Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Crying in Baseball

From "A League of Their Own:"

Jimmy Dugan: Are you crying? Are you crying? ARE YOU CRYING? There's no crying! THERE'S NO CRYING IN BASEBALL!
Doris Murphy: Why don't you give her a break, Jimmy...

Jimmy Dugan: Oh, you zip it, Doris! Rogers Hornsby was my manager, and he called me a talking pile of pigsh!+. And that was when my parents drove all the way down from Michigan to see me play the game. And did I cry?

Evelyn Gardner: No, no, no.

Jimmy Dugan: NO. NO. And do you know why?

Jimmy Dugan: Because there's no crying in baseball. THERE'S NO CRYING IN BASEBALL! No crying!

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I'm here to tell you that Jimmy Dugan is full of it. From last year's ALCS, the call by radio announcer Dan Dickerson:
"Swing and a fly ball, left field, it's deep, it's way back ... THE TIGERS ARE GOING TO THE WORLD SERIES!! Three-run, walkoff home run! OHHHHH MAN! Ordonez around third, he's into a mob scene at (sob) home! The Tigers have beaten the A's, 6-3, completing a four-game sweep in one of the greatest turnarounds in baseball history! The Tigers, three years after losing 119 games, are going to the World Series! Magglio Ordonez with his second home run of the game. What a sight at home plate!"

I was in the stands that night, sitting in the nosebleeds even higher than the foul pole, but I will never forget that blast. Craig Monroe was on second base and Placido Polanco was on first. There were two outs in the bottom of the ninth in a 3-3 tie. Oakland's closer, Huston Street was pitching his second inning, and was showing signs of fatigue. When Magglio hit the ball, I had the camera ready. I was snapping pictures on every pitch. We all knew something great was about to happen. Maggs was up in the count,1-0, and I had a feeling and it just felt right.

As soon as the ball landed in the stands Comerica Park exploded. People were jumping for joy, and tears were streaming down the faces of thousand, my wife's and mine included.

Last night on ESPN, they showed the greatest home runs of all time, separated by decade. The last one they showed was this one, and the emotion just welled up in me. It struck me as funny how a baseball game can bring out feelings strong enough to overwhelm a person, but that night stands out as one of the greatest of my life. When I think of non-family moments (wedding, adoption day, etc.) this one is #2 on my list behind our high school state championship, which now that I think about it, was also a baseball game.

So what is it about this sport that brings out such emotion? You don't hear about football fans breaking down after a Super Bowl, or NBA fans weeping when their team cuts down the nets. I think baseball is ingrained in all of us as a country. Ratings for baseball games are at an all-time low, yet attendance is at an all-time high. I think that's because there are so many options available for entertainment that there's room for many sports, but baseball is special because it's the oldest American sport, dating back to the 1840s in its earliest incarnation.

I wonder sometimes if it will fade away into obscurity as other sports (and NASCAR*) gain more and more popularity. I don't know. It might fade away, but I just think it's amazing to hear things like Dan Dickerson's radio call of Justin Verlander's no-hitter where he mentioned that it was the "sixth no-hitter in the 107 year history of the Detroit Tigers." Yes, my team has been around for 107 years. Not only did my late grandmother (born in 1914) follow them, but her father did too, from their inception in 1901. That kind of generational continuity makes it special.

I have already begun the brainwashing process with my daughter that I hope will make her a Tigers fan. We watch games together, and she has a Tigers t-shirt, hoodie, and cheerleader outfit. We will be going to her first Tigers game in September and I can hardly wait to have our pictures taken in front of the 20-foot tall tiger statue in front of the ballpark. I want to do that every year until she moves away, and then I want it to be a special trip that she can share with her children. I think it is one of the great things that is truly American to go to the ballpark and have a hot dog while keeping score at a game. As French historian Jacques Barzun once said, “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball.”

I wonder how many more times I will hear that home run call before the emotion is wrung out of it. Since it's the ringtone on my cellpone and I hear it most every day, I think it's going to be a long time.

*I'm sorry, but NASCAR is not a sport. It's driving. You didn't play a sport on your way to work this morning, did you? I agree that NASCAR is highly competitive and requires great skill and stamina, and many people, including some of my best friends love watching it, but it's not what I would classify as a sport. On the other hand, I would pay real money to watch high school NASCAR races, as athletes compete for college scholarships. Driver's education would be better funded, that's for sure!


Martin said...

Jim, love the quote from "A League of Their Own". That's a fun film all the way around.

Will said...

Weeks ago the Cleveland Indians were playing the Tigers. My wife Jill and I were visiting Mom and Dad in Ohio, and I was trying to learn the score.
"Why are you a Tiger's fan? You were raised in Ohio," asked a local lady.
"I've lived in Detroit for twenty-one years now, longer than anywhere else. Also, the Tigers have been underdogs for decades."
Mrs. Jill (Oyuntsetseg of Mongolia) loves baseball. You should tip off your old 'Timer buddy before you head over here. I'd love to cook for you, your wife and your new daughter, Miss Sera XiaoSheng Mclain.

Jim McClain said...

I will do that, Will. And I should also introduce you to one of my best friends, Tim, who lives in Troy. He is a Champions player from way back.