My small epiphany came while I was trying to tell someone a story. The story had something to do with baseball; specifically, the story had to do with a playoff game between the Red Sox and the A's last fall. Matt and I had gone to see the first playoff game in Oakland, a game that had great moments (like the ESPN camera crew that caught the two of us cheering like madmen when Jason Varitek had a really gorgeous home run in the fifth) but ultimately great defeats (the game went twelve freaking innings and the Red Sox still lost). The A's won the first two games of the division series in Oakland, and then the Red Sox won the next two in Boston, which meant that they came back to Oakland for the fifth and final game. And not only did we get tickets for that, we got pretty good seats, and we were mostly surrounded by other Red Sox fans.
The story I was trying to tell, it didn't have anything to do with the actual game, it was just a story about weird behavior in the crowd. So I started off, as I usually do when talking about baseball, by explaining that I don't actually know much about the game and I'm not really a baseball fan so much as I'm a Red Sox fan. Baseball itself, take it or leave it, but hey, let me tell you about this girl who was sitting in front of us, right? That's how I tell stories about baseball. The problem was that in this case, the story about the girl who was sitting in front of us led naturally into the story about the A's fans who started smacking around Red Sox fans after the Sox won that last game in the division series, and that led into the story about Johnny Damon's terrifying concussion-causing collision in outfield, and it was right around when I was explaining how Damon had to be taken off the field in an ambulance that my storytelling audience interrupted me. "Susan, I hate to tell you this, but you do actually like baseball."
And that was the small epiphany. I do actually like baseball. It's weird to think of it that way, though. It's not a game I ever got into as a kid—I had a couple of desperately awful seasons in Little League softball before I figured out that I could hide the Little League sign-up announcements and my parents wouldn't remember until after the deadline had passed. My dad watches football and basketball, not so much baseball. I started watching baseball almost by accident, the year after I graduated from college, because some friends of mine used to invite a big group of us over to watch Red Sox games on the weekends. The game would be on the television in the living room, but they'd mute the television and have the radio on instead, preferring the AM sports radio commentary to the television announcers. Some people stayed in there and watched the game, some people stayed out in the tiny concrete backyard grilling hamburgers and fresh corn. I tended to stay out by the grill, but I'd wander up in to the living room from time to time, and sometimes the game was kind of interesting. Later that fall, when the Red Sox were in some postseason play, I'd go just to watch the games. I've been watching more baseball lately, at least in part because I'm living with someone who really enjoys the game. As much as I enjoy watching (on television or in person—the games are more fun when you're at the ballpark, but they're more convenient on television), I'm still hesitant to say that I like baseball. The thing is, I think I like all the wrong things about it. If I were a real baseball fan, I'd pay more attention to the scores and the statistics and whatnot. If I were a real baseball fan, I'd just generally pay more attention. As it is, I think my attention ends up in pretty random places. Like, for example, the baseball superstitions. I'm not talking about the macro-level stuff like the various baseball curses (although I did really like the idea of a goat-based exorcism in Chicago). I'm talking more about the routine nature of small superstitions among baseball players, things like Nomar Garciaparra's hand-flicking foot-stepping batting ritual.
Then there's the fascination with statistics. I love this stuff. Baseball, for whatever reason, is an information-dense game that lends itself to a lot of statistical analysis. Either that, I guess, or baseball announcers just need something to do during the long slow stretches. Whatever the cause, the effect is this almost preposterously detailed set of statistics that get tossed around during games. "This player has the fourth-highest career batting average for players born in South Dakota," they might say, or "in the last twenty years this team has won sixty-four percent of regular season games that they were losing at the start of the seventh inning." I'm not entirely sure what motivates someone to calculate the percentage of doubles among base hits against left-handed pitchers in the month of June, but I'm oddly pleased that someone was so motivated.
Like I said, I'm sure I pay attention to all the wrong things in a baseball game. I love watching the groundskeepers fixing up the field after batting practice, for instance, and I like the star pattern the lawnmowers make around the pitcher's mound in Fenway. I like that they actually sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" in every single seventh-inning stretch; for that matter, I like that there's such a thing as the seventh-inning stretch. I like that some pitchers seem to have their own theme songs that get played in the ballpark when they take the mound. I like watching the pitch and trying to guess before the call whether it was a ball or a strike. I like when the batter hits the ball to the outfield and the fielders can tell just where it's going to come down, when they can just stand there and wait for it. In general, I guess, I just like baseball. Even if I'm not really seeing the same things real fans see.