Major and minor league spring training is getting under way. Guys are heading to Arizona and Florida to begin yet another season of their careers, and I am beginning to wish some of my favorite players “Good Luck” for the upcoming season.
But slowly I’ve come to the realization that, while these players are still “my guys”, the majority of them no longer play for “my teams.” I’m sure this realization will come back again when the independent players head to their spring training in a few months too.
For reference, the Pittsburgh Pirates, their affiliates, and the Washington Wild Things are the teams that I would consider “my” teams, more based on location than anything else at this point.
The one player I credit with helping my love for baseball grow, Paul Maholm, is now a Cincinnati Red. Since leaving the Pirates, he’s been a Cub, a Brave, and a Dodger. I’ve followed him everywhere.
My favorite player, Stewart Ijames, had his contract purchased from the Wild Things by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Along with Stew, three of his former teammates, guys I’ve gotten close to, are also heading to spring training with the Dbacks : Scott Kalamar, Troy Marks, and Al Yevoli. The DBacks fans have welcomed me with open arms. They are hands down some of the nicest people I have ever met in baseball.
My mentor and motivator, CJ Beatty, is a member of the Chicago White Sox organization this year.
I can keep going, but you get the idea. I know a lot of guys in a lot of places. I’m not a fan of just one team or one group of players anymore, and it’s been the most amazing and eye opening thing I’ve ever done as a fan.
So this is my challenge to you for this season: think outside the box, AKA your home stadium. Become a fan of the entire sport. Get to know players from other teams. For once, get rid of biased opinions on other teams and fan bases. Even if you don’t think that you have those opinions, if you’re used to one team or one stadium, you probably do.
My baseball playing friends as well as this blog have done wonders for expanding my knowledge of teams and players outside the Pittsburgh area, but that’s not how it all began.
It all started in the left field bleachers at PNC Park. Our season tickets have been next to the visiting bullpen for years. There’s only an aisle and a fence separating us from every team that visits PNC Park during the season. I used to just sit there and cheer for the Pirates, minding my own business. But then I thought, “Why don’t I start talking to these guys? They seem personable enough.” From that day forward, my entire baseball life changed.
Some teams are standoffish (and rightfully so… some of the things we hear Pirates fans yell at them are ridiculous), but most are bored and don’t mind talking and getting to know you. We have NL Central players and coaches that know us on a first name basis. They greet us as soon as they walk in and ask how we’ve been. I won’t lie. It’s pretty awesome. Over the years, I’ve found myself looking more and more at other players’ stats. I circle home stands on the schedule that I’m excited for based solely on the visiting teams.
I’ve gotten to know players on a first name basis from practically every NL and some AL teams. I had a competition last year with the Braves rookie pitchers that I could pack a bullpen snack bag better than they could. I won and got a ball signed by the entire bullpen in the process. That was totally unexpected but greatly appreciated. I never ask bullpens for anything (that has to do with baseball or autographs), but I will ask for the occasional package of candy, gum, or to fill my water bottle!
I’ve become a better baseball fan and a better person since I’ve opened my horizons. I’ve gotten to know players on a personal level and not by what’s on the front of their jerseys. If I would have kept the bias against the Phillies that most Pirates fans have, I wouldn’t have met pitcher Jake Diekman or learned about his struggle with Chrohn’s Disease. Likewise, I’ve met some of the most amazing fans just by striking up a conversation while they were visiting the area.
I’m not a Pirates, DBacks, Braves, Reds, Phillies, White Sox, whatever fan anymore. I’m a baseball fan.
So when you’re sitting in your home stadium this year, whether it’s the majors, minors, or indy ball, strike up a conversation with the visiting team. Talk to a fan that made the road trip to your town. Get rid of any preconceived notions. Expand your mind. You might just realize what you’ve been missing in your one team world.