To know me, you need to know that I am a huge baseball fan. I started loving the game when my dad took me to my first game at Shea Stadium in 1981. The Mets were (are?) pretty pathetic, and I took pity on them for having no fans. Yankees fans were arrogant and cruel. Having a soft spot for underdogs and hard luck cases, I became a huge fan. I played catch with my dad in the park with the free promo glove I received from the Mets. I marked all their wins and losses in the Mets promo calendar. Back then, there was no Internet to instantly look up a game. I dreamed of being the first female in the Major Leagues. As I grew up and my tastes evolved, I dreamed of being Ron Darling‘s wife.
In 1998, I moved to Tampa Bay. To be honest, by that time, I was out of love with baseball. The strike in 1994 soured me to the game. It was a fight between greedy players and even greedier owners. The movie, A Bronx Tale, made an impression on me. I can’t remember the exact quote, but I remember something the character of Sonny said. “The baseball players don’t care about you. Why care about them?” Or something like that. It was true. The home run derbies between Maguire and Sosa that drew people back to the game did nothing for me. This chick was not a fan of the long ball. A good pitchers’ duel gets me every time. Hard to get. That’s what I like.
Coincidentally, 1998 was also the first year of a new baseball team, the Devil Rays. They were so incompetent, they even made the Mets look good. I didn’t like them initially. The stadium was a dome–sacrilege! Baseball is supposed to be played outdoors in the elements. Tropicana Field had all the charm of a warehouse, and the fans were so very quiet. I felt like I was at a tennis match. Shhhhhhh…. be very quiet. They’re trying to play baseball. And those uniforms. Good lord.
All the games were on television, and during the long summer months when nothing was on television, I started watching them. At first, I just watched disinterested in the outcome. Over time, I found myself actually wanting this poor little team to succeed. They reminded me so much of my first love, the Mets: few fans, always under the Yankees’ shadow, and sorely lacking in the win column. The game was pretty much as I remembered it. The designated hitter rule took a little getting used to, but I could see the practicality of it, even if the purist in me thinks it dilutes the game. The game is not about whether the players cared about me on a personal level. It is about what the game gave me. Its beautiful symmetry, the languid pace. The players come and go, but the game stays the same, for better or for worse. Baseball, I was back.
In 2008, the most startling thing happened. This sad little team began to win. And it felt good.