Saturday, October 11, 2008

Of Hot Stoves and Fields of Dreams

One of my few links back to the US is that I am a baseball fan. Baseball is big in Japan and South Korea as well as Latin America but is a relatively unwatched sport in most other places. Part of the reason that I am a baseball fan is that it was the only pro team in my hometown (Arlington, Texas) when I was young. It is also about the only sport I could have possibly played well as a child. I am not tall enough for basketball nor big enough for American Football but am way to big to be a jockey (as if my Baptist parents would have let me be affiliated with horse racing anyway.) I am not a sprinter and distance running events were simply not on the sports menu when I was a child. Soccer was a girls game. I didn't become a bicycle racer until I was 20 so that left baseball.

My poor eyesight means that I have poor depth perception but I could put on a catcher's mask and chest protector and squat behind home plate. You don't have to judge fly balls when it's being thrown at you. Catchers have a mystique about them. The great ones are legends but the major leagues have always been peppered with catchers that fill the backup role and travel from team to team. I guess that wanting to grow up and become a backup catcher is not a very exciting boyhood dream but it was about all I had until Charlie Hough showed up as a Ranger. Then I wanted to be Charlie Hough. My God, a good knuckleballer is about the pinnacle of baseball as far as I am concerned even to this day and Good-time Charlie was the best of his era.

One of the best parts about baseball to me is the off season. Because my local team, the Texas Rangers have generally been a team that misses the playoffs and have never won a playoff series the off season was a Rangers fan most pleasant part of the year. If the team was on the rise and looked like it might be better or even have a chance next year then fans looked for trades or Free Agent signings that would become the guy that put the team over the top and into the World Series. If the team was rebuilding or stagnant we could always hope that the manager would be fired and replaced or that the owner would sell the team to someone who would somehow, someway bring a winner to town. Such hopes were always dashed upon the rocks of the real season. Even when the Rangers were a good team they were never good enough. One year they won 94 games but the Kansas City Royals won 103. Since at that time only the 1st place team from each division went to the playoffs the Rangers were out. That stunk because they were arguably the second best team in the league but had to sit home while an inferior team lost to KC in the American League Playoff Series.

Every year as boy I would wait impatiently for Spring Training to begin in Port Charlotte Florida. I'd show up on opening day with my old Wilson catchers mitt that was autographed by every starter from the first opening day (I wish I still had that mitt) after the Washington DC Senators had moved to Texas and became the Rangers. I'd sit in the bleachers hoping to catch a foul ball or a Jeff Boroughs homerun. I was at the first 5 Opening Day games. I saw David Clyde pitch his first game as a Ranger. I had a bumper sticker on the back of 1966 Mustang that said "Trade Brad" and you have to be a long time Rangers fan to remember that one. I wore a black shirt for a week when Eddy Childs died. I became a Charlie Pride fan and bought his records because he would go and play a couple of exhibition games with the team each spring. I never did catch a foul ball.

I haven't been to a game since 1986. After I got married I had other priorities and the games were expensive for a guy with a wife and small children, especially since my wife is not a baseball fan and barely tolerates it on the radio. Not to mention I now live in China and a 21 hour flight each way to catch a baseball game is bit of a stretch for any fan. But that doesn't mean I stopped being a fan. It also doesn't mean that the off season isn't still an exciting part of my year as a Rangers fan. Each year at this time I find myself hoping that I can get back to Texas for a visit next summer and see a game. Some years I get back for a visit with my family but haven't found a way to go see a game.

Maybe next year. Maybe next year I can finally get back to a Rangers game. Maybe next year will be that magical season where men, some who are young enough to be my sons will win it all. My head says; "Nope, it won't happen." My heart says: "It might happen! It could be the Rangers year in 2009" Hope spring eternal when the stove is hot and I can almost see the field of dreams from my window in Causeway Bay

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Blogger who generally struck out when it came to sports

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