None of this EVER extended to professional sports. My heroes were local. I may not remember all the names, but I sure remember pictures in brochures, posters on my wall, and events where I got to meet the latest and great basketball centers and team ropers. I used to ride my bike down to the park and sit on the fence to watch the guys practice before the shows when the rodeo came to town. Once I even helped unload the hay. That was a shining moment for me.
In terms of baseball - I heard about it, and when it came down to it I always associated with the Cardinals rather than the Royals for some reason. We were slightly closer to the Royals, but the Cardinals felt more big city to me. I never really watched the game, but I felt this affinity to St. Louis that I couldn't explain. It wasn't about the city, though - it was about the Cardinals.
I went to my first baseball game in 6th grade. I didn't really understand the sport. It was super slow and nobody had to be in shape like we did for basketball. But our entire class took a trip to Kansas City. We watched a game between the Royals and the Mariners, and I saw Ken Griffey Jr. play. I had only heard his name, but I knew I was watching something special. I let it go after that until I got to college. Mostly because even at a young age I somehow knew I loved St. Louis and hated KC, and that had nothing to do with sports.
I went to college in St. Louis, and local sports took on a totally different meaning. The Rams won the superbowl my freshman year of college. The blues made it to the championships my Freshman year. And in case you didn't know, I had joined the winningest women's basketball team of all time at Washington University.
St. Louis is nothing if not a local "small town" made big. And it's really just a baseball town. So with all that was happening, when my new teammate (the guard with the shot that rolled off before you even got the ball into her hand) couldn't stop talking about her Cardinals crush, I started paying attention. She was all in for Rick Ankiel. So I started following the Cardinals more closely, for her. As a member of a national championship team, we ended up being celebrities in our own right at local bars (I've since found this happens when you're as tall as I am regardless of how good you are at any sport!) I recall one night we were all out with the older girls at Morgan Street Brewery in Laclede's Landing. Some of the Cards players were playing pool, and a couple of them came up to talk to some of the taller of us basketball players who were at the next table. All I really remember is my roommate going apeshit over seeing Rick Ankiel, and that although we didn't know the rest of the rookies at the time one of them turned out to be Albert Pujols. They were super nice, they were funny, and they didn't walk away when they realized we weren't fawning all over them looking for a hookup. And maybe somehow that solidified it for me.
So I moved out to San Francisco. And shortly thereafter I started dating a die-hard Giants fan. He had season tickets. So we started going to games. At first my Cardinals fandom won out, but slowly I learned the Giants, too. The stadium here is so amazing! It's hard not to fall in love. And then, my favorite player of all time, Mike Matheny (is it terrible that this is my definition of manliness?) , got traded to the San Francisco. So I had season tickets and my favorite player was the catcher in one of the best stadiums on the planet. It wasn't hard to become a Giants fan!
Within just a few years, though, I started started traveling regularly to Asia, and everything changed.
Time zones really fuck with you, no matter who you or where you are.
I started traveling to Penang, Malaysia, and a couple of things happened on the sports front. While I had always been football fan, I couldn't figure out how to keep up with the game. I tried for awhile. I knew my rams sucked and the SWMS (Now MS University) boys had their thing going, but it was just too difficult to follow from Malaysia. The problem and beauty with football is that you can only keep up with the game if you watch EVERY weekend. If you travel for a living, this is the death of your fandom. If you travel internationally, if you have ever spent months away from American tv, you understand why this is impossible.
We were all sitting in a meeting one morning at 6am Penang time during the 2012 playoffs. One of my leads who was traveling with me from the US had a SlingBox. So even though we had a 7am start time all of the Americans were watching Stefan's laptop. Instead of that being a problem, that became the agenda item for every hour for the next few days. GOD I love San Francisco people when the Giants are involved in a playoff.
ANYWAY. It turns out that when you're across the world in Malaysia, you don't share a lot with your family in Missouri and your friends in California. So even though my boyfriend in California really didn't care about the Giants 2012 performance, those Skype calls about how they were doing went a long way to connecting. And even though my mom in nowhere Missouri couldn't give 2 shits about baseball, connecting on how the giants did that night on the news meant a whole lot to her. I was up when everyone was else back home was asleep. But somehow, we all connected on the Giants progression toward the Series. Baseball gave me a link to everyone back home.
And so I came back home. And weirdly, I was more of a baseball fan than I had ever been before. I loved my Giants, because they had made me feel at home. And I loved my Cardinals, because they were my home. But I was still figuring it all out.
I had back surgery during spring training in 2014. I can't tell you my decision was made before then, but I'd like to pretend maybe I was still an open contender. The truth is. I've always been and always will be a Cardinals fan. (Maybe that's another post!) I spent the summer doing physical therapy and watching both teams closely. When I was well enough to fly, I took a trip back home to see my mom before I started a new job. That September trip didn't me much about baseball, but it sure did give me a lot of insight into my relationship with my mom and my home.
