Baseball was not a part of my childhood. My parents didn’t take me to ballgames when I was a kid. I grew up watching football; my mother was a die-hard Washington Redskins fan, so of course, I became a Redskins fan as well. I’ve been a Skins fan pretty much ever since I can remember. My parents split up when I was very young, and I don’t remember my dad at all. One thing I do know about him is that he was a big baseball fan. So if he had been in my life when I was a kid, he probably would have taken me to some Washington Senators games when I was very little, and then maybe some Baltimore Orioles games after the Senators left DC for Texas. I’m sure my dad was a Red Sox fan since he was from Massacusetts, so maybe he would have raised me to be a Red Sox fan. But he lived in the DC area for quite a while, so he might have adopted the Senators as his favorite team and turned me into a Senators fan. However, my dad wasn’t around and my mom was, so I watched Redskins games with her every Sunday, and my childhood sports heroes included Billy Kilmer, Larry Brown, Charlie Taylor, and Diron Talbert.
There was a time in my life when I thought baseball was boring and slow. I saw it as little more than a way to pass the time until the Redskins opened their training camp in July. I was amused when the Redskins and Orioles won the Super Bowl and World Series, respectively, in the same year (1983), but I didn’t really start paying attention to baseball until 1994. More specificially, I discovered Baltimore Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina.
I first became aware of Mike in 1994, the year of the baseball strike that cancelled all postseason games. I don’t think I ever saw him actually pitch that season…I just remember seeing interviews with him on the news, talking about baseball union issues as the union representative for the Orioles. I don’t think I even knew his name at that point. Basically, I just remember thinking he was hot! LOL Yes, I confess…I initially liked him for very girly reasons. He had these intense, dark brown eyes and a chisled face…I thought he was incredibly good-looking, but he was also intelligent and articulate, obviously not just another dumb jock. Since I had little interest interest in baseball back then, I really couldn’t have cared less when the players went on strike and the owners cancelled the postseason. I wouldn’t have any of those pesky World Series games interferring with any of my favorite TV shows that Fall!
When the 1995 season got underway (late, thanks to the strike), nearly all of the attention where the Orioles were concerned was focused on Mike’s teammate Cal Ripken Jr. Cal is as close to being God in Baltimore as any mere mortal can be. Even the Atheist Oriole fans think he can walk across the Inner Harbor without getting his feet wet. That season, Cal was poised to break Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played streak, and the Orioles’ PR machine went into overdrive hyping Cal and his streak (simply known to all as “The Streak” but having nothing to do with the song of the same name by Ray Stevens *wink*). Despite the fact that I really wasn’t particularly interested in baseball, I found myself watching a few Orioles games that summer. I wasn’t terribly impressed by The Streak; not missing a single day of work in 13 years would have been a far more impressive achievment to me if Cal had actually worked 12 months out of the year, like those of us with real jobs. He only “worked” from February (spring training) to September…or October in the very rare seasons thar the Orioles actually played in the postseason. Oh sure, it was a great achievement in baseball, but in real life it was no big deal.
Anyway, back to Mike…I saw Mike pitch on TV a couple of times in 1995. I remember trying to figure out the correct pronunciation of his last name, and wondering if he was related to Jim Messina, who was half of the Loggins & Messina pop music duo. (He is not.) After watching him pitch on TV a few times, my mind was forever changed about a sport that up until then had held little interest for me. Not only did I still think Mike was hot, I was fascinated with watching him pitch. He was a mix of grace and athleticism…I was used to watching football, and quarterbacks aren’t particularly graceful (especially when they’re getting pummeled by defensive linemen or linebackers after throwing a pass or handing the ball off to a running back). Mike also had this quirky way of pitching from the stretch…bending over at the waist to look at the baserunner before straightening up to throw a pitch. It was weird, but I thought it was cool.
The hype for The Streak reached a fever pitch by early September, and I actually ended up watching the record-tying and record-breaking games. The former didn’t mean much to me; the latter, however, was a different story. Mike was the starting pitcher for Ripken’s record-breaking game, so of course I was riveted. He pitched very well in that game. After that record-breaking game, there was a long ceremony to honor Ripken. His teammates had gotten together to get a couple of gifts for him, commemorating the occasion. The first was a 2,131 pound landscaping stone with 2,131 etched on the side (The Streak was 2,131 games, you see), and the second was a mahogany pool table…a far less lame gift than the big rock. Mike was the teammate chosen to present Cal with those gifts. Between having watched him pitch, and watching him make that presentation, I was hooked. Initially, it was for very girly reasons…he was hot! But that night, I decided to learn as much about Mike Mussina as I possibly could, and that meant learning about baseball. So that’s exactly what I did.
To be continued……….