A Small Ember of Baseball Fever

31 May

Navin Vaswani, a Toronto-based former colleague of mine, landed something of a dream gig this spring. The talented young journalist, who covers Toronto sports on his personal blog, started a second blog on the Globe and Mail’s website back in mid-April.

He has used his Globe blog to document what he calls “The Baseball Road Trip of a Lifetime”, a journey that has taken him from his hometown all across the United States as he visits each of the 30 major league baseball stadiums on a game day or game night, reviewing not only each stadium and team, but also every beer he drinks and every ballpark snack he eats.

If you’re not a baseball fan, you probably think that trip sounds like some kind of a punishment for something. But if you ARE a baseball fan, you are likely shivering with envy at my friend’s good fortune.

Oh, to once again be young, free, on the road, in love with a game, and able to digest large quantities of pretzels, hot dogs, other miscellaneous fried food, and barrels of lager over a sustained period of time…

I’m pretty much a former baseball fan, but I’ve enjoyed the vicarious journey (and the vicarious beer) through the blog.

He began both his trip and his blog at the Blue Jays’ home opener, in what was once called the Skydome, which was the last-built – and is the last-remaining – multi-sport mega-stadium monstrosity still used by any major league baseball team.

As his journey has progressed, and as he has visited one beautiful new-old ballpark after another, the blog has betrayed a growing frustration with his hometown ballyard, so lacking in the baseball-exclusive, red-brick, day-at-the-park charm that is found in so many of the retro major league parks built over the past couple of decades.

I can sympathize, having spent my formative baseball-watching years in the great concrete toilet bowl known as the Olympic Stadium, cheering on the heartbreak factory known as the Montreal Expos (of blessed memories).

The Expos, of course, were slowly asphyxiated to death by bad luck and worse ownership over many years. The team was kept on life support in its final seasons by Major League Baseball, which ultimately pulled the plug in 2004, transplanting the team’s vital organs into the new (and consistently mediocre) Washington Nationals.

To win a new team for their city, Washington taxpayers were forced to pony up most of the cash for one of those shiny new-old stadiums. According to my friend Navin, that stadium turned out to be just as mediocre as the team for which it serves as home. Here’s how he described Nationals Park on his blog in late April:

“It doesn’t stand out; I wouldn’t say there’s anything absolutely super or special about it…”

Ha! Take that Washington!

Okay, maybe I’m still bitter about the Expos after all of this time. When the Montreal Canadiens upset the Washington Capitals, eliminating them from the playoffs earlier this spring, half my joy was in the baseball-revenge element of the hockey victory.

Navin even sympathized with me in a passing reference on his blog:

“You can’t help but feel for the baseball folks in Montreal… A former colleague of mine was a huge Expos fan, and he’s given up on baseball. No longer cares for MLB. I don’t blame him.”

Thanks buddy. That’s pretty much true. I used to spend many a summer not only following baseball, but also obsessing over it. Even in the dying years of the Expos, when they were attracting fewer fans per game than your average American high school team, I’d make special trips into Montreal several times a year to catch games.

And I knew exactly which detours to take while driving through the streets of Ottawa so that I could maintain radio reception of game broadcasts from Quebec stations.

But as soon as the Expos breathed their last, I found it surprisingly easy not to care anymore… the occasional sentimental baseball pang notwithstanding.

I’ve sent my former colleague an email, inviting him to Ottawa sometime this summer, after his road-trip blogging duties are complete.

Maybe I’ll take him to see Ottawa’s newest baseball team, the Fat Cats, who play in about as Minor a league as you can find.

I don’t expect that it will make me want to follow Major League Baseball once again, but who knows? Maybe there’s a small ember of baseball fever still glowing inside me, waiting to be rekindled again.

Play ball!

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