I suspect it is rather odd for those who aren't baseball fans to stumble upon a website like this, and witness the passion that some adults have for baseball.
Most of us have jobs and families and hobbies and worries about the real world, and yet, the regulars around here spend a great deal of time rooting for a baseball team that has done nothing of significance for almost a quarter of a century, or, if one is feeling generous about such things, a decade-plus.
How can this be?
My guess is that most hardcore baseball fans learned to love baseball in their youth, either by playing little league and its successors, or by listening to their favorite team on the radio, or some combination of both. I fall into the "combination of both" category, and by far the most significant person in my baseball life as a youngster was Ernie Harwell, the legendary Detroit Tigers radio broadcaster, who passed away yesterday.
I don't want to get too sloppy about this, but a man like Ernie Harwell can probably never have known how much he mattered to a boy growing up in not so pleasant circumstances in rural Michigan in the 1970's. Michigan was struggling then just as it is struggling now, and for many of the same reasons. Those who, like my father, worked construction, were as affected by the roller-coaster ride of the auto industry almost as much as the guys fastening bolts in the factories. Times were tough in alot of ways for alot of Michigan families, and all throughout the state. A storm seemed always just over the horizon.
The Detroit Tigers were not a good team in the 1970's, but it didn't seem to matter that much. Ernie Harwell was like a rock to me growing up. No matter what else was going on in the "outside world", I knew, everyday during the summer at least, that I could turn a radio broadcast and hear that soothing voice for a few hours, even if meant suffering through another Joe Coleman loss, or a Willie Horton rally killer, or another flash in the pan from Toledo not living up to expectations. Baseball can be quite the buffer to a confusing, outside world, and Ernie Harwell navigated that buffer zone like no other. The only person I can competantly compare him to is Denny Matthews, for reasons any Royals' fan would likely instinctively recognize.
Ernie Harwell was erudite, but rode easy in the saddle. By osmosis, his listeners learned alot more about life than mere baseball. He was clearly well read. In his Hall of Fame speech, for instance, Harwell quoted the famous line from Tennyson, "I am a part of all that I have known." Happily for me, Ernie Harwell was an important part of "what I knew" as a boy.
I think the passion grownups have for baseball often times is the result of the Ernie Harwells in their lives. If we are lucky, the Ernie Harwells help us ride out the storms of youth, storms usually out of our control. If we are truly lucky, many of those storms have quieted as we become adults.
Baseball without the storms is a blessing in life. That, perhaps, is why so many of us still love it so.