It was stunning. There I was, glued to the couch, flipping the television from my Tampa Bay Buccaneers — a team I love, even though they caused me the kind of agony as a child that can only be matched by SUV-sized kidney stones — to watch a baseball game.
Baseball? Are you kidding? What’s happened to me?!?
I’m not a baseball fan. I never watch baseball. I’ve watched tricycle races and world championship ice fishing, but I can’t ever think of an occasion where I’ve flipped on a baseball game.
It’s not my sport — too slow, too much spitting, not enough action, and I don’t really like any sports where you have to button-up your uniform. That’s far too sophisticated for me. My two sports are football and futbol (aka. soccer), and I rarely watch anything else.
But as a Tampa native, my interest was piqued when the Tampa Bay Rays made the playoffs. Suddenly I was interested in this sport, and this young, ragged, bottom-dwelling team that had dispatched giants all season. So I tuned in. And daggonit if I’m not hooked.
Maybe it’s my Cuban roots. Cubans will give up air before they’ll give up baseball, and I’ve heard relatives tell me doctors will use catchers mitts when delivering babies. Baseball is a passion in Cuba — a religion. On my first trip there as a journalist several years back, I took a bunch of baseballs to give away to kids. You would have thought I was delivering gold.
But in all my life, the baseball bug had never bit me. I just couldn’t ever get into playing it. It’s a solitary sport, and quite terrifying most of the time. No matter where you are on the field, you always feel totally alone.
To make matters worse, someone is always hurling an instrument of death at you. And against better judgment, you don’t run or dive for cover — a typical reaction when high velocity objects race toward you. Instead, you stick a hunk of poorly padded leather up in front of your pearly whites and attempt to catch this screaming missile.
Just think about it for a minute: catchers wear cages on their faces; a guy swings a big wooden bat; sometimes batters get hit by the ball and then charge the pitcher, who they beat mercilessly; you wear a plastic cup over your privates. If you didn’t know any better, you would think this was a script for a Mad Max movie.
I hated baseball as a child. I had terrible eye-hand coordination, which meant that I often caught air in my glove and a ball in my eye socket. If a ball was popped up to me, it was pretty certain that I would catch the bubonic plague before I would land that round leather bullet.
My glove in elementary school was a hand-me-down from my dad — actually an adult-sized softball glove. The leather was so broken in that it flopped around like a flounder, or a soggy calzone. On my scrawny hand, it would open only an inch or two, and was utterly worthless unless I was using it to swat away a pop fly plummeting toward me. Sometimes I would throw the glove at the ball, hoping it would at least slow its speed before it ricocheted off my noggin.
I station myself 17 miles deep in the outfield where I would pray (I went to Catholic school, and was very accomplished at asking for simple requests) that no ball would head my way. But the Lord must have one heck of a sense of humor. They came at me like heat-seeking missiles.
So I never would have thought I’d be transfixed to a baseball game and rooting for my home team. Or that I’d be anxiously awaiting the start of the World Series. Unbelievable.
And who knows: Maybe I’ll even get the urge to go out and toss a ball around. If you see me walking around with a black eye, you’ll know I had to give playing the sport just one more shot.