Cheering for a Cheater

Ah, Spring! Robins sharing their songs, flowers beginning to bloom, and, here in Minnesota, temperatures just slightly above freezing. And the sounds of baseball–the crack of the bat! The thwack of a fastball hitting the catcher’s mitt! The back and forth of contentious labor negotiations!

Spring has meant baseball for most of my adult life. I recently read that the average age of a baseball fan now is 57 years old. Let’s just say I’m older than that, but I get why baseball doesn’t appeal to kids. It’s not fast enough for a generation raised on 15-second Tik Tok videos. To be fair, there is a lot of downtime in baseball.

See, I appreciate the pace of baseball, and all the pauses in the action, for the same reason I’m not bothered by commercials in shows I’m watching. It used to be that, before the streaming era, you could actually use the commercial breaks to talk, as opposed to say, talking during the show. If you wanted to know whether a certain actor was in some other show, you would simply remember your question until the next commercial and then you would ask somebody, or look it up.

And it’s not like baseball hasn’t acknowledged its own leisurely ways. Baseball is the only sport that has built in a time (right smack in the middle of the seventh inning!) specifically for the fans in the stadium to stretch (and maybe sing ‘God Bless America,’ because nothing says ‘love of a free country’ like forced patriotism).

In addition to the (impossible-to-sing and disturbingly militaristic) National Anthem, the other song associated with what used to be our National Pastime is “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Hearkening back to simpler, bygone days that nobody actually remembers, this 1908 tune is problematic on a number of levels.

Not the least of which is the second line, which is “take me out with the crowd,” not “to the crowd,” which mkes no sense unless you’re asking  to go to a ballpark specifically to watch the crowd.Even more troubling, at least for me, is the part where we’re all told to “root, root, root for the home team”==when you’ve lived the Bohemian life that I have, which team should I root for?

I’ve moved a lot, either to follow my bliss or (more frequently) to run away from problems, so where, exactly, are my loyalties, as a baseball fan?

I was born in Anaheim, California, home of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in Orange County Which is Close to Los Angeles, or whatever they’re calling themselves these days.

The Angels are a cool franchise to follow, having been almost as star-crossed as the “We’ll Sell You Babe Ruth” Red Sox, in many fewer years

  • In 1978, they lost an outfielder in a mistaken-identity shooting. In fact, since 1960, almost a quarter of the players who have died while on a Major League roster have been members of the Angels—you can look up the gruesome details, if you’re so inclined
  • In 1992, their team bus crashed and almost killed their manager
  • They’ve had a pitcher get hit in the eye during batting practice, and had a player break his collarbone swinging a bat in the on-deck circle
  • On the first play of his first game with the Angels, feared slugger Mo Vaughn badly sprained his ankle when he fell down the visitors’ dugout steps. Of course, they got Vaughn from the Red Sox, so maybe they should have known better.

Anyway, it’s not like I came out of the womb looking for a peanut vendor. I didn’t really get into baseball until I moved to the L.A. area, so despite a fun history of bad luck, I can’t really call the Angels my ‘home team.’

So let’s cheer for the Dodgers! I grew up with summers soundtracked by the folksy but savvy observations of legendary Dodgers announcer Vin Scully–“He’s up to his hips in alligators!”

Also, Dodger Stadium is glorious, if you forget about the hundreds of Latino families who were displaced by its construction. Unfortunately, I feel like I wouldn’t be comfortable identifying as a Dodgers fan, because Dodgers fans are known for not being really into the actual game.

I was at a game during which Dodgers pitcher Ramon Martinez struck out eighteen batters (note to non-fans: that’s a lot), and by the seventh inning, more people were hitting an inflatable beach ball in the stands than were counting strikeouts.

At least it’s one of the few professional sports venues without corporate branding, although someday soon it will probably be known as DogeCoin Stadium, or something equally heinous.

The ballpark name is actually one of the reasons I tried to become a fan of the San Diego Padres, for a minute and a half or so. You see, for many years, the Padres played at Jack Murphy Stadium, named for a sportswriter! I thought that was very cool. Now it’s called ‘Petco Park’, and even though I like pets just fine, the name implies that the ballpark smells like a giant Petco store. Also, the original ‘padres.’ were Catholic priests and big fans of forced conversion, so to quote ‘Shark Tank,’ “For that reason, I’m out.”

 I’ve always loved New York, and have tried to move there on at least three different occasions. Unfortunately, each time, New York slapped me down like a dog. So, despite the fact that the Mets play in Queens, where my mom grew up, I’m too conflicted to be a Met fan. Sorry, Mom.

By the way, I am aware that another baseball team plays in New York, but I can’t, in good conscience, root for the Yankees, because I’m not inherently evil.

I spent a couple stints in Chicago, and actually considered myself a Cubs fan, until I realized that Cubs fans make Dodgers fans look like baseball savants. Nobody I’ve seen at Wrigley Field was there for baseball.

