I’ve decided to start putting some of the best newsletter essays here on Medium, so more people can read them. You’re still better off just subscribing. This one is from August 2016, about how baseball season means essentially waking up to “Quick Pitch” every day. I am ready for the season to get there.
My son William and I have a routine. Every time he gets up — alarm light comes on at 7:01 a.m. — after I’ve peeled his younger brother off the ceiling of whatever room he absconded off to in the middle of the night, William asks me one question:
“Did the Cardinals win last night?”
There is a selfish reason for this question; he’s four, of course there is. If the Cardinals won, he and his brother get to watch “Quick Pitch” on MLB Network while waiting for breakfast. (His father can’t stand to have the program on when the Cardinals have lost.) But he has also become obsessed with not just the Cardinals, but sports scores in general. He wants to know the score of the Cardinals game, the score of the Charleston RiverDogs game (we go to see the Yankees’ Single A affiliate during our annual summer trip to Charleston) and the score of whatever game might happen to still be going on when he’s put to bed, usually West Coast afternoon games. His reading material is not Star Wars, or Walter the Farting Dog. He just wants to read college football preview magazines, specifically the ones that list the results of every game each team played last year. He’s particularly hung up on Central Florida, which lost all 12 of its games last season. “Central Florida’s really bad, they didn’t even win once!” is a regular conversation around the breakfast table.
(His brother Wynn is two and, because Wynn is a younger brother, does all the same things as his older brother except more clumsily and with less self-consciousness.)
I know because I write about sports professionally, I should be excited about this, and I suppose I sort of am. But this started when he was two, when I thought it would be funny to show him pennants of baseball teams like flashcards and noticed that he had them all memorized before I had even realized we had started playing. It became the only game he wanted to play, which became a problem because, contrary to how it might seem sometimes in my profession, there is in fact a whole planet outside of the world of sports. I kept trying to introduce states, or Presidents, or math, into the flashcard game, but he wanted none of it. “DO NBA!” he would keep yelling at me, and it worries me that every time he sees a musical note the rest of his life, he’s going to think it’s the “J” in “Utah Jazz.”
I was the same way, of course, and my dad was a lot less concerned about it. I think he was just happy his nerdy kid who kept getting in trouble for reading at recess finally was interested in something a little bit manly. I was less into sports scores than sports statistics, and, as any kid fascinated by outlier statistics would be, the focus of my intensity was Babe Ruth. Every number of Babe Ruth’s felt like a fake number, and I wanted to know them all. Dad would always take me into the substation shop where he worked and have me recite Babe Ruth stats, and his co-workers would look impressed at first and then wonder, you know, when this kid was ggonna stop. This grew into a larger baseball obsession that, well, still has a rather firm hold today.
The thing that really secured it was when Dad let me have a radio in my room. It was one thing to look at the back of baseball cards; it was quite another to fall asleep to Jack Buck and Mike Shannon telling me what mysticism Willie McGee and Ozzie Smith were up to against the Montreal Expos. You can make a strong case that the person I’ve heard say the second-most words in my life is Jack Buck, behind my father, and I think Dad only recently caught up. (My wife will pass them both. I’m fairly certain Yakster Leitch has already passed everyone in her life.) That’s what secured my lifelong love of baseball, which led to my love of sport, which led to my love of writing, which led to everything else. It was going to bed at 8:30 every night and dozing off to the unmistakable voice of Jack Buck, painting a picture in my brain from dozens of places far, far away from Mattoon, Illinois.
I don’t know when William will get his first smartphone — hopefully not until he’s 85 — but I know why he will want it. He’ll want it to listen to Cardinals games. He already asks. “Can I have Daddy’s phone to see the scores?” (I never let him. No one touches Daddy’s phone EVER.) I can already imagine him tucked into bed, pretending he’s asleep to his brother so he’ll leave him alone, staying up late, transported to someplace far, far away. I can try to introduce him to other pursuits, and he’ll take to some of them the same way that I took to some of them, but he’s already hooked. He’ll be hiding under the covers, watching Alex Reyes and Aledmys Diaz and Carlos Martinez, and absorbing it all.
I can certainly say it all sticks. After all, I still do the same thing. I was ill most of the day Thursday, so I went to bed absurdly early on Friday night, but I made sure to have my headphones in as I dozed off to the Cardinals-Braves game. The Cardinals led 1–0 heading into the top of the ninth. I’d fallen asleep hours before that inning, but somehow, my brain, trained by decades of muscle memory, knew to wake me up to hear Seung-hwan Oh get the last three outs. I smiled and went right back to sleep. We all hand down our legacies, whether we want to or not. There are all sorts of things I’ll give my boys that I wish they didn’t have. I suppose I’m OK with this one.