I had a nice new boyfriend and everything was going swimmingly. He was sweet and attentive and cute as hell and I just couldn’t imagine anything ever coming between us. It was late October, the New England fall was so beautiful and the world had that special glow of new love.
It was four and a half months of uninterrupted bliss before I started noticing the queer rumblings of danger ahead. We weathered the winter, keeping each other cozy and warm, and just as I was ready to throw open my arms to welcome the long awaited spring into my heart, strange phrases started emerging from by boyfriend’s mouth. It started fairly innocently, just a casual mention of Spring Training over dinner one night. Then, slowly, things began to look more and more ominous. The “quick checks” on ESPN during commercial breaks in “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” The way we started receiving peculiar email alerts from MLB.com. The Atlanta Braves TBS schedule that I found tucked in with the TV Guide. I couldn’t turn a blind eye to what was going on any longer. It was time to face reality. My nice new boyfriend had a dark side, and that dark side, fellas, was called baseball. Oh, dear, I was dating a guy.
Now I consider myself to be a fairly reasonable woman. I loved my boyfriend dearly and wanted him to be happy. After all, everyone has vices, unseemly though they may be. I certainly didn’t want him going out and finding his baseball on the streets, desperately trying to get a cable fix in some back alley dive. It’s best to control the beast at home. We began compromising on a baseball schedule. For instance, manicure time is a perfectly reasonable time for him to drink beer and curse the umpire. And if he wanted to take his testosterone out for a jog around the bases while I was out drinking mojitos with the girls, well, that was okay.
But the baseball season is a long one, and the true nature of addiction reared its ugly head. Soon he was attacking me with RBIs and on base percentages over dinner while I cowered in my chair, hands clamped over my ears crying “la-la-la I can’t hear you.” And then the silence came. He would sit alone in our living room feeding his filthy baseball habit and I would hide, defeated and denied, in our bedroom, filling the lonely void with Lifetime Television and fashion magazines. What had happened to my happy home?
And then came that fateful day when the Atlanta Braves were playing the Baltimore Orioles. I ventured into the living room for my “Sex in the City” DVD, and without even turning around to look at me, my boyfriend said a very odd thing. He said “that’s John Smoltz pitching.” I assumed I had misheard him, so I paused in my retreat to say “what?”
“That’s John Smoltz,” he repeated. “He used to be one of the Braves ace starting pitchers, but he blew out his shoulder. He had to teach himself to pitch an entirely different way, and now he’s the best closing pitcher in baseball.”
Hmmmm… That can’t be easy. I was caught for a moment considering the difficulty of making it as a major league pitcher with two entirely different styles of pitching and I paused too long. Damn the innocent errors that can lose the entire war!
He struck again mercilessly while I was vulnerable. “See that little guy right behind him? That’s Marcus Giles. He was a 53rd round draft pick. No one ever thought he’d have a snowball’s chance in hell of making it to the majors. So he took one off season and worked his ass off in his backyard with his dad, and he came back to the next spring training so much improved that he was made the Braves starting second baseman.”
Oh, he was just adorable! A tiny little guy, in pants that looked too big for him, standing beside second base, chomping furiously on his gum. I just wanted to take him out and buy him an ice cream cone… with sprinkles!
I sat timidly on the edge of the couch. “Who’s that?” I inquired nervously.
“Andruw Jones,” my boyfriend replied. “He came up from the minors during the World Series. Hit two home runs! His very first at bat was a homer. The World Series! Oh, and he was 19 years old.”
Danger, Will Robinson! This baseball infection was spreading. I’d been caught standing too close to the source and had been contaminated.
And then it happened. John Smoltz threw a pitch. The catcher caught it and sprung to his feet with a sudden snap of power and athletic grace and pointed to the first base umpire with a move tighter and smoother than John Travolta in his heyday. His well-defined muscles were rippling under his jersey, his posterior perfectly framed by his white trousers.
“Wha- wha- what’s THAT?” I stammered.
With a look of unmitigated triumph, my boyfriend turned to look at me. “That,” he said, “is Javy Lopez. He’s the catcher. He used to be pretty chubby, but he dropped about forty pounds during the off-season, and now his one of the best catchers and hitters around.”
“What’s he doing?” I really, really needed to know.
“He’s appealing to the first base umpire.”
“He does it very well.” I conceded, and settled into the couch. Hmmm… little guys in big trousers and big guys in little trousers. There may be something to this game, after all. And appealing to the first base umpire. I like that, it’s like a little Chippendale’s strut. That’s certainly worth watching out for.
My boyfriend and I each learned a valuable lesson that day. I learned that baseball is a spectacular display of masculine athleticism and “little engine who could” stories, and he learned how to talk to girls about sports. We need a little human meat to bite into. Stats and figures just roll around in our aesthetically sensitive minds unless you give us some character and a little personal drama to attach them too. That day, he made the Atlanta Braves my boys. Once I’d fallen in love with the players, learning to love the game was a snap.
And so, here we are, two very happily contaminated people shouting at the umpire together. We’re married now, and live quite joyfully with our dysfunction. Of course, it’s not all fun and games. The off season has actually become a very painful time for me, with the constant threat of my boys being traded, and no little men to watch running around the bases. But we support each other as best we can, and struggle through the cold months, confident that, like the first crocus to bloom after the dark winter, Spring Training will come again.