I'm one of those people who lived in the same house my whole life. Things changed over the years - we went from well water to city water, carport to drive ways, installed a small basketball court, built a cellar, planted trees, cut down trees, put in a shower - but it was the same house. That was my home. My home, with my Mom. My parents divorced when I was 16, and the last couple years I was in high school, plus all through college and a couple of years afterward, my mom and I lived very much like the Gilmore Girls. We were best friends who shared everything, including most of our time back home. Mom worked hard on her feet 6 days a week to make sure she'd be able to do what she could to get me out of our little town, and she spent her free time out going to all of my basketball games, so she didn't have a lot of energy for adventures and shopping trips. What she did have is a lot of love and time to sit with me in that living room for hours and seamlessly wander back and forth between conversation and quiet time - just the two of us.
When I moved to San Francisco, I think Mom found the quiet time was too much. She filled it with friends, but within a year her best friend died from the complications of breast cancer treatment, which my mom was also facing. Faced with her own mortality and the loss of her friend and distance from me and her other children, Mom allowed a persistent suitor to move in and make her home his own. It was just like her to take in strays - but cats were easier to love.
I spent that time home in September of 2014 trying to do everything I could to spend time with Mom. I spent as much time as I could tolerate in the house, but that was challenging. Partly because I have asthma and he refused to stop smoking indoors. But mostly because I couldn't refrain from fighting with him. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't keep my mouth shut. There were too many issues:
- Mom was on oxygen and not supposed to be around smoke, but he smoked indoors
- he had a confederate flag up on display in the living room and wouldn't let me even put in the closet while I was there
- I had made a feeding station for the cats on a higher surface so my mom wouldn't have to risk injury by bending down to the floor to feed them, but he moved it because he didn't want the cats jumping up on stuff
- He kept loaded antique guns all over the house even though he was usually drunk and Mom didn't know how to use them
So I took Mom out. I took her to her favorite things and to things she might never get to do. We went to the big cat sanctuary and Mom got to feed the lions and tigers. The smile on her face still makes me cry. We went to Red Lobster and got subs at the Sub Shop. We went on an outing to find the spot where my mom and dad used to take me and my siblings to go play in the creek. Mom was happy, and we were bonding. But all she could think about was whether her partner was okay at home. She didn't think she should leave him alone that long. Her worry for him cut our time short, and I hated him for that, although I wouldn't know how much until a few months later.
I had my fill of trying to play nice and returned to SF to start my new job. The Cards lost to the Giants in the playoffs and I shed my tear before putting on the orange. Just a few weeks into it I got a call from an emergency surgeon. My mom was in the hospital and might not live through the night. Even if she did, she might not make it the week. I flew home the morning of October 24 and was watching game 3 of the WS when Mom woke up to talk to me. The first thing she said to the surprise of me being there was, "Am I dying?"
We never lied to each other. I told her I thought she might have been, and she'd scared me, but it was looking really good now. She didn't want to talk about how she was feeling, and she didn't want to call anyone, so she asked me about what I was watching. Once she figured out which team I was rooting for (obviously I wanted the Giants to beat the Royals), my mom asked me to explain baseball to her. My MOM asked me to explain baseball to her.
The next week was touch and go. I spent every minute they'd let me by Mom's side in the ICU. She couldn't even really see the tv, but she watched baseball with me. When the nurses came in, she asked them who they rooted for. She told them proudly that I was a Cardinals fan but I was rooting for the Giants because I was living in San Francisco. She couldn't remember what she ordered for lunch, but she remembered that. She told one nurse I had a crush on the catcher (she misunderstood - Matheny HAD been that catcher).
It wasn't about the baseball. I actually end up watching most of the last innings at a nearby bar because the games went too late. It was about having that time back. Mom and I were sharing space and moving back and forth between watching something and talking - just as we always had. Nobody else was there bothering us. The nurses coming in acknowledged they were interrupting, and Mom included them in the conversations. She even tried to set me up with the hot male nurse. Mom and I had our time back in a way that we hadn't in a decade. It was beautiful.
Mom and I celebrated the Giants winning the 2014 world series shortly before I flew home to go back to work. Unfortunately, the story of why baseball brought me home doesn't end there.
In February, after months of travel back and forth and many more scares, Mom died. After the funeral and taking care of everything I had to, I lost it. I pretty much flew home, got pneumonia, and stayed in bed for a month. When I finally started to come out of it, nothing mattered.
And then, all of a sudden, spring training was on tv. I can't explain the feeling of watching baseball again. The last time I had watched was with Mom. And now, I could watch again. So 2015 became the year of me being the biggest, most devoted fan I had ever been. Anytime I missed Mom, I went to watch baseball. And then people started talking to me and it became less about missing Mom and more about loving the game again. And then, it became normal.
So now, baseball just IS. Watching baseball is the best because if I don't want to talk to anyone I can be so into the game that I don't want to talk to anyone. OR I can go watch the game and use it as an excuse to get out and socialize. The great thing about baseball is that there are so many games I get to make that choice. There will always be someone out who I can teach something to, and there will always be someone out who can teach me something.
I do feel a little lost during the months without baseball, but I don't travel anymore, so maybe it's time to care about football again? It'll never be home, but it's something.
For the record, my heroes now are women who make it through careers while raising families, and my crushes are men like Mike Matheny who've managed full careers with no scandals.
Is it April yet?