There’s a defining moment in every baseball fan’s life when they realize they’re no longer just a casual fan. They realize they have graduated to something more than the occasional glance at the score in passing or knowing only the “household” names. This moment sometimes passes without notice. Sometimes it happens so quickly no one could possibly catch. But on a rare occasion the escalation to fan can be traced back to the exact moment when baseball stopped being a game and started being an art form.
Goosebumps often define this moment.
My wife and I were talking about Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit, and I showed her the video online. After watching it, she told me, “I got goosebumps.” And there it was. After years of bombarding her with stats, facts, useless knowledge and baseball on TV, my wife made the leap from casual fan to true fan. And I was there to point it out to her in all its glory.Now don’t get me wrong, she had come a long way from when I first met her. But she was still teetering on the edge of casual fan and true fan.
Her goosebumps moment got me thinking about some of the goosebumps moments I have experienced in my life. Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit of course was the most recent, but baseball is a game of milestones. It’s a game within a game on any given night.
Roy Halladay’s no-hitter in the play-offs last year, Josh Hamilton’s resurrection, Jon Lester’s post-cancer no-hitter, and David Ortiz’s walk-off home run in game four of the 2004 ALCS. The moments are abundant, but there has to be just one that converted me to the maniacal baseball fan I am today.
As best I can figure, the 1998 season as a whole converted me completely. I watched quite a bit of baseball before that, and played quite a bit more with friends. But that season defined baseball greatness for me. While I feel dirty about it now, I was glued to the television screen during each of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa’s at-bats. And when McGwire broke Roger Maris’s home run record and was greeted by his family in the stands, I had the very goosebumps we talk about today. This was the season my Padres went to the World Series. It was the season the Diamondbacks and the (then) Devils Rays entered the league. It was the year that Trevor Hoffman tied the consecutive saves record. It was the year Cal Ripken Jr. finally took himself out of a game to snap his record-long 2,632 consecutive games played streak.
These were all great moments, but not my goosebump-inducing, fan-defining moment. As a Padres fan it would stand to reason my moment came during a Padres game. With the Padres trailing by two in the bottom of the ninth, with two outs, Steve Finley drove an 0-1 pitch into the stands for a walk-off grand slam. And I was there. It was one of the greatest baseball moments I had ever experienced.
Baseball, unlike any other sport, can elicit emotion you never knew existed. The stories, the moments, and the milestones all act as the canvas to which the game’s story is painted. When you stop flipping right past the game on to the next reality television show, when you sit down and watch with intensity, when you can cheer the accomplishments of players not on “your team,” you have become a true fan.
I’d like to welcome my wife to the club.