Back in July, I was going through my old baseball cards. It had been a few years, and it brought back quite a few memories. Although, funny enough, time has a way of eventually showing you what really matters. Looking back, only a handful of my thousands of baseball cards have any meaning to me; and only one has a lesson.
Back before the 1990 Major League Baseball season began, I was just a kid (10 years) and, for whatever reason, decided that when it came to being a fan of the Reds, I was going to finally go all out. Previously, I had been a casual fan. Sure, I always got mild amusement anytime I saw the Reds' mascot on the front page of the Dayton Daily News with either a smile (they won) or frown (they lost), but now it was time for me to really get on board. Anyone could pay attention for some of the time. I was going to be one of the few, the proud, who paid attention all of the time.
As the season began, I didn't have incredibly high hopes for sticking to my plan. I knew it would be tough. After all, I had never done this before. But I also knew it was worth a shot. It would take discipline, desire, and dedication. Only the strong would survive.
The Reds burst out of the gates and won their first nine games, and my favorite player, Barry Larkin, was batting 14 for 21 (.667). Amazingly enough, the Reds were making my "job" easy. In fact, many of my days began with me getting the newspaper at 5am, looking at the little box in the upper right hand corner of the front page with the Reds score, and then flipping to the Sports page where I would stay for easily half an hour. Many nights I would get to catch part of the Reds game on TV, and when I went to bed I'd be listening to Joe Nuxhall and Marty Brennaman call the game on radio. Whenever the Reds would clinch a victory, Brennaman would exclaim, "And this one belongs to the Reds!" After all the post-game coverage and interviews were completed (oftentimes late at night when I probably should have been asleep), Joe Nuxhall would sign off by saying that he was, "Rounding third and heading home."
I mentioned earlier that Larkin was my favorite player, and I had a baseball card of his hanging in my room during that season. Although, in truth, I was a huge fan of the entire team. As I reflect back on that season, my hopes were in the Reds. They were the primary reason I was excited to get up in the morning. When they were on a roll, so was I; and when they slumped, well, life just wasn't as fun for me. (I'm not the first 10-year old in the history of the world to idolize a baseball team.)
But this past July, amongst all the dust and memories of my baseball card collection, I found another baseball card of note. In fact, it was the only other card I had hanging in my room during that 1990 season.
Pete Rose was and is a living legend in Ohio. From the time I first began learning about baseball, I heard stories of Pete Rose and how he was the "All-time Hits King" and played for the "Big Red Machine." When I went to my first Reds game at the age of 6 or 7, I remember my dad pointing out Pete Rose (at that time the manager) as he walked to the mound to make a pitching change.
When Rose's betting scandal made news in 1989, I didn't know what to think. I was just a kid and while I didn't want Rose to be guilty, I knew that didn't mean he was necessarily innocent. From all the evidence I had heard in the media and from family members, it didn't sound good.
Across from Pete Rose, on the other side of the whole gambling mess was the baseball commissioner, Bart Giamatti. His job was to protect the integrity of the game and, ultimately, decide if Rose should be banned from the Hall of Fame. In many circles in Ohio (and nationally), Giamatti was unpopular. As you can imagine, Giamatti was in the press all the time--and it was probably very stressful for him.
In September 1989, with the days of summer becoming shorter, the baseball season winding down, and only eight days after banning Pete Rose from baseball, Bart Giamatti died of a heart attack.
As I thought back on it, I was a little surprised that I had hung Giamatti's card in my room. Although, I do think part of the reason I did it was to remind myself about what's important in life. Even though there was a time or two when I remember wanting to take Giamatti's card down (and possibly replace him with a Reds player), he stayed up the whole season. It was the least I could do.
I don't really have favorite sports teams anymore. Sure, I have my geographical or sentimental preferences, but not the way I used to. Instead, I'm a fan of the game. Whether it's baseball, football, basketball, whatever... I just have an appreciation for the beauty of sport. With baseball, this is especially true. My appreciation for the game is much deeper than back in 1990 when all I cared about was whether my morning paper would have a smiling or frowning Reds baseball face.
Since 1990, the Reds have yet to return to the World Series. In fact, more time separates this season from their last World Series win than separated 1990 and the Big Red Machine glory days. Time sure does fly.
Just a few short months ago in July, I turned over that Bart Giamatti baseball card and read the back of it. I had completely forgotten what was there, and I nearly blogged about it that very day. But something told me to wait. As in baseball, many things in life require patience and waiting for the right moment. Sure, you need to practice, be disciplined and aggressive, but when you get tossed a changeup, you better wait a little if you want to make good contact. Sometimes you have to let the game come to you.
As it turns out, the back of Giamatti's card had an excerpt from his book, "The Green Fields Of The Mind." Even though his words were simple, his death brings this book passage even more to life. Here is the excerpt, which struck me as poetic, if not prophetic:
"It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it goes... And summer is gone."