Friday, August 19, 2011

from maine to toronto -- or, how i came to love baseball

it makes me smile to think of past thoughts and beliefs. you are never too old to change and if you believe you think one thing, just wait -- it may change. for example, when i was in high school i could think of nothing more boring than baseball or golf, two games i enjoy immensely now, the watching of the former, the playing of the latter. my brother bob and i used to joke that golf courses would be a lot more interesting and a less waste of space if they were combined with graveyards, both being a waste of space in my opinion.  at least at that time i thought that; i'm still on the fence about graveyards, but that's for another post.

my feelings on these sports was changed, in great part, by my good friend and long time doubles partner, mike.  mike is a hulk of a man, 6'4" and strong, possessed with quick feet and a killer overhead. but he is also a thinker and a wise and funny fellow who i enjoy talking about anything and everything. like any respectable mainer, he was born a red sox fan.  when you were young, you picked favorite teams. that's just what you did and even though i was not interested in baseball, i picked the cincinnati reds, most likely because they were doing good that year. i had no loyalty because: 1. they were no real local teams where i'm from and 2. i just didn't much care.

but to grow up in maine is to be a red sox fan. there is no major league team in maine but boston is only an hour or so away from where mike grew up in kennebunk.  and he was a fan. after our practices, we'd sit and drink beers with the other players and during the summer there would always be a game on.  everyone would watch and cheer and though still not interested, i started to pay attention because everyone else was.  i would get caught up in the moment.

in 2004, mike suggested we take a trip somewhere.  he knows i like to travel and it turned out that the red sox have these package trips. you can go to another town and watch the sox play and stay at a hotel, etc. it sounded fun to me, but mostly because i could get on the road. those that know me, know i love to drive and to travel. a perfect fit. and if there's going to be beer and sports involved, even better.  we scoured the schedule to see what might fit into our schedule and what town we might like to see.  being close to the canadian border, we thought it might be fun to try toronto, as it was not that long a drive and we could stop along the way at the casino in upstate new york. 

after our regular night of practice, we headed out from his house. we had both worked that day and then played tennis, but we had to be in toronto that next day so we started out on our trip about 11pm. after a successful stop at the casino, we kept heading west toward the canadian border.  by this time the sun was out and we had been up for about 24 hours and we were getting pretty tired but kept driving. we crossed near niagra falls, and though we were tired, decided to stop and look at the falls. i had been before, but not from the canadian side.  after a few hours of sightseeing, we got back underway.  i seem to recall there were lots of vineyards along the way but we had no time to stop; we needed to get to toronto to get a little sleep before the game started, otherwise we'd be asleep by the second inning.

we arrived mid afternoon at the hotel, unshaven, tired, and cranky.  the hotel garage was one of those typical in large cities, small spaces, lots of underground spirals which are not easy to maneuver in a large truck. we found a spot but it was next to a pylon and as i turned to get into the spot i knew it was going to be a tight fit. halfway into it, i hear this scrape on the driver's side. i look at mike, he looks at me and i say, "fuck it" and pump the gas. for the next three years until i traded that truck it still had the yellow streak of paint from the pylon down it's side.

i had been to a few games before, at fenway park in boston and camden yards in baltimore and even one game, when i was young, in montreal before the expos moved. but it was always with my parents or a friend who really wasn't into the game. but this was different.   we were in toronto for four games, and more importantly, i was with mike, who as i've stated is a big fan and who really understands the game, having played college ball. 

after some rest in the hotel, we walked down to the stadium, just a ten minute walk. but the weather was perfect, sun but no humidity to speak of and the air was crisp and just cool enough to feel good on the skin. we grabbed a few beers and found our seats, which were down the right line near first base. we were surrounded by a bunch of sox fans since the away team seats are usually sold in blocks.  it was a perfect day for baseball, or just sitting with a beer and your friend, talking and looking at all the people in rogers centre, the home of the toronto blue jays.

my favorite baseball player is kevin youkilis. the reason is simple, i got to see his first ever professional game for the sox that day and on his second at bat, he hit a home run.  to see the faces of the fans, myself and mike included, is to know the essence of baseball.  to watch something that only a handful of people over time can do, is a thing of beauty.  athletes at the top of their game is something that you don't see forget.

but here's something that makes baseball different -- there is time.  time to see things happen, but also time to see what's not happening, the first baseman talking to the runner on first, the men in the dugout talking and laughing, watching the game. baseball is like a chess game, you see plays happening and you see the defense try to figure out where to stand.  there is time to talk to your friend, to look around the stands and see the kid with his baseball cap and an impossibly small glove on his hand.  it's more than a sport; the old saying that it is a pastime holds true.  it's a perfect way to spend a day or night, cheer on your team and feel that you are a part of something.

the series went well for the red sox; they won three out of the four games we watched and with each game i began to see what it was all about.  i'm no patriot, no hot dog, apple pie kinda guy, but sitting in the stands, i get it.  I see what the fuss is all about.  each day we would go out and wander around the great city of toronto, then watch a game and then find all the best places in toronto for a beer.  and there are a lot of them.  an added bonus, you can buy cuban cigars in canada, which was a treat to enjoy on a long walk around the downtown area.

it was just a great trip... i've been to many a game since then, including a few postseason games the same year, the year they finally broke their drought and won their first world series in 86 years.  but none of my trips to the ballpark has been as exciting as that trip to toronto.  plus on the way back, we won even more money at the casino, but that's a story for another time...

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