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April 19, 2014

It isn't spring until baseball season starts


Everything about that series seemed amplified, extreme. The games were either nail-biters or blowouts. The comeback wins the Yankees pulled off in Games 2 and 3 — both in extra innings, both against Diamondbacks closer Byung-hyun Kim — felt unreal. The tension when George W. Bush stepped out to throw out the first pitch in Game 3, wearing a bulletproof vest with sharpshooters poised in the stands, was palpable. Pitching a combined 39 1/3 innings between then, Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson seemed like titans who could neither be fazed nor fatigued. 

As game after game stretched late into the night, we stuck it out, lying on the wall-to-wall carpeting of his parents’ basement inches away from the TV screen. And through the long innings, he filled in the blanks of baseball for me, pointing out the importance of each pitch, the significance of every play, of the pitch count, of the position of the baserunners and the outfielders.

It was a gut-wrenching, devastating series that left me exhausted and almost relieved when it was over. But I was hooked.

I have tried to explain fandom to the non-sports-inclined. And I have run into an interesting problem: Although you can use sports metaphors for everything in life (seriously), it’s tough to use any other kind of metaphor to explain sports. Everything else seems to fall flat.

There is plenty to criticize about professional sports in this country, and baseball in particular. The players receive staggering salaries, and still manage to complain about not being paid enough. Major League Baseball has been complicit in allowing performance-enhancing drugs to become commonplace. And the problem of the games being too long — already exacerbated by the annoying routine of batters fidgeting around in the batter’s box — has now been itself enhanced by instant replay.

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