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MLB - Great Pastime is Alive and Kicking

By Ryan Noonan
Wednesday, July 24th, 2002

Baseball fans and loyal readers, it's your turn to tell me. For the last two months, I have been writing to you, telling stories, spouting off opinions and referencing pop culture television shows. But now I want to hear from you. Tell me what this game means to you.

How old were you when you when the crack of the bat induced goose bumps? What is your most memorable baseball moment? I want to hear it from you, the baseball fans.

And I mean real baseball fans. I'm not talking about the ones who sit back and whine about the "sorry state of the game." I don't want to hear from those who continue to bring up overblown salaries, four-four marathons, eliminating teams, an 11-inning tie, and an impending work stoppage.

I'm tired of hearing all that crap, it sounds like a broken record. I am well aware of what is going on in our national pastime right now, but I also know that at some point, anyone who really cares about baseball found a reason to love the game.

I want to hear from the true baseball fans. I want to hear from the 40-year-old men who skip work to take their children to afternoon games and remember bringing a baseball glove to the ballpark. I want to hear from the teenager who can rattle off meaningless statistics about the Pittsburgh Pirates because he has been following them for as long as he can remember.

I want to hear from the kid in North Dakota who follows the Braves religiously. Not because he used to live in Atlanta, but because Ted Turner and his broadcasting superstation provided him with 120 games a year. I want to hear from a Kansas City Royals fan who went to at least one game during the nine-game winning streak.

I know you're out there. I don't know if any of you are actually reading this right now, but I know you're out there. Baseball is not dead. Baseball will never be dead as long as there are people who love the game, no matter how much money the players make.

I have been watching baseball since I was old enough to turn the channel on the television. Being a kid who moved around a lot, I did not always have a bunch of friends on the block, but I always had the Cubs on WGN. Count me in as one of the millions of fans waiting for the Cubs to finally break through and win. But more than that, I am a baseball fan. I have been watching baseball for almost 20 years. That's only a blink of an eye compared to some, but for me it's been enough time to gather a few very memorable moments.

The following are my four most memorable baseball moments, concluding with the instant that I forever became a life-long baseball fan.

4. June 23, 1989: Montreal Expos at Chicago Cubs

I was awakened at 6 AM on the day before my 10th birthday. My dad handed me a Chicago Cubs jersey and told me to get dressed. By 7:30, we were on an airplane headed for O'Hare airport in Chicago. For my birthday, I was going to Wrigley Field for the first time in my life to see the Cubs play.

They would go on to lose that game 5-1, but that fact is irrelevant. My first trip to Wrigley provided a feeling of euphoria and gave me a physical place to picture when they talked about Heaven at church. If baseball is my religion, Wrigley Field is my Mecca.

3. July 1996: New York Yankees at Kansas City Royals

Doc Gooden vs. Kevin Appier. (When Appier was in his prime and Gooden was in the middle of his miraculous "comeback.") I went to the game expecting a classic pitching duel and that is exactly what I got. For nine innings, neither team could break through with a run. Finally, in the 10th, the Royals put Jeff Montgomery in to pitch, which is the equivalent of spotting a football team two touchdowns. Sure enough, before the top of the 10th inning was over, the Yankees held a 3-0 lead.

To close it out, they brought in a young, promising pitcher whom the Yankees hoped would one day be their closer. Mariano Rivera has had a near perfect career, but maybe he should have stayed in the bullpen on this night. The Royals score four runs in the inning and win one of the best games I have ever been to in person. Kansas City fans have not had much to feel good about the last 15 years, but it's nights like this one that remind me why I love baseball.

2. September 8, 1998: Chicago Cubs at St. Louis Cardinals

I know the date because I still have the ticket stub in my wallet. I had bought the ticket two weeks in advance with hopes of seeing my Cubs stomp out the Cardinals. How was I supposed to know that on this night Mark McGwire would break one of the most famous baseball records in the history of the game? Outside the stadium, tickets were going for anywhere between $400 and $1200. And this was without any guarantee that Mark would hit historic #62.

I have never been to a World Series game, but I would imagine that the atmosphere would be similar. In a stadium filled to the brim, nobody sat down. I remember watching Mark step to the plate. I remember him swing the bat as an explosion of flashbulbs went off all around me. I remember the ball clearing the fence and the collective roar of the crowd when the realization hit that we had all just witnessed a feat never before accomplished in Major League Baseball.

What I don't remember is Mark rounding the bases. I was too busy jumping up and down and hugging everyone around me. I guess that's just what happens when you witness history. Everyone was hugging everyone. Friends, strangers, it didn't matter. McGwire had just made history and we were all there to see it.

1. October 1991: Atlanta Braves at Minnesota Twins (Game 6 of 1991 World Series)

I spent the first three years of my life in St. Paul, Minnesota. I couldn't say I was a Twins fan while I lived there, but I have never forgotten about my birthplace city. Remember, being a Cubs fan, you have to find other teams to latch onto if you want to experience the thrill of winning. For me, my American League team is the Twins (and the Royals, unless they're playing the Twins.)

I had been forced to suffer through three games of Tomahawk Chops and late inning Twin collapses. The Twins, after winning the first two games of the Series, were now in danger of blowing it to the Braves. By the time the ninth inning rolled around, my dad was in bed and my mom was reminding me that it was a school night. When the ninth inning ended but the game did not, I spent the commercials convincing her that it was in my best interest to stay up and see the end.

You have to feel sorry for Charlie Leibrant. The poor guy never knew what hit him. As Kirby Puckett sent a ball sailing over the left-field fence for a game-winning homerun, I wonder what Charlie was thinking about. Regardless, in the words of Jack Buck, "We'll see you tomorrow night." And that next night, riding the back of a 10 inning, Jack Morris shutout, the Twins would go on to win their second World Series in five years

It's hard to describe what happened to me that night. I went from being a dedicated baseball fan to someone who truly loves the game. I believe as Kirby's homerun landed among the bleachers, I decided that no matter what happens, I was always going consider baseball my passion.

I can't be the only one left like this. So I want you to tell me. At what moment did you realize that you truly love this game? Send me an email at [email protected] and tell me what some of your favorite moments are. I am tired of hearing about everything that is wrong with baseball. I'm ready to be reminded of why Major League Baseball is and will forever be, America's Pastime.

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