So sometimes I get asked: "Why Baseball?" To be honest, that's a good question. My family is from Northern Ontario. Every kid I knew before the age of 9 was playing hockey and I wasn't. I didn't even actually play on any teams before the age of 9. Sure, I played basketball on the street and would throw a baseball around from time to time with my dad but in an organized setting? Nope. Not one bit before that. I didn't even start playing baseball until I was 9. I was a bit of a late bloomer.
I never understood why baseball happened? I really didn't. So I called my mom and asked her straight up: "Why did you put me in baseball." Crazy part about her answer was that there was no hesitation. "We felt that it was a good time to get the family out and about in the summer months and we could just hang out at the ball parks. Your sister was in t-ball (totally forgot about that), your brother was in rookie ball (with the pitching machine and I barely remember that) and you started in an actual league. It gave us something to do almost every night of the week and yes it was busy but it was a lot of fun just hanging out and watching you guys." That answer is so my mom. Nothing more wanted; just the thought of being with family and enjoying herself.
I remember my first couple of years playing softball; first up in Sault Ste. Marie (where we only lived for like 10 months so I didn't really have friends and then down in Alliston; before it grew like crazy to become a commuter town for everyone with jobs in Toronto). To be fair; I don't know how I managed to hang on and play after those first couple of summers. I sucked. Never having played and being put on teams with kids that had been doing this for more than half their life; I really didn't stand a chance. Parents cheered if I got a walk because I was so clueless at the plate. That cheer was a rarity for me. I struck out more times than I made contact with the ball. I remember it was like yesterday how many times I cried after games because I was so bad. I felt like I was letting my team down when I was up to bat and most definitely in the field. I didn't have any fundamentals whatsoever. I praise my dad during that first summer in the Soo. He'd always make time for me in the backyard to play catch. Somewhere along the way he realized that I could throw, very hard and fairly accurately from 60 feet and 6 inches. I had no clue what he was doing but from that moment on I knew one thing; I really, really liked pitching.
When me moved to Alliston; I was still learning the game and the skill level of the players seemed to be even higher than that of those up north. Because of that my first year, I spent either on the bench or in left field (or as I still call it today: Left Out). Neither really suited my development and it was more of the frustration from my first go round. I never felt like a member of the team and hated letting everyone down. My parents let me vent and always said if I wanted to quit, I could. For some reason I took that personal. I was always told that quitting wasn't an option and here I was being told it's up to you. Totally reverse mind control by my parents; seriously. They had to have been Jedi masters in a former life.
The second summer in Alliston my dad took on a monumental task to get his kids more involved. He decided to coach both my brothers and my team in seperate leagues. Needless to say the family was busy during the week. My dad made a decision to let me pitch and a few of the parents from my former team probably laughed a bit and thought: "Here's another coach favouring their kid...he's terrible." The lucky thing for my dad was I wasn't. It was the one position I felt completely comfortable at and loved the chess match that would go on between me and the batter. I can't explain the joy I got from the one on one competition. I took it personally from day one when a guy would get a hit off me and I'd beat myself up when I walked a guy. It was so awesome for the first time in my life having teammates cheer me not out of pity but because I was doing something good on the field. It got a bit addictive.
While this was happening, the Blue Jays were becoming perennial contenders and had all stars at almost every position. I remember going to my first game at the Sky Dome (still it's name in my mind); and being blown away by the sheer size of it. I got to watch Devon, Robbie, Joe, John, Dave, Candy and others win the Jays first World Series. One year later a few different names in the starting lineup Ricky Henderson and Paul Molitor but still the same result. Back to back World Series. What a time to be a little leaguer! I spent all day trying to play first base like John Olerud and being a left handed batter; I was trying to work on my swing just like his. **Sidenote** when you're a tall kid in Grade 4 and 5; you get put at first base even if you can't catch all that well. It's a thing. **Sidenote #2** Every year my grade school in Alliston would have a fair one night. Two years in a row my brother and I won SkyBox tickets for the Jays. We were considered the luckiest kids in the school and we believe it. Years later I found out my dad basically bought so many tickets and stuffed the box with ballots with our names on it that it really would have been a miracle if someone other than us won the tickets.
