Earned Run, or how I learned to stop worrying and be okay with Baseball, Part 1

| Senior Sports Editor

In Spring 2019, I decided to become a fan of baseball. I didn’t succeed, but I gained an appreciation for it. The following piece recounts my journey from a firm baseball skeptic to a tepid baseball accepter.

The I-70 Showdown

The I-70 Drive-In was a relic of the past when my mom was a kid in the 1980’s. By the time she began taking me and my sister there at the turn of the century, it was ancient and decrepit.

The fluorescent lights in ticket booths were the only modern thing in the entire complex. The crunch of the course gravel under the weight of our car signaled that the ground itself was from a simpler time. The hand-held speakers that one could remove from posts scattered throughout the grounds must have seemed futuristic when they were hammered in 1964, but in 2011, they hadn’t worked for over five years. Some of them produced a faint buzzing noise at their loudest, but most remained silent. Instead, everyone in the theater tuned their car radio to the local station that broadcasted the audio of the films. In every moment where the station didn’t blare the sound of modern movies, it played old show tunes and Johnny Cash.

The restroom of the drive-in was the vilest place I’ve ever had the displeasure of visiting. It was dingy, dark and dank. The locks were rusted into a permanent state of being partially turned, so you could never really close the doors and never really open them. I would tell myself the brown bits that spattered the floor like a truly awful Pollock painting were just the dirt of fifty years of continuous, if sub-optimal, function. The smell was somehow worse than the urine and feces that coated its walls. The drive-in industry is dying, and the bathroom of the I-70 Drive-In had already been necrotized. Stepping in it was like a punch in the face. Every second after that was like getting stabbed in the nose. I stopped using the restroom in the I-70 Drive-In in 2006. After that, I would always either use the restroom before or force my mom to exit the lot so I could find some place respectable to go to the bathroom.

In September of 2011, my mom took us to see an extremely forgettable movie in the worst theater I have ever been in. “Colombiana” is a French thriller about a girl who goes on a revenge tour against those who wronged her as a child. I didn’t understand the movie in 2011: It oscillated between being extremely slow and so fast paced that it couldn’t be followed. It was critically panned. By the time we saw it, everyone else who possibly could have enjoyed it already had, except my mom. We were one of four cars in the lot that night. My mom loved the movie. My sister and I slept through its third act.

The 8:00 p.m. showing of “Colombiana” at the I-70 Drive-in theater in 2011 was somehow less sad than the atmosphere a few miles down the road at Kauffman Stadium. The Kansas City Royals were at the tail end of a completely average baseball season. They were not the worst team, but they were not a good team and they were not enjoyable to watch. After the previous season, star pitcher and lone bright spot Zack Greinke had requested a trade, and he took with him whatever wind was in the Royals’ sails. Driving home from “Colombiana,” I looked at the Royals stadium, empty and silent. The team was in the midst of a blow-out loss. The fans were sparse. I-70 Drive-In had the second most depressing atmosphere in all of Kansas City that night. Number one, running away, was Kauffman Stadium.

***

The longest consecutive streak of losing seasons by the Kansas City Royals happened to coincide with my childhood. Wikipedia describes the period between 2004 and 2008 as “Rock Bottom.” From 2004 until 2013, they were among the worst teams in baseball. In six of those nine years, they were the last team in their division. I remember hearing my dad and grandma debating whether the Royals were losing because of their pitching or their hitting. The truth is both were terrible. They couldn’t score and they couldn’t stop anyone from scoring. They also didn’t get any better. By the time I got to high school, I had taken it for granted that the Royals were going to be terrible. They were a background feature of my childhood: a looming specter of mediocrity that reminded me that the Midwest—even my beloved Kansas City—was forgettable. They were the fly-over team in a fly-over city in a fly-over state. Their lack of success, along with my parents’ lack of enthusiasm around baseball and my lack of interest in anything athletic as a child, combined to make baseball repugnant to me.

Working Every Day of Your Life

Liking sports is one of the few qualifications for being a sports writer, along with having good opinions (waived for the very best of us, like Stephen A. Smith, Colin Cowherd and everyone else who ESPN hires to fill the daytime hours who is not named Jemele Hill) and nothing important to do. Most other forms of cultural journalism can be done with a disdain towards the topic. In fact, that disdain is central to some of them: high praise from music critics matters because they wouldn’t hesitate to inform you if the vinyl you were about to put on your record player was hot garbage. Some of the most entertaining writing about music are the takedowns of bad music. In a review of a Chris Brown album published in X-press magazine, Chloe Papas wrote, “Even if you’re into this kind of music or just love the beat, this catastrophic clusterf*ck of an album shouldn’t appeal to anyone with ears. Or morals.” That line is punchier and more lyrical than anything on that album. Someone could make an entire career out of eviscerating terrible music or films. There’s no requirement that someone like media at all in order to be a media writer. In fact, I am not entirely convinced that Anthony Fantano enjoys music. That same antipathy can’t exist towards sports if one wants to cover them. No one would read a weekly column that just explained why watching the St. Louis Blues play was insufferable. Sports fans are excited about sports and non-sports fans are more apathetic than malicious usually. There is no audience for a very sporty article about how sports suck.

Unfortunately, I don’t like every sport. I love football and basketball. I’m okay with soccer and tennis. But I’m not a baseball guy. I’ve always found it to be extremely boring, and I would prefer to do almost anything else rather than watch baseball. That would be fine if I wasn’t a sports editor of a newspaper. But in that role, I am oftentimes thrust into watching and reporting on baseball. It’s always terrible: I watch one to two innings of baseball via a livestream before falling asleep and later writing a recap from the stats the night before the paper is published.

I recently applied to edit the Sports section of Student Life for a third year, which means I’ve signed on to watch and write about baseball for another season. I can’t do another year of hoping one of my beat reporters covers baseball so I can wax poetic about Kansas basketball at the bottom of the page. This is the year I learn to like baseball. People have been watching baseball for over 100 years, so there has to be something enjoyable about it.

Right?

Read part 2 here and part 3 here.

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