Thursday, December 23, 2010

My Return to Baseball

As I look at the end of 2010 staring at me, I've already heard people mention resolutions for 2011. I've always tried to think of things that I would like to do differently in my life, but let's face it, change can be difficult at times. I know for many, the thought of another year provides impetus to modify behavior because it's a new beginning. When I was actually going to a gym regularly, I used to hate January with a passion. The gym became overrun with resolution workout people who decided to try and get fit, and they'd last about three weeks. By February, most of them had faded into the blissful pattern of routine and not think anything more about it.
I'm not talking superior here either, because change for me has been incredibly difficult. I've had things in my life fairly set for a long time, and then within 5 years, I meet my wife, move out to east Portland, adopt a pack of cats, change my name, and learn how to live closely with another person. There are days when I'm totally on top of things and my energy and resolve are top flight, while there's other days that I'm just distracted by whatever shiny object or situation is in my sight line. Real change is tough, because it involves being aware of what you are doing and seriously making effort to do something different. Experts say it takes up to 60 days to adopt new habits and not lose the routine, but I think it takes longer than that for some people. Patterns just get built in and sometimes we act without thinking about it.
But I'm doing what I can to break some of the cycles in that respect because it does matter. I don't want to sleepwalk through life and suddenly realize I'm in my later years and suddenly realize there's things I want to do but might not be able to. During this process, however, I've discovered that there are certain activities that I used to do that I miss and so I'm trying to rekindle them. One of those things I want to resurrect is my love for baseball.
The past few years, soccer has become a passion mostly from my activities of following the Timbers. I've maintained an interest in basketball, but when faced with a budget question, there was no contest in choosing Timbers season tickets over Trail Blazers tickets. Now that I have other responsibilities relating to the Timbers, the choice is even more direct. I have started to watch Denver Bronco games again after many years of skipping out on football, but I think that was more related to how frustrating the team has become recently. They've had bouts of success and I was happy about them winning two Super Bowls after years of futility, but it's become painful to watch their ineptitude lately. But I am a fan of theirs mostly because of my grandmother's influence and watching their games regularly during my youth. You always remember your first team that you adopted as yours, and the Broncos were that for me.
The TrailBlazers became a love of proximity of living here, but it was helped by them qualifying for the NBA Finals the first year I moved here. This town loves their NBA, and while I have some issues with the game atmosphere at the Rose Garden personally, it doesn't change how much love there is here. The NBA experience is all about a constant barrage of distractions to keep fans focused, and every element of the game is controlled within the arena. While it can be loud, it's also not very spontaneous or original. Granted, the NBA has a collection of great talent and the game itself can be fun to watch, but I've grown to prefer the TV angles recently. However, for what the experience is, the Trail Blazers do entertain fans well for what it is.
Baseball has been a love of mine for a long time, but I haven't exactly adopted a team to worship beyond others. I followed the Dodgers in my youth because they were on the one Saturday game most of the time, and there was a player from Idaho on the team (Mike Garman). As I got older, the Mariners got more attention from being local, and of any major league park, I've seen more games there that anywhere. The Kingdome was a massive sterile barn, but boy could it be loud, while Safeco has great seats all over the place even if the team currently is really awful. I've seen games at the Metrodome, AT&T Park and Coors Field, and each stadium has their assets - AT&T is as beautiful as you might expect from seeing it on TV, Coors Field has cheap beer and decent food, and the Metrodome has the odd quirk of the hefty bag. Ok, the Twins don't play there anymore, but watching the pinball game in the outfield there was often as entertaining as anything else.
But really my experience with baseball has been more minor league, as I followed the old Spokane Indians when I was there for college and then went to at least 10 games a year when the Portland Beavers were here. There was nothing like the experience of spending your afternoon watching good talent play without the pressure of a game clock. The atmosphere was decidedly slow and deliberate, and after spending time at Timbers matches with the frenetic pace and chants, it was a great chance of pace.  Unfortunately, the Beavers games became more about the cheap beer and the constant stream of changes made it rather difficult to follow the club. The old days of the Beavers in the early 90's was the standard of consistency, as you always knew Chip Hale would be somewhere in the infield.
As I became more integrated with soccer, baseball lost some luster for me. Whether it was more fascination of the soccer experience of two hour matches, the lack of player constants, or the fact that PGE Park really became less and less fun for baseball, I just drifted away. When you have a limited amount of time and money, there are choices to be made and I chose soccer. But now, I am missing baseball and now want to fill a void by adopting a club again. I've got the Trail Blazers, Timbers, Broncos, West Ham and Sunderland, but now I want to follow a club religiously. Which is why I'm asking for help and input in the decision.
I understand what it's like to be a fan, and honestly, I don't necessarily need a baseball team that resides close to here, but I want to pick one that I can adopt for the long haul and be a fan though the good and bad. I do have a few things that will weigh into my decision process, and while it would be nice to say the reasons are logical, the one thing I know about being a sports fan is that a love of a team often isn't logical. You believe in teams that often don't have the talent or ownership to compete year in and out, but none of that matters because the love knows no boundary. In your heart, you believe your team is better than anyone else even if the other side has bigger names, more money or healthier players.
It would be hard for me to adopt a polarizing club, so the Yankees would be a hard sell. I admire their confidence year in and out, but I believe they buy their wins and I take pleasure in seeing them lose, much like a certain purple and gold NBA club.  The bandwagon clubs would also be difficult to adopt, and while I have lots of friends that love the Red Sox, I don't think I could really adopt them with the history of their curse and then two World Series wins. They seem to have fans all over, yet many of them don't know the history or struggle to get to that point, and so joining the bandwagon now could be viewed as jumping on board late.
I have a huge dislike of two of the teams that play in the Emerald City, and so with the Mariners being close distance wise and me witness to many of their great moments, I don't think I could adopt them. Like I said, being a fan doesn't mean being rational. My wife loves the Giants, and while that might make it easy to have both of us follow them, I don't have an allegiance to them. It was great to see a cast of characters that didn't seem to be the best strike out and win a WS even though all the experts said it wouldn't happen. That's why they play the games, and there's something to respect there. But joining the fans now might also be bandwagon, and at least for her, she followed the Giants during the Candlestick days when Bonds wasn't a freak of nature.
I don't even care so much that the team have a chance to win every year, but it would be nice to have that opportunity. At least Cub and Brewer fans have some recent pennant runs to give their fans hope, but Royal fans need to look back to the 1980's to remember their last success. The Royals now seem to be happy being competitive most nights, but barely threaten the top clubs, and while that might be interesting to some, I'm more interested in the possibility of actually winning a pennant now or then. Television makes it easier to follow a team, but the team I pick I'd like to be able to go to a game every now and then.
My hope is that I can learn more about how people choose their clubs and why they follow who they do, and this might help me find the baseball club of my choice. Each of the clubs I follow now have a history or story that really makes loving them easy to understand (Broncos for my family, Timbers for friends and wife, TrailBlazers for players, West Ham for former players and Upton Park experience, and Sunderland for great fans), but I don't have that for baseball. This whole experience might end up not producing a result either, but at least it's got me thinking about my past and how big of history I have with baseball. And yes, there's a part of me that misses it, and I'd like to open the door again but I just need the team to follow. I know my friend Obi did something similar with his experience in EPL a few years ago, and fell in love with Hull City, so there's precedence here.
So I welcome any thoughts or ideas, and I'll announce the pick soon. I hope each of you has a very Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Joyous Crimbo, Excellent Kwanzaa, Special Hanukkah or just a special time of year no matter what you celebrate.