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When baseball was baseball

Has the game we grow up watching changed for good?

Color me nostalgic but I’ve been getting sentimental about baseball’s history as of late, and in particular, my history with it. This time of year, it’s easy to feel that way. There are no games being played and, although report dates are right around the corner, we haven’t made it there yet. Couple that with the fact that it’s been a rough year or so for losing Hall of Famers and it’s easy to long for simpler times.

I remember the first time I laced up my cleats to go to baseball practice — tee ball, to be specific. I was sitting in a recliner as a five year old at my home in Ohio, trying to decide if I wanted to pretend to be a Cleveland Indian or a Pittsburgh Pirate (the former being two-and-a-half hours away, the latter being my dad’s rooting interest; Reds be damned, I suppose). I had a Cleveland hat, so for that day, I chose the Tribe.

Although I ultimately quit organized baseball prematurely, I have vivid memories of neighborhood games of wiffle ball. We’d use electrical tape to make the ball fly just a little bit farther. I have memories of trying to mash mammoth home runs in the yard; of breaking a window on the backside of my house; of creating a 162-game schedule with my friends in the garage at nighttime; of hitting a home run with a ball I threw up to myself and then playing “Start Me Up” by the The Rolling Stones on my iPod Nano while I rounded the bases (two of the bases were stones, one was an old glove).

At that time, baseball truly was a game; it was in its purest form, its intended form. I had rooting allegiances, but it was nothing I was passionately attached to. That would come later as a teenager, when my fandom reached a precipice, and has since receded to the status of a dedicated hobby.

I didn’t know about collective bargaining agreements, or the prospect of players’ strikes; I didn’t think about player contracts or the business side of the game at all. I simply existed, as I saw it, to enjoy playing the game, and attending live games when given the opportunity.

In some ways, returning to ballpark elicits some of those childhood emotions, as some of you can probably relate to, but it’s not — and never will be — quite the same. We’d all do better to occasionally remind ourselves to try to disembark from our adult journeys and rekindle some semblance of that childhood whimsy which implored us to love the game in the first place — a task that is assuredly easier said than done.

But during times like this, as snow covers the ground outside of my window, and baseball looms but isn’t present yet, I yearn for the game and the warmth that it (and the sun) brings. Once summer rolls around, I would be ecstatic to be able to return to Nationals Park and watch the Nats take on the daunting National League East. It’s too early to tell whether or not fans will be allowed inside the ballpark in DC. Unfortunately, my inclination is “no,” but don’t hold me to that.

What I do know is this: Borne of a game is a love and passion that so many share. While the league has tripped over its own feet recently, I can’t help but hope that brighter days are ahead. While many players are doing their diligence in making the product interesting, like newly named MLB The Show cover athlete Fernando Tatis, Jr., the game has grown stale to many. With a revamp, perhaps we can see more action on the diamond, something that many of us remember from years past. But whatever shape the game takes moving forward, I’m sure I’ll be along for the ride; I doubt I’d be able to pull myself away.