A daily accumulation of history and present as I follow the 2011 year through the baseball season and reflect on the glories and disappointments of the greatest game on Earth.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Ryne Sandberg

I was watching The Wizard of Oz last night. I can't remember ever having watched it before, but then again, I give myself no credit for anything that I've done before turning 18. Simply put, I remember very little of it, and some is for good reason - being a teenager is an awkward time that I'd rather forget about (and a pre-pubescent, and a kid, and...), but alas... I know that I've seen bits and pieces of it, and I get its populist message that lurks underneath the childhood story, but more than anything (and somewhere beyond Dorothy's annoying moans - man, how do people appreciate Judy Garland when her 2 most important offspring - being Judy and Liza frickin' Minelli - just grate all that we are, but nevertheless, before I start getting hate mail, let me just say, I was laying in bed thinking about how there really is no place like home. 15 years ago, I was living in England, and it was rapidly coming to the point that I was heading home. I had no desire to go home at that point. England was my adopted home, and I was clinging to it with a fierce tenacity that wouldn't give way to the fact that the relationship I was in had to dissolve so that the both of us could go on to happiness (we've both since married and are doing reasonably well with our lives), and I had no concept of what America or life was meant to be - just that I was going to soon go back home and live with my parents while I went to school and got my life together (on July 8, 1996, that reality finally happened). It took a while. The first year was hard. I still had a lot of England left in me - not least of all the idea that I would go back and be with my ex-gal friend (when you're older than high school, you can't really be a girl), but alas, that didn't happen, and it was a long dark winter that was finally punctuated with a few trips to California to see another friend. For the first trip, I bought a baseball preview guide with Derek Jeter on the cover. I didn't know who he was or hate the Yankees at the time (that was in 1998 with the story of Roger Maris and accentuated with the pickup of Roger Clemens), but it was that which brought baseball back. Sure, there were moments like watching the Braves dominate in 1996 while working at an Air Force sports bar in England, or watching the Phillies lose in 1993 when the Blue Jays smacked them around (thank you Paul Molitor), but through it all, there was nothing other than the memory of Ryne Sandberg... a guy who played for the Reading Phillies, but was later traded to the Chicago Cubs where he went on to have Hall of Fame stats. And he was right there waiting for me when I returned home, and for that, I am eternally grateful. His career wasn't like it was in the 1980s, and while I still have his rookie card, it isn't the value that I'd like it to be. Then again, neither are the cards that my wife bought me the other night that sit smack dab in the middle of this era (1990ish). It was a great gift for a player, and there's something about looking through cards - even of players we don't necessarily know. There are still favorites from my childhood, guys left over to adulthood, and marquee players that will always be known. In the end, there were a few cards that stood out. Curt Schilling 1990 Topps - not THE rookie, but a first Topps card. Sammy Sosa 1990 Topps - if only it was 1998... I'd be sitting pretty. While not the Upper Deck Griffey Jr., there was the regular set Topps marked rookie of Ken Griffey Jr. Most of these are now selling for $1. Juan Gonzalez? Joey (Albert) Belle? Names of once great, but fallen stars. Jose Canseco? You can't even give his rookie away, but there was a 1990 Canseco - when he still sort of kind of mattered. But there were the guys from this era... the ones that were still left... the Ryne Sandbergs... the million dollar contract trail blazers who used to name names and define the era... And they're largely forgotten in modern baseball history, but they're still a part of my childhood history, which I see myself going back to more and more (also, the Disney Pixar movies and brainless comedies)... and I know that's not such a bad thing. It's made me the man that I am, and it's made my American home (in the middle of Amish Paradise) such a great place to be and to sit on the backyard furniture while watching my firepit and looking over my wife's garden and just being. That's really what home is all about. That sense of mellow Americana and nostalgia for a time past in a time now... Even if that time never really was.

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