I work hard, and like any red blooded American I'm always complaining about it.
Don't get me wrong, I love my job, and I'm well aware there are about a billion people who would love to 'work' by going to baseball parks, going to watch grown men play a game. I consider myself lucky to see guys like Jason Bulger, Conor Jackson, Carlos Quentin and Jon Zeringue before they become household names. I consider myself lucky to meet and talk to outstanding young men like Sean Thompson and Josh Barfield.
But at my heart I'm still a baseball fan, and when I woke up yesterday I had that special feeling. I was going to the game. For the first time in almost a year I was going to a baseball game not as a reporter, but as a fan.
I've made it no secret, I'm a Cubs fan. I love the Diamondbacks and the Padres, I love these guys that I've talked to, I root for them, but when it comes right down to it, I want them to be very successful as often as possible when they are facing teams that are NOT the Chicago Cubs. When Sean is pitching against the Cubs, I'm hoping for three innings, six walks, four doubles, and an ERA in the mid sixties. When Carlos Quentin makes the bigs, I'm hoping for the Rookie of the Year award and a Gold Glove, but when the Cubs are across the field I'm hoping for an 0-4 and three errors.
I do not make any bones about it.
And Friday, I got to act like it. The Diamondbacks had ventured north to Mesa, AZ to play the Chicago Cubs in Spring Training, and I was there not as a baseball expert, or a reporter, but as a Die-Hard-Cubs-Fan. Yes, there was a part of me that found it painful not to be taking notes and asking Ramon Pena about his outing (he really needs to throw more than just the fastball, and the Cubs reminded him of it), but mostly, I was just having a blast. I sat in the stands, moved closer in the third inning, moved even closer in the sixth, was in the front row by the eighth. Got a couple dogs, heckled an umpire (man did that feel good), got a tan. It was a beautiful day, the kind of day made for a baseball game.
The best part was that Friday, for the first time in more than a year I slipped on my #22 Mark Prior Cubs jersey. It's kind of hard to justify wearing a Cubs jersey to D'Backs or Padres Spring Training. Kind of hard to convince a Media Director you're a serious journalist when you're begging for an autograph.
I had a shot to get all that out Friday, and I did. I got back to what it is about baseball that I love. The pretty girls in bikini tops, the old men who have had season tickets since the 50s, the babies and autograph hounds and of course, the kids. I watched every pitch, explained little things to my wife (she knows more than she lets on, and it's one of the reasons I love her, because I know for a fact I've explained the balk rule 15 times, and she still lets me explain it every time it happens), talked to other fans about who the Cubs' closer would end up being, whether Jason Dubois was ready for the big leagues, if Sammy Sosa leaving was a good thing or a bad thing.
It's crazy you know? I'm closer to the game than I've ever been in my life, and yet it felt like the first time in a long time that I was just kicking back and enjoying it. I've never really been an autograph kind of guy, but Friday I was hawking, please Jose Valverde! Please David Kelton! Right there along side a couple of 10 year olds and a beautiful girl in her twenties.
I wanted it all, and I got it. I'm going back to work tomorrow. I'll be in Peoria, then Tucson over the weekend. There will be interviews with Jon Knott, with Zeringue, with Phil Avlas and Lachlan Dale. There will be profiles and evaluations, there will be more information about the Padres and Diamondbacks and their minor league systems than anywhere else on the World Wide Web. And after all of that, I know that my best memories of Spring Training '05 won't be meeting the future stars of the Major Leagues, it will be watching them, just like you all do, from the stands, as a fan.
Email James Renwick at FutureBacks@cox.net