I suppose I could cheer for the White Sox, but when I lived there, they had named their ballpark ‘U.S. Cellular Field,’ and when I had U.S. Cellular for my phone, their customer service sucked (now I think it’s ‘Guaranteed Rate Field,’ and I’m probably never gonna have a mortgage—I’m lucky I still have a cellphone).

I lived for a few years in Northern California, and as much as I dig the Oakland As (I know their logo has an apostrophe, but it’s wrong!), every couple months they talk about moving to Las Vegas, and I’ve lost a ton of money in Vegas. So for that reason . . . you get the idea.

Oh, and it’s not like I can cheer for the San Francisco Giants. I may not be a Dodgers fan now, but I grew up hating the Giants, and I guess the team you root against stays with you even when you’ve left the team you rooted for.

I spent about a year in Boston, before I burned more bridges than the Allies in World War II. Went to Fenway Park on Opening Day one season, and had a vintage Red Sox experience, in that I sat in the bleachers, and there were fistfights by the fifth inning.

Red Sox fans are the opposite of Dodgers fans . . . they’re a little too engaged. Calm down, Jimmy O’McFlaherty—it’s just a fly ball. If you listen to sports talk radio in Boston, you would swear the guys calling in actually owned the team—“Yeah, this is Eddie from Sommerville, and I just can’t understand why they got the rightfielder batting in the three hole when he’s got an OPS of .743. I mean, fer chrissake!”

I’ve lived in Portland at least twice—even I get confused by all my moves—and Portland doesn’t have a major league baseball team. Something about not being able to fit a ‘man bun’ under a regulation helmet? Or maybe organic, free-range vegan hot dogs don’t draw people to the concession stands? “Get your fair trade coffee, get your fair trade coffee! “Whatever the reason, Portland is not a baseball town.

Since 2016, when He Who Shall Not Be Named somehow became president of these baseball-loving United States, I started following the Toronto Blue Jays. I figured, since I didn’t have the energy left to move to Canada, I would at least protest President Voldemort’s unholy reign by rooting for a Canadian baseball team.

I’m sure that my  act of resistance led to the inauguration of Joe Biden, and you’re welcome. But it was really only an intellectual exercise, like when I pulled a prank in high school because I reasoned that I should pull a prank in high school. It wasn’t coming from the heart.

Speaking of the heart, now I’m back in Minnesota (for the fourth time, but who’s counting), and it’s time to root for my Minnesota Twins! Fun fact—the Twins have won the World Series exactly twice in my lifetime, in 1987 and 1991. These are both years during which I moved away from Minneapolis just before the World Series.

This go-round, I think I’m staying. But how do I cheer for a team, full-throatedly, when one of its ‘stars’ is, by his own admission, a cheater?It’s not like Carlos Correa is a bench player, easy to ignore. He just signed a contract for $105 MILLION dollars (I hear ya, teachers. Not the point of this piece). And until he leaves here for a GAZILLION dollars, I have to look at him and hope he does well in every game. Or, at the very least, hope he doesn’t suck. Which is different than rooting for him.

But let’s really look at his cheating. He, along with some of his buddies with the Houston Astros (a team I’ve never been a fan of, I’ll have you know), stole signs given by the catcher to the pitcher so that they, the Astros batters, knew what pitch was coming. Were they the first players to ‘steal’ this highly classified information?

No, just like steroids weren’t the first drugs used by ballplayers, and Pete Rose wasn’t the first inveterate gambler to play baseball. And don’t get me started on steroids and gambling keeping people like Barry Bonds and Pete Rose out of the Hall of Fame. It’s called . . . and stay with me on this . . . the Hall of FAME! Not the Hall of Integrity. Was Pete Rose FAMOUS for playing baseball? Yes. Yes he was.

Major league players have been trying for decades to crack the inscrutable code of finger-wagging by catchers. So why were the Astros singled out? I think it’s because of HOW they cheated. Specifically, by banging trash can lids. Seriously? Nobody applauds a criminal who is that obvious! That’s like a bank robber using a musket!

Now, I’m all for virtue signaling. Hell, I’ve changed the voice on my Google Home Assistant to a male voice, because it felt wrong to be ordering a woman to do things, even if those things were mostly playing music. But I’ve made peace with Carlos Correa’s cheating, enough to root for the Minnesota Twins again. First of all, thanks to Marvel movies, I believe in the multiverse, and maybe in this timeline, Carlos isn’t even a cheater!

Most importantly, baseball is a team sport. I can enjoy the early Jackson 5 records because they were written, performed, and arranged by a bunch of people other than the one-gloved weirdo. In the same sense, I can root for the Twins because most  of their lineup didn’t cheat. As far as I know. Besides, they’re my home team, you know?

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Posted 14 April 2022 by Michael Dane in category "COMEDY


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