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.

Comments (35)

  1. Great article. I’m a huge gamer, myself, and love the idea of such a dice game, more so that it was played out for entire seasons.

    Your love of baseball, no doubt, is shared by a great many of your readers.

  2. Lovely piece.

    PS: Willie Wilson had a MacGregor… I know because his “signature” is on my glove.

  3. Great post, Dustin.

  4. Brilliant. Good piece of writing.

  5. Had the same card (picked up on the field during a FanFest) and also indulged in epic card games in my living room by a large aquarium that doubled for the outfield bleachers. The card looked kinda like an Upper Deck from that era (which was good) but the lamination covering it made it stick out while I was “pitching” (which led to a hack job of a trim).

    I had notebook after notebook dedicated to box scores and self indulgent career paths, usually taking a Sandy Koufax-like stellar mid-career then running into arm troubles and turning into a journeyman. Always end back with the Jays for one last run.

    How can you not miss that?

    • I’m amazed that I wasn’t the only one! Had to include the obligatory victory lap for the Jays, too.

  6. I’m really glad I found this blog, so that I don’t feel lonely in my baseball obsession. Everybody I hang out with thinks I’m weird.

    • There are truly few people that I can engage in a baseball conversation with. 99% of the people in my life I merely dumb down my talk and look to change the subject at the first possible opportunity.

  7. Really great piece. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Great, great article. So what did your stat line look like on the back of the card?

  9. Great piece and now the 9 year old within me feels completely inadequate when confronted with the level of complexity you managed to come up with in that card/dice game.

    • Yeah all I did as a kid was stand in front of the TV and take home run hacks as the pitch was thrown. I too, totally ignored the walk.

      Nice story Dustin, thanks for sharing.

      • Hahaha. I did that too. Pretended to pitch when the Jays were on the mound as well.

        • I got my free bat (full size, painted blue) from bat day at Exhibition Stadium. When I watched the Jays on TV, I swung it while the Jays were batting and put on my glove and work it in while they were fielding.

          Did anyone else play Tony La Russa’s Baseball video game on the PC? I remember each Major League team had their own fantasy team stocked with their best players for each franchise with the stats from their best year. Unfortunately Jays only had players from the 80′s and they were no match against the hall of famers from the other teams. You could also play in different MLB stadiums. I made my own team with friends from my softball team and we all were batting .360 or higher with top speed.

          • OMG! TLR Baseball was a great game! A friend and I used to also play Pete Rose Pennant Fever all the time before TLR came out. Damn those were fun games.

  10. Since you made the Blue Jays go 162-0, I’m guessing you were also the Cy Young and MVP? Nice article.

  11. Great piece. My made up baseball game was alone in the back yard, throwing a tennis ball against the back wall of the house. Depending on how far the ball bounced off the uneven brick surface, a single, double, triple or home run would be at stake. Apart from the garden I stood beside, I could range all over and do my best to make the catch and in making outs and preventing runs, win the world series for the Jays team I was pitching for. Ah, childhood.

    • That’s similar to my game. I threw a tennis ball against the two-foot piece of foundation peeking out from under my parents’ (now severely dented) siding. The first throw was the hit, I had to field the ball and, while counting 10 steamboats to account for the runners on the basepaths) had to throw it back against the wall while scrambling for the patch of grass-turned-dirt that represented the base. If I didn’t make it on time, ghostrunners ensued.

      The Jays ‘hitters’ always got a slower steamboat count.

      I learned how to dive for a ball doing that. Our neighbours (no fences back then) must have thought I was crazy.

  12. I too grew up in a only child single parent household until my mtoher remarried when I was 11. Besides the point I had a similair baseball card taken at the ’93 WS at the Dome when I was 4 years old. My school bought a block of tickets and any one could buy them. My baseball card wasn’t a player one just one with the WS Trophy in the background. I still have it somewhere at my folks place. Great stuff Dustin!

