Catch the fever now
Let me show you how. 🎵
The above lyrics are from a commercial aired by MLB during the 1992 baseball season. (You can view the commercial here). That was the summer before I started high school – also the summer I met Nolan Ryan – and ever since that year, this song plays in my head at the most random times. Probably because I can never remember a time in life when I had not “caught the fever” of baseball fandom. I went to my first MLB game probably before I turned 1, and definitely before I was 2. That first game was a Texas Rangers game and given my dad’s favorite team from his childhood, they were more than likely playing the New York Yankees.
My parents, thankfully, took me to a lot of baseball games over the years. Growing up in southeastern Oklahoma the closest team was the Rangers. However, we also went to some minor league games in Oklahoma City at times. It was at one of these Oklahoma City 89ers games that my dad bought me my first package of baseball cards – 1985 Topps – and started me in a hobby still going strong as I enter my mid 40’s. In fact, I still have the Mark McGwire rookie card with him in his 1984 Olympics Team USA uniform from that pack. That card reached absurd value in the late 90’s but I never sold it, and probably never will at this point.
Shortly after that minor league game and my first pack of baseball cards, my family moved due to my dad getting a new job at a different school district. Our new town had WGN on cable. This shaped my love affair with baseball more than anything else really. I quickly fell in love with listening to Harry Caray broadcast games and watching Sandberg and Dunston, and then Andre “The Hawk” Dawson and Grace and Maddux and others. I became so devoted to my beloved Cubs that when my family was on vacation in 1987 and my parents took my sister and I to a Cardinals and Padres game at Old Bush Stadium in St. Louis, I had the daringness at the age of 8 to ask the employee at a souvenir kiosk why they did not have any Cubs stuff for sale. Surprisingly, they had a Chicago Cubs baseball. As my mom purchased the ball for me, I told the employee they would sell more stuff if they had more Cubs options than any other team. I still have that baseball and was gripping it oh so tightly into the late hours of November 02, 2016. After Rizzo secured the throw from Bryant I threw that Cubs ball high into the air in my backyard as I jubilantly cheered the long-awaited Cubs World Series victory (I was celebrating outside because my wife had lovingly warned me not to wake our sound asleep 11-month-old son, or his older brother or sister.)
Baseball has definitely been there to bring joy to life. It has also been there as a source of comfort through hardships. As I was entering Jr. High and set to start my journey to athletic greatness that was surely going to culminate with my eventual enshrinement in Cooperstown, I was dealt a devastating blow. I was born with a birth defect – severe club foot in both legs, but worse in my right legs. Other than my right calf being so much smaller than my left this is hardly noticeable. Nevertheless, my orthopedic doctor would not release me to play sports in school. Baseball (and collecting baseball cards) was there to soften the blow. I even obtained the nickname Zimmer for a while during 7th and 8th grade. Since I could not play sports, I became the team manager (and later in high school the athletic trainer) and was always wearing my Cubs hat, so some of the coaches started calling me Zimmer.
Back then my Dad was the play-by-play announcer for the high school football team for the local cable channel. I would always sit in the booth with him and one night while we played our archrival I struck up a conversation with the sports reporter from that towns newspaper. I, of course, was wearing my Cubs hat and he asked me how I thought they would do the following year. So I proceeded to tell him how I thought they would recover from a rough 1990 season to have a chance to win it all in 1991 (they went 77-83 and Don Zimmer was fired mid-season in 1991). I still have a copy of the article the reporter wrote about our conversation that night.
Baseball continued to be a major part of my life through high school and college and into adulthood. It has consistently been there no matter what is going on in life. Even as we neared our 30’s my best friend and I would drive halfway across the state just to play catch at a random city park when life had us troubled.
Baseball has been there as life has changed. As I became a husband (with my wedding date on my favorite all-time player – Andre Dawson’s birthday in the year he went into the Hall of Fame). It has been there as I have become a father. I have loved getting to share my passion for baseball with all 4 of my children. It has been there as I have changed careers and become dedicated to being an educator. It has been there through everything and I enjoy it more today than ever.
I love baseball because outside of my family, close friends, and students – nothing has consistently brought me happiness the way baseball has. The fictional Terence Mann said it best:
The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again.