Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Little Roller to Right Field.....

As anyone who knows me well enough will tell you (probably with a sigh...), I am quite the fan of the American Pastime, Baseball. I think it's a fascinating sport which is hugely underrated and mostly misunderstood by people in the UK. So how on earth did a young Scotsman find love with baseball?

In 2005 I spent two months travelling the USA as a lone student. Before I went I had only ever seen snippets of the sport on some obscure channel at goodness knows what hour of the morning and in all honesty, it seemed intensely dull. What was all the fuss in America about this glorified game of rounders? When I arrive, I had no intention of following baseball but only thought I might try to catch a game or two just to experience the atmosphere.

I remember the first night I stayed in America rather vividly. When I arrived at my hostel on the Upper East Side of New York City, about 7pm or so and settled down to watch TV. As it was America, June and on a weekday evening, baseball was on (what I know as) SNY. I watched the game for as long as I could but without understanding what was going on, I soon lost interest and went to bed.

As time went on, I came to the astounding revelation that yes, there was more than one Major League Baseball team in New York. No longer did the New York Yankees have a monopoly in my mind over NYC baseball, but for some reason, I took to the New York Mets like it was an old friend. I started to follow their progress(even though I didn't know what half of the newspaper articles meant) as I travelled across the States, all the while picking up more and more scraps on the game.

So where did I first watch a live game of baseball? Was it Yankee Stadium? Shea Stadium? Fenway Park perhaps? No, in fact I watched my first game of live baseball in a tiny town in New Mexico. It was Little League! A bunch of schoolkids playing with hardly anyone actually ever hitting the ball.

Although the game itself was pretty dull, I was fascinated with the scene of a few bleacher seats filled with American Moms cheering on their children. I'm sure it was a scene that has played out all across America for decades, but it seemed so quintessially American which indeed it was.

It was in Sacramento CA at Raley Field however that I went to my first Professional Baseball game. It was a AAA Minor League game involving the Sacramento River Cats and the Salt Lake Bees. By all accounts it wasn't the most exciting game of baseball ever played (Salt Lake won 1-0....) but I loved it. The men walking around selling Hot Dogs, Beer, Ice Cream, Nuts was straight out of a film set. The noise from the stadium during ever single break in play meaning that the impatient and unable to concentrate American fan doesn't have to be bored for twenty seconds was so twee with the famous "7th Inning Stretch" coming in as well. Why would anyone not love this sort of situation?

I didn't manage to see much more baseball when I was over there as 1. I had no money and 2. I had very little time. Although I do remember sitting in the Chicago Greyhound Terminal watching the Chicago Cubs score a "Grand-Slam" against the St Louis Cardinals. I was sitting with an old black guy from deepest Tennessee who patiently answered all my little questions about what was going on. As far as my baseball knowledge goes, I have a deep sense of gratitude for what he told me about the game. It was all those things that never get explained on tv to the layman so it was a huge help to me.

However when I came home back to Scotland, the timer on the video recorder was set every Sunday and Wednesday night on Channel 5 for the live Baseball game. The next year was the same as I spent the summer in Wales where as you may guess, baseball isn't a popular sport.

It wasn't until I moved into my flat in Glasgow for my final year of university that my interest in baseball took off. There I caught the end of the 2006 World Series but was gutted the season finished there. So it was after a long close-season watching NFL and NHL that the Mets opened the reguar season in April. Then I watched every Sunday and Wednesday night no matter who was playing (and I still got a 2:1....) until I moved to London where unfortunately, I had no tv...

However, in 2008 I persuaded my flatmates at that time that we should get the NASN channel which shows live MLB games throughout the year. Well, it sparked my love of baseball like nothing else had done before. I started to read into the history of baseball and more specifically, my team the New York Mets. It turned out that they had won the World Series twice before in the Sixties and in 1986. The latter being famous for Bill Buckner's error in letting the ball slip under his glove (the title of the post is the famous commentary of that moment) in game 6 of the World Series to let the Mets win.

All of this happened at the Mets ballpark, Shea Stadium. To my horror, I learnt that it was being demolished at the end of the season. The thought that I, as a self proclaimed Mets fan would never have set foot in Shea Stadium was something I could not comprehend. How I took to rectify that will be in another post!

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