Janet Sheridan: A reluctant fan
April 2, 2015
First, my older brothers brainwashed me, then the speed and athleticism of the players and the changing rhythms of the game hooked me. I became a college basketball fan.
Football caught my attention when I attended Utah State shortly after the glory days of Merlin Olsen. A knowledgeable guide in the person of my college boyfriend cemented my enjoyment of a game played by strong, quick athletes who mix it up, emerge battered and dirty, and come back the next week to do it again.
But baseball? No thanks. I couldn't see the attraction of a sport that dragged on through nine endless innings with long, boring stretches of inaction followed by great excitement if the final score was 1-0. Where was the thrill in that?
Then I married a man who grew up 50 miles from St. Louis. At first, I resisted the lure of Busch Stadium, the Clydesdales, and the Cardinals. My lack of interest was reinforced when Joel took me to spring training in Florida: everybody partied on sloping green grass under a warm sun rather than watching the game, and I wondered why they didn't save money by going to a nice park.
Later, I attended a game in St. Louis where an overbearing sun beat through motionless, humid air, and our seats were so steeply pitched I feared tipping over and crushing an innocent. When everyone cheered the Cardinals pitcher for a ball four-feet wide of the plate, I became confused, and Joel's explanation that he had deliberately pitched out didn't enlighten me. Then I lost one of my favorite earrings. The game had no chance.
But year after year, the Cardinals qualified for the play-offs, and Joel watched their games. I joined him in front of the TV, though I usually crocheted or worked on my computer. Soon, when something exciting happened, I'd look up and catch a replay. Though I questioned the need to show the same play 32 times, I began to appreciate the players' skills. Slowly, I became familiar with the players and anticipated the dominating play of the tough-looking Cardinal catcher, Yadier Molina.
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Next, Joel, having someone else in the room and tired of talking to the TV, started critiquing for me the actions and decisions of the managers, coaches, and players. Gradually, I learned to watch aspects of the game I'd previously been oblivious to: the shifting of the outfield, the instant-quick way the players covered one another's positions, the pitchers' knowledge of the batters they faced.
By the time the Cardinals won the World Series against all odds in 2011, I was a fan.
Now, I even enjoy the parts of the game that used to make me yearn for a book, such as the ritual that occurs when a manager switches pitchers in the final innings of a closely contested game. While the replacement warms up in the bullpen, the outgoing pitcher hosts numerous gabfests on the mound. The manager, pitching coach, and catcher all take turns sauntering out for a chat with him, though sometimes they gang up on the poor guy. I especially like the way the pitcher and catcher hold their gloves in front of their faces to mask their words, like Geisha's simpering behind a fan.
I still chafe at the imperfections of the game: I question the need for the 7th inning stretch, yawn through the stream of statistics that flow from announcers, and think, "Yuck," when players spit, chomp on a wad of gum big enough to choke a cow and spew sun flower seeds like chipmunks on speed.
But when play begins in the fresh air of spring, I feel a stirring of excitement; my interest builds during the sun-soaked days of summer and peaks in the blazing colors of fall when weary players fight for playoff positions.
Sheridan's book, "A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns," is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at http://www.auntbeulah.com on Tuesdays.