  13. When I first looked at your card I thought your head was super imposed on Lloyd Moseby’s body. Then I thought, wow did they have Photoshop back then? Maybe it’s a cardboard cut-out?

    Needless to say I never invented any games that involved higher brain function and Math skills.

    Great post Parkes.

  14. Perfectly coiffed!

  15. Great article Drew. My father is a big baseball nerd himself so I grew up with APBA and Stratomatic in the house, still, regardless of whatever tools may be available there does seem to be something about the way those numbers add up that can appeal to just about anyone who loves the game.

  16. Here’s my self-indulgent moment: Went to my first game as a 6 yr-old (1992, so I was raised with the sweet taste of victory in my mouth). It was an exhibition game (they played some of those at the dome then) against the Pirates. I think my dad assumed my younger brother would be into it, cause be played t-ball, and was, after all, a boy. However, he was bored out of his skull, but I was riveted. I wanted to know EVERYTHING. Thus began years of father-daughter bonding over the Blue Jays, that continues into my adulthood. Our obsession is just as strong now, as evidenced by my father’s near-arrest at the Rogers Centre over a Robbie Alomar Bobblehead doll (long story).
    So, back on topic, great post, and I completely relate to the sentiments you expressed.

    • Liz, I too do father-daughter bonding over the Jays. Two of my three brothers played t-ball so I think he was surprised at first but now he loves to talk the latest trades and changes with me. I started going as a 10-year-old in 1977 so the club and I have grown up together. After being turned off by the strike and taking a 10-year hiatus, I’m more obsessed than I’ve ever been. Been wondering what that says about my life. :)

  17. That was an excellent read.

    Eerie similarities between us: I was raised by a single father who was 20 when I was 0.01. I spent a significant portion of my childhood by my lonesome inventing and playing dice-based games. I obsessively collected sports cards and devoured the daily sports section. I developed my own weird methods of analyzing and interpreting stats that helped immensely in post-secondary some two decades later. And today I’m in engineering!

    In fact I’m at work right now wearing a Jays cap.

  18. I used to do the same thing with a dice game…I didn’t use cards though, I would use curent stats found in the Toronto Sun that my grandpa would have. I had a similar game with hockey. I used to have piles and piles of paper stashed all over the house with stats and scoresheets on them. I used to be very ashamed of this and tried to hide it from everyone, now I realize how unnecessary that was.

    But seriously, I wish I had a sweet baseball card from SkyDome. Stupid baseball hating parents.

  19. I had a similar card taken at the Dome in the early ’90s. I share your dismay about not bringing your own glove. I’m left handed, and wanted to be a LHP in the card… they didn’t have any lefty gloves, and my childhood shyness led to them making me wear a right handers glove on the wrong hand. I remember being upset at the time, but kept it to myself.

    In fact, I think I’m still kind of upset about that.

    I should try and track them down this season at a game and demand a re-take.

  20. Best post ever.

  21. Very good read.

  22. Great article Dustin. What is great about this blog over DJf is that at DJF this post would’ve been followed by a bunch of homophobic comments rather than positive ones.

    The things we did as kids are quite awesome. I am sure your mom and step-dad were quite proud of your passion and creativity. You basically applied D&D, Magi Cards and Solitaire into a baseball context.

  23. Great description of the profound hold this game has on its devoted fans.
    I love this blog’s objective focus and use of advanced stats, but equally loved the nostalgic tone of this post.

  24. Great post, Parkes! The responses are just as much fun to read. I’ve always liked baseball from the late 80s onwards. I had significant life events surround the two World Series wins, but the baseball is what makes me smile. I wasn’t really obsessed about baseball as a kid and it wasn’t until about five years ago that my real passion for the game came to the surface. But it’s always been there. Posts like this remind me of some of my favourite parts of childhood and how baseball was actually always somewhere close by.

    Damn this game is amazing.

  25. Bob Joannie and Rocky would concur Parkes….good read.

  26. Remember when Dustin played the younger brother on Small Wonder?

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