Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Love & Baseball

I don't know why people like the home run so much. A home run is over as soon as it starts... The triple is the most exciting play of the game. A triple is like meeting a woman who excites you, spending the evening talking and getting more excited, then taking her home. It drags on and on. You're never sure how it's going to turn out. - George Foster

I've always loved baseball. And I've always liked women. When the two meet, it's great.

To be fair, even though I was always a Twins fan when I lived in Minnesota, I never became such a die-hard fan until I moved to New York and was separated from my team. Baseball was always great, but I think I took for granted being so close to my team and being able to have them anytime I wanted. The same goes for relationships I suppose, but its first evidence in my life was made plain in baseball.

My girlfriends when I lived in Minnesota were never really baseball fans (perhaps that's why they never worked out), but since I've moved to New York I've either sought out Twins fans or converted them. Yes, converted them. Or at least attempted to.

For example, my first serious girlfriend in New York was not really into baseball at all. A New York art student, Floridian, vegetarian, nothing really conducive to baseball. But in order to make things work, much to her credit, she actually attempted to adopt my team and develop an interest in the game. Early on I went out and bought a Joe Nathan t-shirt jersey in men's small and gave it to her saying it was my old shirt I'd grown out of. Nathan however did NOT become her favorite player. Despite his lovable facial twitches and being the best closer in Twins history, no, she fell instead for Torii Hunter.

Torii was an easy player to love I suppose. And it didn't hurt that when we went to a game at Yankee Stadium, her first Twins game, Torii belted a go-ahead homerun in his first at bat and she stood up cheering and said "I think I like HIM!" Her Torii Hunter connection was furthered later when she found out that her favorite place to eat in Minnesota, The Original Pancake House, was also Hunter's. It didn't matter, she liked the Twins, she was hooked. Pick any player she wanted, I'd finally found a Twins fan in New York.

At the time, my roommate was a Detroit Tigers fan. My girlfriend spent a lot of time at my apartment and her proximity to the two of us probably forced her to get into baseball more than she otherwise would have. After awhile she told me that she didn't like watching baseball with me because if we lost I'd be upset the rest of the day and act really depressed. But she pressed on, still watching baseball and sometimes falling asleep in extra innings, sometimes awake enough to celebrate 9th inning walk offs. But the real test was on the last day of the season when the Twins won and she actually encouraged me to switch channels and start cheering for the Royals to beat the Tigers to see if we could make the post-season.

We did. Of course. And my roommate came home upset and she got her first taste of gloating.

But I know she's not a baseball fan anymore. Perhaps that means she never really was. Perhaps the departure of Torii Hunter doomed the relationship and to be a true Twins fan you need to be in love with the team and not just a particular player. Life's eternal questions.

I later started dating another girl for awhile. She was an avid sports fan from Arizona, but primarily baseball and basketball. This was my first taste in starting to cheer for the teams of a girl that I liked. While the Timberwolves and Vikings floundered and the Gophers were in the middle of a stretch of nonexistence that they're still in now, I started learning reasons to like Steve Nash and found out what a Sun Devil was. Since the Diamondbacks weren't much of a team she conceded to me on the baseball front and went out to buy a Justin Morneau jersey on her own accord.

But this relationship didn't even survive an offseason. It was short, and baseball never really even got it's chance. We never went to a game together, which is the first sign (although to be fair there was never really an opportunity).

My last girlfriend was a bit of an enigma. She was Polish, and trying to learn about baseball from a slew of Giants fan friends in the year they won the World Series. Our first date was bringing her to a Twins game at Yankee Stadium for a game that got rained out. I was excited because there was someone I liked that genuinely wanted to learn about baseball before meeting me but had no strong allegiance to any team in particular. I got great seats, close to the field (and to Danny Valencia, thinking that he'd be a good introduction for any girl to start liking baseball), but as the skies opened and the game was rescheduled until September, we left the ballpark and settled for dinner instead.

She genuinely started getting into the game, learning how to read balls and strikes, the different between catching fly balls and force-outs, even the hard to grasp rule of tagging up before advancing on a caught fly ball. I made the trip up to Boston to catch the Twins at Fenway and she joined me. Despite another gloomy and rainy day we got to watch our first live baseball game together, and although the Twins lost she started feeling an affinity for Jason Kubel, the only player on our team worth caring about in a season of disappointment. I sometimes wonder how someone could go from cheering for a World Series winner to one of the worst teams in baseball within the span of a year, but she did it admirably.

We spent the summer watching games at the bar or on a hacked MLB.TV account. We caught Liriano's no-hitter, went out of our way to see the Twins play the Giants, and even flew out to see some games at Target Field; but the moment I knew she liked the Twins was when she started referring to them as "us" and "we". Finally, a girl who got it beyond superficial cheering.

But when September rolled around we couldn't catch that rain-out game and gave the tickets to some friends. Kubel seemed destined for departure despite her autographed Kubel baseball and her new Kubel T-shirt, and he ended up making his way to the Diamondbacks early in the off-season (talk about painful for someone who likes the Giants).

Looking back on things I'm not sure if it's right to convert people you like into fans or your team, or if it's even truly possible. Perhaps it does more harm than good. I think you either meet a Twins fan or you accept that the person you love is a fan of another team and learn to live with the differences. I've had the pleasure of getting to know The Geek and The Voice of Reason, and reading the story he publishes every year and seeing the two of them together makes me realize that you can love your team and you can love your person and you don't need to force the two of them together -- it will happen naturally or it won't happen at all.

But as Valentine's Day rolls around today -- and Happy Valentine's Day to everyone -- I'm not looking to create any new Twins fans. I'm counting down the days until my lifelong true love returns.

5. 5 more days. 5 more days until we're back at baseball. That's the best Valentine's Day gift ever.

The other sports are just sports. Baseball is a love. - Bryant Gumbel


  1. Best post yet and I'm right there with you! Can't wait for the season to start :-)

  2. Topper,

    I'm excited for the start of the 2012 season. However, I think it will be extremely painful.

  3. Great post. And I agree -- I was always a good Twins fan, but I became much more of a fan once I moved away from MN. There's soemthing about losing accessibility to the team that makes the allegiance stronger, and also something about wanting to indicate to people in your new state that you're not a Yankees or Red Sox fan.

  4. Nice writing, this is what makes the offseason fly by. And I still have hope for both the Twins and true love (how else could I explain my wife dumping a non-fan and shortly afterwards falling for/blogging faithfully with me?)

  5. Hey Topper, I just got around to reading this, and really enjoyed it. I couldn't agree more. It makes me wonder if we were ever at the same Twins games at Fenway...