My father is the single most influential person in my life, I love baseball because he taught me to love baseball when I was a little kid, and the way I love baseball today is largely a product of how he taught me the game. I suspect that there are only fifteen or twenty million other American men for whom that sentence is true.
My baseball experience isn’t really a fan’s experience. I attended two Phillies games in person before I went to college–in fact, I saw the Phillies play at Camden Yards and Turner Field before I ever saw them play at Citizens Bank Park. Attending games in person wasn’t all that important or convenient, so we didn’t. My dad wasn’t a big baseball player growing up and all the kids in my neighborhood were bigger hockey than baseball fans, so I grew up playing hockey instead. I played baseball until I was 12, until, after six years of being the kid for whom they had the rule that said everyone has to bat at least once and play at least three innings in the field, I quit. I moved six months ago and forgot to pack my baseball glove, and being without it doesn’t particularly bother me.
Doesn’t sound like much of a baseball fan’s upbringing, does it? Well, that’s not how I experience the game. I’m a terrible athlete, I don’t like big crowds or the summer heat and fresh-cut grass makes me sneeze. My dad didn’t buy me tickets and equipment and jerseys: he bought me books and magazines. Just absolute oodles of them–biographies of Greg Maddux and Barry Bonds, collections of short stories, novels and old newspaper and news stories. I owned, for all intents and purposes, the entire collected works of Dan Gutman, a writer who lived two towns over and had written dozens of children’s novels and nonfiction books about baseball. I can still cite, chapter and verse, Gutman’s book on the five best World Series ever.
My father taped Ken Burns’ Baseball when it aired and let me watch it over and over until I had it more or less memorized. My friends’ parents taught them how to throw a curveball and how to properly swear at Bobby Cox from the 700 level at the Vet. My parents bought me Baseball Weekly and showed me where to find Jayson Stark’s column in the Inquirer.
By the time I was ten years old, I was imagining my own lineups and trades. I couldn’t run or hit worth a crap, but I could tell my Little League teammates about Ozark Jeff Tesreau‘s role in the 1912 World Series and Joe Adcock collecting 18 total bases in a single game. I really wasn’t a player or a fan as a kid–I was a historian or a folklorist. In short, a nerd.