At a major league ballpark in Chicago, as I tried to move out of the way, security guards rushed to stop a fight that had erupted on the concrete apron behind me. One of the guards ran into me, knocking me hard to the ungiving floor.
The bus trip with co-workers was my first live introduction to Major League Baseball. I was not impressed.
Several years later, baseball dealt me another surprise hit. On Friday, July 31, 2009, the Cleveland Indians traded switch-hitting, catcher/first baseman Victor Martinez to the Boston Red Sox. “Say it ain’t so!” I cried.
I’ve been a fan of the Tribe for only a dozen years — the same amount of time in which I’ve actually checked the sports pages and websites for scores, ERAs, RBIs and all the other mundane stats that seem to make baseball fans so numbers crazy.
This change-up, from a battered spectator to a dedicated follower of the Indians, is my husband’s fault. Jim became an Indians’ fan at age 10, because his older brother wouldn’t allow him to be a fan of the Yankees. Silly sibling rivalry aside, my husband definitely got the worst of the deal. The Indians last won a World Series in 1948. They are a small-market team whose owners prefer to sell rather than spend. And they continue to proudly display that dreadful caricature of an Indian.
Even so, when Jim and I were married, I did the wifely thing: Stand by your man. In this case, my man was Victor. I saw him at a spring training game we attended in Florida, and I was smitten.
Yes, he’s gorgeous. Even more important, he has the skills of an All Star, the dedication of a cloistered nun and the sweet loyalty of a puppy dog.
“There are a lot of things to like about Victor,” said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. Yeah, one of which is that he’s now playing for your damn team.
Ah, I digress.
My real problem with the trade is adjusting to a Victor-less team. No, I don’t intend that as a pun on the Indians’ miserable season. But as a Jhonny (Peralta) come lately to baseball fandom, I did what any right-thinking, is-there-a-point-to-this-silly-game fan would do. I picked out a favorite player and paid attention to him.
That, I know now, was an error. My loyalty should be to the team. But now that Victor’s gone, as I listen to the Indians’ games, I’m not sure what to pay attention to. The poor pitching? The rising numbers of men left on base? The 8-0 lead that still doesn’t feel safe?
Yes, this carping makes me a fair-weather fan. That’s because I don’t follow baseball for the love of the game, the pure majesty of its being. Even though I once played softball, I don’t really get the national pastime. What I do get is that I need to figure out how to enjoy a team when my favorite player is in a different uniform.
So is this what being a real baseball fan entails? The heartbreak? The crushing despair? The bittersweet sense of loss? Or is that just for Cubs’ fans?
Victor himself gave me a clue. In an emotional interview that took place shortly after being told he was being traded, when Victor almost broke the there’s-no-crying-in-baseball rule, he said, “This organization made me a better ballplayer and a better person. It’s tough, but life continues and I have to keep moving forward.”
Moving forward is not an option, because I’m stuck with the Indians. Thus it appears I should follow the “this organization made me . . . a better person” option.
My husband is leading the way there. When he returned from a recent trip to a game in Cleveland, he surprised me with a Victor Martinez bobble-head. It was on clearance. It was also a touchingly romantic gift — a gift from an Indians’ fan who appreciates the fact that I travel this bumpy road with him.
And so I will continue to cheer for the Indians. I will check the wild card possibility, the bullpen lineup, the alphabet soup of ERAs and Ks and batting averages and all, and enjoy the plays both amazing and dumb. I will wear my Indians cap — the one with the discreet “I.” And I will stand by my man, the Indians’ fan, who knows that Victor got me interested in the team and bears him no ill will.
Ah, baseball. For better, for worse. Maybe I’m starting to get it.
Carol Schaal is managing editor of Notre Dame Magazine.