It's time for baseball and there's nothing I can do to stop it. Even now the TV echoes in the other room with the squawks and bleats of Baseball Tonight. The summations of today's games, the tiny sprouts of season making and breaking story lines, and the way-too-soon speculations on October are all blasting forth from my television. I join in out of habit more than anything else. I have already called my father a thousand miles away to discuss the Astros' first game and the brush with which it has painted the next six months of our lives'.
Baseball is like a girlfriend I can't break up with and can't bring myself to marry. Baseball is my common law. Whether I like it or not; whether I secretly watch the NFL draft; whether I will always and forever lust after and cherish my first love, soccer, she owns a part of me. I typically roll my eyes at sports pundits and legitimate writers who wax philosophical about baseball and its place in American lore. I tire of the sepia-toned nostalgia that is invoked to lionize America's Pastime as if there was an age when things were perfect and simple and pure. If baseball ever inhabited the realm of perfection, it was only in the minds of kids who didn't know any better when a dad coached your Little League team and your biggest concern was not catching a fly ball with your eye.
For me, the opening of this season has been welcomed with what I can only characterize as reluctance. I did not follow spring training. I did not follow the Astros' roster moves or rotation adjustments or farm team development the way I used to. I woke up yesterday wishing the Astros weren't opening their season for another few months. This is partly due to geography. Away from the local press coverage and easy familiarity of scores of fellow fans, I have been able to view the sport and my team from a perspective I have never before experienced. But why reluctance and not pleasant surprise? Why uneasiness and not excitement?
Baseball has all the same problems of every other major world sport. The athletes are spoiled. The owners are greedy. The advertisers drive and buy and pervert anything organic. Drugs cast doubt over the legitimacy of the whole thing. These are givens in modern sport. They are the laws of the land and no amount of wishing will bring back the smell of freshly cut grass and the mystery of a pack of unopened baseball cards. What has me down is the information, the constant, infinite barrage of information.
Baseball, more than any other sport, is driven by information. There are percentages to calculate, averages to be mindful of, and tendencies to consider. There are streaks and match-ups, from the pertinent to the ridiculous. There always have been. This off-season the information, usually delivered in tight jabs and crisp hooks, was composed of massive upper-cuts and wild hay-makers. Did Roger Clemens knowingly use performance enhancing drugs? Did Andy Pettitte sell him out? Is Miguel Tejada in serious trouble? What is the legacy of Barry Bonds? Is baseball doomed? Is ______ a Hall of Famer? It left me punch-drunk and weary and led me to view the whole American Spectacle with bemused disgust. Still though, I checked on my Astros, albeit with considerable less frequency, on the internet and in the newspaper.
And then it caught my eye: Anal fissures. Kaz Matsui, the Astros new second baseman, was going to miss the first part of the season after undergoing surgery for anal fissures. Seriously? The indignity! I checked multiple sources just to be sure I had read correctly, and there it was on every website and in every newspaper. Kaz Matsui - 15 day DL Reason: anal fissures. Of all the things the whole world could know about Kaz Matsui, the thing that has launched his career as an Astro is the unhealthy state of his anus. It finally hit me. I do not need to know this. Moreover, I do not need to know 90% of what is written or speculated about in the world of sport. Call it voluntary ignorance or delusional naivete, but our sports culture suffers from a disease of information. We care deeply - too deeply - about our athletes and their lives. Sportscenter is Us Magazine and People for jocks and has-beens. It intrudes on the perfection of our memory and the sanctity of our youth and diminishes the beauty of human competition with updates and soundbites and anal fissures. Goodbye to all of that.
I'll continue to follow my teams in whichever sport they compete and I'll celebrate their wins and bemoan their losses with the same passion I always have, but this season will be a season of rehabilitation for me. It's back to simplicity. Not the simplicity of a time that never existed or a veneration that borders on obsession, but a stream-lining of information and a perspective that extends no further than the lines that mark the field. I'm trying to cure the malaise. Get well baseball. And get well Kaz Matsui.