By: David Washburn
Baseball is something that has come and gone in my life and returned again. My definition of baseball is very personal and requires a backstory. This is my story and what baseball means to me.
When I was a young boy, I picked up an interest in baseball from my dad. I was about 7 or 8, we lived in Silverton (a community in Cincinnati) in a small apartment. My dad would listen to Reds games on the radio while I would draw, play with Ninja Turtle action figures or hot wheels. I remember not quite understanding what he was listening to at the time but I could pick out Marty Brennaman’s voice in a noisy room. My dad was the kind of listener who would show his excitement and displeasure very vocally. He was either asking me or my mom for a high five or turning off the radio with an attitude and cursing about what I can only guess was what “should have” been done.
My dad would often speak about growing up watching Pete Rose and the Big Red Machine. He would talk about Johnny Bench, the way I would talk about the Power Rangers. He would talk about Bench as if he grew up with him, telling me stories like how many baseballs Bench could hold in one hand or how many home runs he hit for the Reds, as if to impress me. I would watch games on TV with dad but at such a young age I couldn’t sit through a whole game unless there was constant action or game on the line situations. I grew up with some very bad Reds teams, so when my dad would speak of the “Great Eight” I almost didn’t believe him.
When I was 8 or 9 we were still living in the same apartment and we lived very close to this seasonal walk-up ice cream stand. Think of a Pony Keg with a drive thru window but with a soft serve machine… and sprinkles. Over a few years we would walk there and I’d get ice cream on Fridays and the owner would often just give me candy. One day he asked if I wanted some bubblegum cards with baseball pictures and I said yes. I remember him handing me two packs of 1995 Topps cards and I opened up those two packs and got a Jeff Brantley who was a Red’s pitcher at the time, a Ken Griffey Jr. and a Brady Anderson. Prior to that event at some point my father had given me (not sure where he got it or why specifically) a glass framed Cal Ripken Jr. poster. It was a nice thing but I think he just got it for me because it was baseball and that’s what we bonded over, that and Nintendo. Well I loved the Ripken picture and thought it was so awesome and when I got the Brady Anderson card I loved the look of it and without even knowing anything about Anderson I decided I like the Reds and I like the Orioles. Isn’t it strange as a kid how logic works? I can’t make sense of it now but at that moment in my life it was simple and made complete sense. It didn’t need to be explained. I miss that about being a kid.
My favorite players were Cal Ripken Jr., Chris Sabo, and Tony Gwynn. As I got older and content that my home team sucked I became disconnected with baseball, and as I discovered girls even more disconnected. I regret ever falling away from the game. It had always meant so much to me and always meant good talks with my dad. However, by this time I may have been rebelling because I was no longer an only child and never saw eye to eye with my dad or my mom for that matter. I had become a stupid teenager.
I went on to get married and have kids and in 2010 my marriage was falling apart. In my early 20’s I was married to the only woman I had ever been with and had 2 boys. It was a hard time in my life, sitting at home alone depressed I was flipping through channels one son in my arm and the other playing with toys on the floor, when I saw the Reds were playing the Padres. I decided to see what was happening with the Reds. It was in late June and I noticed new uniforms right away. I listened closely to the announcers and paid close attention to stats as players came up to bat to get a sense of who was who. Joey Votto was in the midst of his MVP season, seemingly clearing the bases every at-bat and never letting the fans down in the big moments. My rebirth as a baseball fan started off with that game but the season ended early with a surprising post-season exit. Joey Votto remains my current favorite MLB player just because of that connection and significance to my story. In a strange sense baseball was a saving grace. It caught me when I fell and was there to occupy my interest while I was going through serious life events. My dad passed away in August of that year and we were not on the best of terms.
As I rediscovered my love for the game, my passion for baseball grew stronger than ever before. I had the internet at my fingertips to look up league leaders. I could look at highlights all around the league without relying on ESPN. My life around me may have been in disarray but I was happy to have found my passion for the game again. I’m now practically obsessed. I collect baseball cards, memorabilia, chase autographs, draw baseball players, and coach my son’s teams. Baseball to me is life. The game has always meant something to me, but it’s difficult to put into words. Baseball is a feeling to me. I love talking with other fans about the game. I love waiting in lines for autographs and just chatting with people in line. I love participating in debates on Facebook. I enjoy writing about my experiences and providing my perspective to the game.
As it stands I try to catch a game at Great American Ballpark once a month, it doesn’t always happen. I’m a functioning adult who works full-time during the week with a family, so it sometimes proves challenging to go as often as I’d like. That doesn’t stop me from watching most of the games on TV and having my mind on baseball 50% of every waking minute. This game is a memorable part of my childhood, a subtle connection to when my relationship with my dad was good and a part of how I like to remember him. It is my main interest as an adult. It is what was there to catch me when I fell and remind me how much I use to love the game and revived the 8 year old in me. Now I wait for the day my sons start asking questions about the player on the TV who just hit the home run. So far my oldest son enjoys Todd Frazier but he has since gone to Chicago and my youngest would rather play Minecraft than “watch a boring baseball game” with his dad, so I won’t make him. That’s my story.
Check out David’s baseball blog at Striking Out The Side.