The infield is in

I never paid any attention to baseball when I was a kid.  My mother took my brothers to Forbes Field, but she never thought to include me and I never thought to mind.  All I knew about the Pirates when I was little was that they stunk.  They really didn’t, but that’s all I ever heard about them from my father, life-long New Yorker and Yankees’ fan who got transferred to Pittsburgh and never, ever, ever forgave Bill Mazeroski.

I didn’t attend my first game until I was a teenager, and by then, Forbes Field had given way to Three Rivers Stadium.  All I took away from that game was that it was great to be skipping school.

When I started dating the man who would become my husband, baseball became a big part of my life because he was such a junkie.  Baseball was always on TV, and we went to a lot of games, but I saw it as a chance to socialize with friends, and, oh yeah, there was that baseball game thing going on when there was a temporary lull in the conversation.  I once complained so much about still being in the park in the late innings on a very cold night that I actually got him to leave early. (A first, and only.)  We found out later that Dave Parker hit a game-winning home run.  (Lesson taught to me that night, but not learned until years later: if you always leave a blowout, you’ll never see a great come-from-behind win.)  Did I ever hear about that one, but just because it was his passion was no reason to make it my passion.

The guys I went to games with were insane.  They’d bring Bill James Abstract books to the games to look up stats.   Who does that?  I once told them if they’d used that brain power they waste on baseball, they could be speaking Latin by now.  They didn’t seem interested in learning Latin.

The Pirates were good – very good – in the early nineties.  (You can look it up if the thought of the Bucs being good is too hard for you to imagine.)  But just as Stargell, Parker and Tekulve didn’t turn me into a baseball junkie, neither did Bonds, Bonilla and Van Slyke.

Everything changed for me in 1995.  The Pirates were in their third year of what would turn into twenty years of crap, but I didn’t know that then.  If I had recognized at the time how pivotal that game would be to me, I would have remembered it better, but I don’t even remember who they were playing.  What I do remember is someone saying, “The infield is in.”  I thought that was a nonsensical thing to say.  Of course, the infield was in.  They’re infielders.  Where else would they be?  But they told me why the infield was in and for some reason, that fascinated me.  And it was all it took.

I never knew there were actual things going on in  a game.  I thought it was something you waited around for until a ball was hit.  Who knew there was so much more?

Once I allowed baseball to get to me, it got to me hard.  I bet I asked a million questions in 1995, what this and why that, and did a lefty want to face a righty or the other way around?  (Opposites attract hits.)  I had no idea how pathetic the Pirates really were.  I looked at the standings once, saw how many games they were behind, knew we had many more games than that left, and surmised they could easily overcome that twenty-six game deficit they had in mid-August.  Ah, to be young, stupid and idealistic like that again.

It wasn’t just the game.  I’m a big reader and spent the off season reading what I could get my hands on.  (I realized much later that reading too much Roger Angell turns you into a major baseball romantic.)  PBS reran Ken Burns’ Baseball and Oh my stars, what a baseball sucker I became.

It took me a few more years to pay any attention to stats, because, really?  Math?  I overcame my aversion to stats just as I’ve overcome my aversion to interleague play.  OK, I still hate IL play but we’re stuck with it now.  EVERY DAY!!

As the Pirates continued to suck over the years, I tell myself it was okay because if I followed any semblance of a real team, I would have been more swayed by the easy wins.  (and would not have been in the ballpark on the wrong side of a 17-4 game against the Cardinals, a game I remember fondly nonetheless because I saw the Bucs’ backup catcher pitch.  He had hit a homerun in the half inning before, then gave up a homer in the half innings he pitched.  Fans of good teams don’t see junk like that.)

I have the Steelers for easy wins, and would have the Pens for another if I ever watched hockey, but right now, I am listening to the Reds/Bucs game on the radio because they are showing the Pens on the station they share.  I am probably one of the few people in Pittsburgh who is annoyed about this.  (3-1 Bucs in the 8th; Cutch is an 0-fer but the Reds have stranded a hilarious number of runners.)

When I became a single mom, I was lucky to have people I could call, or email or IM when I still had questions.  I don’t have questions anymore.  (OK, sometimes I do.  Mind if I text you?)  One of my fondest memories is my youngest coming home from school one day in tenth grade, telling me she was talking to the boys in homeroom about the game last night and they said, “Wow, your dad really taught you a lot about baseball.”

She said, “It wasn’t my Dad.  It was my Mom.”

I’ve seen Fenway, Wrigley, Comiskey, whatever that one in Toronto is called, Jacobs Field, old Tiger Stadium, Camden Yards, not to mention the astounding PNC.  I’ve seen two inside-the-park homeruns in one game, a no-hitter, the Bucs erasing an 8-2 deficit in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, only to win it 9-8 on a walk-off grand slam but my all time favorite memory is my daughter saying “It was my Mom.”

And that’s your ballgame.  You can put it on the boards….YES!!!  One under five hundred now!  Four out of the last five! Hope springs!

Hope doesn’t really spring but I need to delude myself.  You can’t be a fan of the worst team among all four major sports without deluding yourself.  In twenty years, the Bucs have had three flirtations with making the playoffs.  They would have been promptly swept out of them, but fans of good teams can’t even possibly imagine how wonderful those three flirtations felt.  Sleepless nights and a reason to scoreboard-watch.  It was heaven.

I know I am doomed to watch terrible baseball for the rest of my life, because the Pirates are not only poor, they’re stupid, which is a lethal combination in what is an intrinsically unfair sport to begin with.  But that’s the way it goes.  “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”  F. Scott was not a Pirates fan, but he understood us.  I don’t understand front runners; I can’t imagine what satisfaction they get in switching teams every year.  or pretending they have legitimate reasons to root for the Yankees.

I didn’t mean to get so long-winded.  If anyone read all of this, you must be a serious baseball junkie, too.  I hope your team did well today.  But seriously, we could all be speaking Latin by now.



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