We moved to Ottawa during my Grade 8 year. Actually it was 3/4 of the way through that year. I forget exactly what month we moved in but I was; how you say a little bit upset. This was the first time we had been living somewhere for an extended period of time since I was little and I had made friends; I even had the cutest girl in school a little bit into me. So when you move to a bigger city and have to try to make friends in a short period of time; it really doesn't work. I hated every second of being there; then baseball season started. The league had two seasons. Spring season which was a compressed 4 week season and then a tryout selection period for A and B teams from the suburbs. I fell in love with the baseball there. Thing is when you're a new kid to a new school (which had 800 kids in just grade 7 and 8 when my old school might have had 300 total) making friends in the last 6 weeks of the school year isn't new. When you're a new kid that can play a sport at a fairly high level and kids find out about you...much easier to make friends. I didn't feel the same however. I knew we wouldn't be there long even though my parents never said it. I didn't try to make friends and just lived for the moments between the painted white lines on the baseball field.
When we finally moved to North Bay; I knew we were finally home. It was my Dads hometown and a good majority of his family still lived there. We moved there for the start of my Grade 9 year. Again, it wasn't easy making friends but sports helped. I played football and basketball that first year but I always lived for baseball. This time; my dad made sure he was the coach but he didn't know any of the kids to pick at the draft. I asked one of the my friends from football on who should be on the team. He gave me a list of about 15 guys to get my dad to pick for the team. My dad basically had a cheat sheet for his first every house league draft in North Bay. He got some beauties too. Quite a few guys I'm still friends with to this day. I even got to be the best man at one of their weddings. This is what happens when you're on the same team for 8 years together and become known as the married couple.
Rep baseball was next on the list and it was awesome. Getting to travel and sharing a 15 person van with all the guys. I don't know how my dad managed to keep his sanity with all of us messing around. The trouble we would get into on the way down and at the hotels; there are still tons of stories...some appropriate for this space, others not so much. that's for another day. It was us against the world mentality because being from a small town in Northern Ontario; we didn't match up well with teams from Southern Ontario where some kids were playing baseball year round. No matter what the outcome though; we always managed to have a good time.
Out of all of us; only one went on to play university level baseball in the states...the rest of us moved on to softball. Not the whip arm tough stuff to hit softball that's played in the Olympics. I'm talking about the toss and giggle underhand stuff; where you can drink a beer and have a good time. Don't get me wrong. We drank a lot of beer those first couple of years but it was hyper competitive. Losing wasn't an option. It was pretty hardcore which was the shocking part. We even went to provincials one year and that took the competitiveness even farther. I was actually surprised at how serious some of these guys took it. I wanted to go on road trips drink some beer and have some laughs and play some ball. Some guys on other teams basically thought it was more acceptable to die than to lose a game. Little bit too intense for my liking but fun to watch people melt down in epic fashion.
What I'm trying to say is baseball has always been there for me. No matter the city or country (yes, I played baseball while in Australia and definitely brought two gloves when I was working for the UN in Africa so I could blow off some steam when it got too stressful). To quote Fever Pitch which is a god awful baseball movie but has so many great quotes that die hard baseball fans can actually relate to (subbing in Blue Jays instead of Red Sox; because I hate the Red Sox): "Because they haven't won a World Series in a quarter century or so? So what? They're here. Every April, they're here. At 1:05 or at 7:05, there is a game. And if it gets rained out, guess what? They make it up to you. Does anyone else in your life do that? The Blue Jays don't get divorced. This is a real family. This is the family that's here for you." Don't get me wrong. I love my family and they aren't divorced but no matter where in the world I am at any given time I know that every summer the Jays will be on at a certain time no matter what and it's what I love about this sport. Just went you can't take winter any more Spring Training games start and that means that spring is just around the corner.
So that is how and why I got into baseball. It started as a family affair and then the camaraderie that came about from being around guys all trying to accomplish the same thing while having fun doing it. Sure; I haven't played in a league in almost 5 years now...but life has gotten busy. Guess who doesn't care though? The Blue Jays; because they're always there waiting for me to either make my way to the ball park or turn on the tv or radio. That's why I love baseball. You can miss out on it for a while but it's still there for when you return.