Sunday, May 02, 2010

I have no dog in this fight (The beginning of my search for a new favorite team)

I love me some baseball

It was definitely my first love when it came to sports. It was the first game I learned to play, and more importantly it was the first -and really, only- game I was ever really good at. I set the Hunter Elementary 6th Grade Softball Tournament record with 15 home runs, in eight games! At twelve years old I was the best player in the neighborhood. Unfortunately I hit my peak at fourteen, after which I decided it was more fun to be a shithead than a ballplayer and spent the next two years being grounded for one reason or another, and thus not being allowed to keep playing little league. By the time I stopped antagonizing my parents at 15 and tried out for my high school team the pitchers went from throwing 60 mph to the mid-70's, and the pitches moved in ways I'd never seen before. I went from hitting line drives in the gap to foul tips in the catchers mitt, and that spelled the end of my baseball career.

So while I wasn't destined to play the game, I still love watching it and keeping up with the goings-on, but growing up in Utah meant I didn't have the luxury of a natural home-town team. Salt Lake City is 500+ miles from Denver, and slightly further from Phoenix and any of the California teams. My first favorite player was Mike Piazza, mostly because he was a bad ass and played my favorite position, catcher (because they get to wear all that cool gear) and he could hit the ball a freakin' mile, so at first I gravitated toward liking the Dodgers. It helped that the guy my mom married around that same time grew up in L.A., but that all came apart the first time I actually went to the "City of Angels" I cried for half the flight as the change in air pressure made my head feel like it was going to explode, and my experience got only slightly better once we finally landed. The first thing I remember seeing was all the smog, it was a concrete jungle, and the people were assholes and drove like it, too. Disney Land was crowded as hell and then there was all that smog. I fell out of like with that city in less than a week, I've been back a handful of times since and my opinion of the place hasn't changed. Oh yeah, then the Dodgers shipped Piazza to the Marlins (who then slung him over to the Mets a week later). After that I've regarded the boys in blue with mere ambivalence.

After that I kind of floated around, we had a AAA team in Salt Lake, the Buzz were an affiliate of the Twins at the time, who had an awesome farm system which allowed me to watch players such as LaTroy Hawkins, Todd Walker, A.J. Pierzinski and David Ortiz before they moved up to the bigs. Then later when the Angels became the affiliate I got to see the likes of David Eckstein, Chone Figgins and John Lackey suit 'em up. Still though, I never felt much for the Twins or Halos, they were too far away, and never showed up on TV.

Speaking of TV, I watched more than my share of Cubs and Braves games on WGN and TBS, respectively. I developed something of an affinity for the Cubbies, Wrigley Field is an awesome venue, and they played games in the daytime, and Mark Grace was an awesome defensive first-baseman (which is what I was playing in little league at the time) but I never made the leap to claim them as my team. As for the Braves, their fate was sealed during my time as a Dodgers fan, when the two teams faced off (one of the few times I got to watch the Dodgers on tv since TBS was really good at covering almost every Braves game back then) the Braves always beat the crap out of the Dodgers, I appreciated the all-around talent of Chipper Jones, but their embarrassment of my favorite club left a sour taste that never really went away, even after the Dodgers fell out of favor.

Finally around 1999 my team found me. The Red Sox grew on me. They had a goofy-looking ballpark, an ambiguous nickname, a knuckleball pitcher (Tim Wakefield, the Dodgers had Tom Candiotti back in the day) and eventually they had player that I'd actually seen play live (David Ortiz). I also really liked to watch Carl Everett play, it's kind of embarassing to admit, but this is before I understood how much of a douche he was/is.

Anyhow, the Sox and I had a great run. In High School one of my best friends was also a Soxman, and in 2004 we went batshit crazy when they came back from three games down against the Stankees to win the series in seven then swept the Cardinals in the World Series, it was a great time.

As the next few years passed by I stuck with the team, but I started to waver a bit. The Boston front office started trading away all of their prospects and handing out gargantuan contracts much the same way their nemeses in New York did, it's hard to call the team in the Bronx the "Evil Empire" for topping $200 million a year in player salaries when you're own club is close behind at around $175 millionish. The free-spending and lack of homegrown talent never sat very well with me, but it didn't push me off completely.

My Red Sox fanhood has slowly unraveled since moving to the East Coast in 2006 for a few reasons in addition to what I've already mentioned. I came to realize more and more the meaning of the term "Masshole" the Sox fan base, instead of loathing in self pity was now filled with feelings of entitlement, and I honestly believe they'd eat their own young for another World Series win, and the routine booing of their own players never sat well. The tipping point came when news surfaced that David Ortiz, next to Kevin Youkilis my favorite player, and one of the main reasons I became a Sox fan to begin with, had been using performance enhancers in 2003. I'm not one to put athletes on a moral pedestal of any kind, but this caused me to lose all respect for him as a ballplayer, Big Papi was a cheater, and in hindsight that was when I decided I was finished with the Sox.

Another thing happened in my personal life that completely removed me from the Red Sox nation. I spent the summers of 2008 and '09 working at a summer camp with little access to the outside world. This baseball sabbatical has wiped the slate clean in my mind, I didn't move away from the Sox, rather they moved away from me, so it's time to move on.

So here I am, a baseball lover without a favorite team, I don't like living in this limbo, but I don't want to jump from bandwagon to bandwagon either. My plan is to use this blog to systematically explore the merits of every team in the league, and hopefully by the end I'll be able to adopt a new franchise as my favorite. At this point I only have a rough idea of what my criteria will be, but I'll figure it out in the next little while and try and get it in place before I go through the search team by team. It should be fun.

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