By Ken Reed

Baseball has a hook in me and I’m not really sure why. I’m a basketball and football fan but I find baseball has a unique appeal.

I’m not a big fan of the overly romanticized odes to baseball that too often show up in print or on the big screen. Nevertheless, I must admit, there’s a specialness to baseball for me.

I guess there’s no better place to start than with spring training. I actually get excited about pitchers and catchers reporting to camp. I love everything about spring training. Conversely, I could care less about the start of football and basketball training camps. In fact, I think the exhibition games in football and basketball are a joke, topped only by the prices charged to view them.

I like the leisurely pace in the spring. Players mosey up to the field for batting practice with smiles on their faces. They joke around with teammates and fans and sign autographs along the way.

Old-timers in uniform hang out around the batting cage, or bullpen, and share stories with wide-eyed rookies as often as they give baseball advice.

I love the weather at spring training games and sitting in the grass beyond the outfield walls. I love exposing my winter white to the sun and watching better-looking sun worshippers do the same. I get a kick out of five-year-olds playing catch and chasing wild throws down the grassy knolls, often tumbling as their little legs can’t keep pace with their increasing speed.

I love the sameness of it all. I love the open feel to spring training. And the players seem more like the rest of us in the spring.

I cherish the fact that I’ve shared family vacations to spring training with my parents and sister; my wife and friends; and more recently, with my own children.

Once the regular season starts, I look forward to perusing the morning box scores while eating my cereal and drinking a cup of tea. Why is this a special ritual in baseball? I rarely look at basketball and football box scores ….

Similarly, I love listening to baseball broadcasts on the car radio, whether at home or in another city when I’m traveling. I also listen to baseball games as I jog, ride my bike, mow the yard ,and while flipping burgers during the summer months. All I need is a couple innings. I don’t remember the last time I listened to an entire game on the radio, but a couple innings is like a 15-minute chat with a good neighbor over the backyard fence. It’s a comfortable ritual.

With a baseball radio broadcast, you can “see” the game unfold in ways that are impossible with football and basketball. I never listen to a radio broadcast of a basketball game — unless it’s to quickly catch the score. I only listen to football on the radio when I’m stuck in traffic trying to get into the parking lot at the stadium, or when I’m running late on the way back to my sofa and TV after running an errand.

Baseball brings a ton of history and nostalgia to the table as well. It connects me to the innocence of my youth like no other sport.

As a Denver native, we weren’t blessed with a Major League Baseball team during my youth. I adopted the Oakland A’s (cool uniforms, funky names, lots of mustaches and nearly as many stars) as my team growing up. I can remember the entire starting line-ups, rotations, and closers for the ’71-75 A’s. During the same time period, my favorite football teams were the Denver Broncos and Dallas Cowboys. My favorite basketball teams were the Denver Nuggets, Boston Celtics and Buffalo Braves. I remember several stars from those teams but can’t name the entire starting lineups.

My dad recognized my passion for the A’s and baseball and wanted to feed it. He somehow always found a way for our annual Griswold-like summer family vacations to include a game or two involving the A’s in some American League city. My mom and sister weren’t too keen on it, but they endured and survived. Today, these games hold memories everyone in the family cherishes … like the time my younger sister turned her popcorn container into a megaphone and for some reason yelled out as loud as she could, “Go Koufax!” Sandy Koufax was retired, and the Los Angeles Dodgers were 2000 miles away!

My uncle and older cousin taught me how to keep score at a Minnesota Twins game in 1968. It was the first Major League game I attended. Today, I still love keeping score at baseball games, whether sitting at a game by myself or sharing scoring duties with my wife or kids. Yet the thought of scoring a game in basketball or football (do they score games in football?) never crosses my mind.

There’s no better game for shooting the breeze with family or friends than baseball. The pace is perfect for simultaneously watching the action on the field and catching up on the activities of a buddy’s kids. And going to a baseball game is ideal for family outings. Grandparents and grandkids alike are comfortable hanging out at the ol’ ballpark.

And then there’s the simple ritual of playing catch, whether with a parent, one of your kids, a friend, or even a complete stranger. It’s a great way to feel the power of connecting with a fellow human being.

I guess part of baseball’s allure is the constancy of it. It’s there with you, day in and day out, for nearly nine months (counting spring training and the postseason). Baseball’s a great companion, even if it’s not your favorite sport.

Whatever the reason — or reasons — may be, once baseball gets you, it has you for life. Jim Bouton captured it best at the end of his classic book Ball Four.

“You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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