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Baseball is good actually

Looking ahead for baseball is kind of a bummer, so Kenny looked back on the season that made him a fan for life.

Glenallen Hill

There’s no major league baseball for the foreseeable future and while the reason for the season’s suspension is absolutely justified, that doesn’t mean it’s not a huge bummer. My love for baseball has waxed and waned over my lifetime—most recently it has waned—but it has never completely gone away. I don’t suppose it ever will.

Lately, however, most of my emotions regarding baseball have been negative. All I’ve done this offseason is criticize owners for their greed or general managers for their apathy. Earlier this week, I criticized Out of the Park and MLB the Show—the only two things providing some semblance of live baseball—for not doing a better job of representing women in baseball.

I stand by what I’ve written, but all this negativity has worn on me. I can handle being a fan of a bad team (the Giants), but something broke when they hired Gabe Kapler as their manager. I listened to Farhan Zaidi and Kapler stammer and stutter their way through the introductory press conference, so completely caught off guard by the questions about Kapler’s bungling of the assault allegations brought to him in 2015, and I knew I had to take a step back.

I cancelled my subscription and stopped refreshing mlbtraderumors dot com incessantly. Then, as if to say “You can’t fire me, I quit,” MLB suspended the season. Now, I don’t want MLB back before it’s safe, but I do want it back. I wish it didn’t take its absence to remind me that I love it.

In all things, I personally have a difficult time focusing on what’s good. Psychologically, this might be tied to loss aversion bias which suggests that losses are felt more intensely than equivalent gains. The common example is that it’s better to not reach into your pocket and discover you’ve lost $5 than it is to find $5 in an old coat. In baseball, the good feelings brought upon by Tim Lincecum’s no-hitters don’t equal the magnitude of bad feelings invoked by the Giants hiring Gabe Kapler and scrambling to pretend they care about what happened in 2015.

It’s still important to hold Kapler’s feet to the fire, but it’s equally important to remember the things about this dumb ass sport that bring us joy. For me, the first thing that comes to mind is the 1997 season. There were Giants seasons with happier endings and those were more recent and thus fresher in my mind, but the 1997 season was my first true baseball love.

Baseball had been a part of my life before that, but its inclusion was incidental. My dad grew up rooting for the Giants, so his family would as well. One of my first lucid memories is of sitting in front of the TV and listening to my family argue whether Will Clark or Barry Bonds was better. At that point, I was too young to form any solid memories around the night which could have happened at any time during 1993 season, and thus I was spared the heartache of the Giants winning 103 games and missing the playoffs.

The strike and my parents’ divorce obliterated the ’94, ’95, and ’96 seasons for me, but on May 4, 1997, I happened to be staying at my dad’s house and he, of course, had the game on. The Giants and Reds played nine taut, scoreless innings and entered the 10th inning tied at 0-0. In the top of the frame, Rod Beck allowed an unearned run on an error by Bill Mueller. It looked to be a painful loss, but in the bottom of the 10th, Jeff Brantley had no idea where the ball was going. He walked Marvin Bernard and hit Mueller with a pitch. Bonds walked to load the bases, but Jeff Kent struck out looking.

This brought up Glenallen Hill and on the first pitch, he sent a looping liner into right field. Two runs scored. The Giants, who were down to their last out, were now dancing around home plate in victory. At eight years old, I didn’t have the language to explain what I was feeling, but what I wanted to say was “Hook this into my veins.”

For a long while, my faulty memory conflated Hill’s walk-off with another equally delightful play from the ’97 season. Sometime in the middle of the season, the Giants acquired Roberto Hernández from the White Sox. Until this point, Hernández never had to swing a bat being (A) a reliever and (B) in the American League, but in a game against the Cubs, Dusty Baker changed that seemingly out of spite.

With a 7-2 lead, and a completely full bench, Baker had Hernández bat for himself. There was no reason for Hernández to bat. Baker didn’t even want to get a couple more bullets out of him because he lifted him for Beck to start the ninth. Hernández should have been an easy out, but instead, he punched a ground ball through the right side. Hernández’s single was the first concrete moment of baseball joy I experienced that was completely detached from winning.

Hill’s walk-off and Hernández’s single taught me that baseball could be unpredictable and thrilling and weird in a way that nothing else could. I didn’t need Brian Johnson to hit that home run against the Dodgers later that year. I was already in.

It might be a while before the Giants are engaged in a pennant race as thrilling as ’97, but those little day-to-day joys and victories will come back when baseball does. I’m glad I have that to look forward to.

Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.