that would bring me closer to baseball and to love the game even more. He would hang his cleats up that final game and shelving the game ball he was given for his hard work and dedication. It was his last game.
He would go on to pursue football through high school, graduate and start a family. He turns 26 tomorrow. I am sure he has probably forgotten about his first hit in the little league minors, but I haven’t. It will be a story I’ll tell his two kids someday, I’m sure. He has a home now on the same grounds we grew up on. First base still stands tall, shadowing second and third base. I can hear little phrases like, “going, going, gone” and “he struck him out looking.” As the image of us rounding the sprinkler of our backyard played before me, I can’t help by smile and reflect on that day. You see, it wasn’t the fact that my brother lacked skill or the mindset to have a decent batting average or succeed at anything in life. It was a disease that would limit his eye sight to the same diameter of looking through a straw. Cone dystrophy, a rare eye disease along with color blindness would refrain his activities and abilities to pursue sports like baseball. But, he played it out. He stepped up to the plate and gave it his all. It was actually the first time I ever witnessed a miracle take place. Yes, it was a miracle, it wasn’t luck.
Here I am 17 years later, married and share a home with my beautiful wife, minutes from Globe Life Park, the home of the Texas Rangers. My wife once asked me on the way to 2016 Rangers Fanfest, why I collect so much memorabilia. Funny she asked at that specific time, because we had been together almost three years. Should have been a question on our third date. Ha-ha. She would be the first person I ever told. As I told the same story I am telling you, she confessed it gave her goosebumps. I told her not to tell anyone and she vowed to keep it a secret. I honestly wanted her to know why I collected so much, in hopes that she would let me take over the home office. However, that was shot down like Ron Washington’s chances of becoming the 2017 Atlanta Braves coach.
So why now? Why tell something so personal to strangers who love the same thing as me? Because, I witnessed it again in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. Game all tied up, back and forth offense and defense. Ben Zobrist, 0-4 that night, runner on first and second. He hits the ball the other way, breaking the tie. It wasn’t the clutch hit by Zobrist. It was simply Zobrist’s celebration on second. It brought back the image of my nine year old brother at the time, he would get his first hit up against an 11 year old after going 0 for all season. I cried. Both for the memory that replayed in my mind, for the Chicago Cubs and the fact that I got to live to see history unfold before me. Now just to be clear, I have no ties with either one of these teams. Just the love for the game.
I have had the opportunity to witness a lot on and off the diamond. Too much to list, but to name a few, I witnessed a pitcher hit a homer in San Francisco, Bumgarner off Hamels on my honeymoon in front a sold out crowd. Stood face to face with Nolan Ryan and pitch from the same high school mound as he did. Had the opportunity to play catch at a charity softball event this past spring with a former Milwaukee Brewers pitcher and talk baseball in between games. I’ve also had the chance to visit three major league baseball stadiums in the last year, twenty-seven more to go. Witnessed the Cubs break their curse a few days ago via television. Sure all of this is at the bottom of someone’s bucket list and I am sure isn’t much to the most die-hard fan. However, it is what I have been asked for so many years. Sure I would like to throw out the first pitch, or sing the national anthem at an opening day game or see the Texas Rangers win the World Series someday. I am sure my time will come to where I can cross some of those items off my baseball bucket list.
I’ve also instilled quite a lot of baseball into my home, other than the games on television and the memorabilia that hangs in our home office. To be honest, when my wife and I purchased our home last year, sure I wanted to make sure it was well built. But, I simply fell in love with the backyard, because first and third base are two red oak trees. I just need a second base marker and my kids will be set. Ha-ha. My dog is named Jackie, after Jackie Robinson, because my dog likes to steal socks, just like Jackie Robinson liked to steal bases. We call him “Jack” for short, but for the longest time my wife did not know why our dog had to be named Jack. Needless to say if my wife doesn’t know already, she is doomed. I proposed to my wife on the last game of the 2014 Rangers season against the Athletics, we won. When we got married, during the reception I had the D.J. update me via microphone the score of the Rangers and White Sox that night, we won. I worked a late night one night, she texted me and said she couldn’t sleep. I jokingly told her to turn the baseball game on and pretend I was there. She did. Never received a text after my response. All kidding aside, it has brought me and my wife closer. She can now tell you what a 6-4-3 on the scorecard is. She also used baseball philosophy during her teacher interview on accident, she got the job.
Why baseball? I hang on to that final moment I had that day in the dugout with my brother in hopes to witness another game winning miracle and I have on more than one occasion. As each season passes, every game, every Rangers fanfest I have attended and hope to attend. I search for a little boy with a frantic mother or father trying to calm him because he didn’t get a baseball like those around him. I grabbed one of the six baseballs from my bag, kneel down on their level and hand him the baseball. Sure, it ends in a hug or a high five. 17 years later I still do what I did for my brother that day in the dugout. I handed him what was once mine, my Easton bat. I calmed him down and handed him the game ball. Baseball to me, is more than a sport or love for the game. It is living and leaving an example on and off the field. It is a bond between family and total strangers seated next to you during the game. Maybe the only conversation between yourself and the radio as Vin Scully or Eric Nadel describe the uniforms of the matchup. The sound of the bat hitting the ball or the little grain of hope that the clean-up hitter will take a ball yard to win the game. This is what baseball means to me. I wouldn’t trade any moment I have faced in my 28 years on and off the diamond for anything in the world.