Whenever the Super Bowl comes around, I get excited. But, it’s not because we’re about to watch the biggest American football game of the year.
It’s because the Super Bowl means baseball season is almost here.
The four words that give me goose bumps are not, “TOUCHDOWN, San Diego Chargers!” They’re, “Pitchers and catchers report.”
The Padres report to Peoria and the world seems to be in better balance. There’s just something romantic about baseball.
A few years back I saw Tony Gywnn in the dugout before a game at Petco Park. He was alone, just gazing out upon the impossibly green grass and impeccably manicured baselines, and a question came to me.
Little did I know it was a stupid question.
I interrupted Mr. Padre’s reverie by asking, “What do those eyes see?”
He looked at me like I would imagine William Shatner would look at a Trekkie who has gotten WAY too close for comfort (and rightfully so), and asked what I meant.
“Well, I look at the field and I see one thing,” I stammered. “You, as one of the greatest ballplayers of all time, must see something differently.”
He thought about it for a second, smiled, and said, “OK.”
Creeping stillness running up the back of my neck.
Then he continued.
“No, I see a baseball field.”
And for some reason, I didn’t feel embarrassed. I felt disappointed. It has taken me a while to understand why, but I finally got it figured out.
I have always been more Crash Davis than Chris Davis. I love the game, it got me through a lot of tough childhood times, but I don’t have the athletic ability to thrive in it. I had always assumed the greatest of the greats must see things us mortals don’t.
So, I wanted Tony to turn in to Terence Mann. I wanted a speech worthy of being the clip the Academy Awards run to illustrate the work of a Best Actor nominee.
“What do I see, young man?” I wanted to hear him say, chuckling that tell-tale laugh. “Oh, the things I see. I see the rotation of the ball as it leaves the pitcher’s hand. I see it make contact with the barrel of my Louisville Slugger. I see it, almost in slow motion, as it slices through the 5.5 hole for another base hit. I see the blades of grass bent in just the right way to help me track down that sinking liner. I see successes of the past, and the promise of future greatness. THAT is what I see.”
But that response never came. Finally, I think I understand why.
When you are as good as Gwynn, the game becomes part of you. You eat it, you breathe it, you sleep it. The ballpark is his place of business. How many of us would break in to a heartfelt soliloquy extolling the virtues of our workplaces?
It’s always the fans that paint the best pictures of baseball. Many of the folks who live and die by their favorite teams are even more emotionally invested in the franchise than a majority of the players. So, in a way, being a baseball fan is even better than being a baseball player. Sure, the paychecks are a little larger, and if someone asked me today if I would like a spot on a Big League roster I’d run out of my skin like a cartoon character to take the chance. But, in the long run, I’ll take fandom, and there are lots of reasons why.
It’s because I can still watch a game and feel the excitement of the fact that anything, truly anything, might happen today. It’s because I can take my sons to the ballpark and see the wonderment in their eyes as they try to take in the sheer magnitude of the event unfolding before them.
It’s because I can look out on a baseball field, and not just see a baseball field. And I hope that never changes.
Follow Derek Togerson on Twitter -> @DerekNBCSD