I grew up with a single mom. That statement is more accurate than you might think considering that my due date was her eighteenth birthday. If I’m above average at anything, it’s most likely due to the amount of attention that she gave to me during my early developmental years.
Despite her devotion to my upbringing, the grass was always greener on the other side, and it was always the father figures in my life that I sought to impress. First, and always, with my grandfather, and also with the man she married when I was five years old.
Both were baseball fans. And as a young boy, this shaped my ideas on what it meant to be a man. While this explains my introduction to baseball, I have no true understanding of what took place to transfer my initial interest into a life long obsession.
But somewhere between going to my first baseball game at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto, and writing this article, right now today, the game took hold of me, and has refused to relinquish the rights to far too much of my time, energy and thoughts.
The baseball card you see to the right of this text was created at a game I attended shortly after the opening of the SkyDome. It was an enormous deal to me.
When I was nine years old, I invented a game using my baseball cards and dice. In fact, my tiny bedroom, at that time was altered so as to resemble a baseball stadium, so that I could position baseball cards around a diamond and play out an entire season of baseball within my head. The rules were simple, I’d use the home team’s stats on the back of each card to weigh the dice so that the most likely outcome would occur from individual pitcher/hitter matchups.
It was far from perfect: I pretty much ignored walks all together, and I’m pretty sure that personal bias often led to 162-0 seasons for the Toronto Blue Jays. However, I do remember my parents bringing guests into my bedroom and showing them what I had created, as though they were as proud of my invention as I was. In hindsight, it’s entirely possible that those “guests” were actually child psychologists hired to explain to my parents what was wrong with me.
Anyway, I organized the game so that if the home team’s batter had a .333 AVG, then a third of the possible dice rolls would result in a hit. From there, I’d look on the back of the baseball card and see what type of hit he was most likely to get, and again weigh the next dice roll accordingly. Likewise, the home pitcher was more likely to get an out based on how many hits he gave up in the season before.
Eventually, I even used current stats for my little game, eagerly awaiting the afternoon newspaper on Tuesday, which had print ups of every team’s individual numbers. As you might imagine, I was a bit of a loner throughout most of my childhood.
Anyway, the baseball card that you see above was incredibly important to me. By having it, I could participate as an actual Major League Baseball player in my little fantasy game. I could slot in between Jimmy Key and Dave Stieb in the Blue Jays rotation. I could strike out the lineup of the hated Oakland A’s. And I could lead my favourite team to the World Series.
Looking at the card now, it’s easy to see just how important it was to me. While I’m certain other children would’ve smiled for their picture in a Blue Jays uniform, I’m as serious as Tom Henke. That’s not by accident. In my little mind, this was my ticket to the big leagues, and I had to look appropriate.
That look wasn’t a rare thing. According to my grandfather, the other parents on my baseball team’s growing up would laugh and laugh over my facial expressions, my mannerisms, my crouch while playing Little League.
I still remember my dismay over not bringing my baseball glove with me to the game and having to settle for using a ratty old MacGregor glove that the photo guy had on hand. No Major Leaguer had a MacGregor glove. They had Rawlings gloves, like me.
Anyway, beggars couldn’t be choosers on that day, and this baseball card was begged for from my step dad.
Reflecting back, it’s amazing how something that seemed so vital and important to my being, could be forgotten. The existence of this baseball card had been completely wiped from my memory, until my step dad must’ve come across it, and scanned a digital copy of it that he put on my Facebook wall.
While I likely have developed more of a sense of humour about the game, and baseball certainly doesn’t take the type of precedence in my life that it once did, looking at this baseball card, I see why I do what I do for a living and there’s something of a contentment that comes with that. As things around the world spiral in and out of control, seemingly in a constant flux, this baseball card allows me to imagine that I’m currently in the right place at the right time.
There’s a ton of comfort in that, and it all comes from a little, imaginary baseball card.