Spiegel: Decades later, baseball still brings a family together
Baseball is a family thing with the Spiegels.
I love it and relate to it based on early interactions with the archetypal baseball fan, my Pops.
I need to quiz him on his fan origin story while he's still with us and as sharp as a Kershaw curve. I know his father was a Yankee fan. But who else was in his midst? How far back does our clan go?
My brother's high school team was good, and they were gods to a fourth-grader like me. After constant pestering, I was made official bat boy. I beamed when their team bus would pick me up at elementary school for away games.
In daily driveway games of what he called "Tenni-Ball," a round tabletop with a strike zone painted on it was an effective catcher. I was allowed to play outfield across the street.
I was the youngest fan our brood had, for decades.
My nephew is a very good 17-year-old pitcher on an even better high school team. I've written about him here before, when Pops and I watched him strike out 7 of 9 hitters as a 14-year-old.
A few weeks ago I sat behind his mother and watched a ballgame over both of their shoulders.
My nephew was in the dugout of a Frontier League ballfield in Joliet. He stood on the top step the entire game, rooting on his teammates as they battled for an IHSA championship. For him, it was as big an atmosphere as he has ever played in.
They believe they are men, and by many rights they are. But they are still kids in our eyes as we watch. They remind us of our distant youth, and of time's incessant march. My sister birthed that lefty pitcher with the mutton chops. Now he's as old as she was when she was an all-state soccer player. I went to her games and watched then, too.
It was truly great to be there; a heart-pumping atmosphere on a June night with a comforting chill that reminiscent of October.
Baseball is a very good game, demanding unique focus and skills from the people who play it.
The ace fought his way through 5 shutout innings. His opposition did the same.
Our heroes hit fastballs hard, and it felt like a breakthrough was imminent. But a runner was caught stealing in their only rally, and some good contact went unrewarded.
In the sixth, the other guys got a hit, a well-executed bunt, and then a double to the gap to plate the game's only run. And that would be that, 1-0.
I watch the pros every night, looking for windows into who they are as people. It's how I'm wired.
Players this young can't hide their humanity. Our ace was rattled; there was a balk and some wildness, which he impressively survived without further damage. The batters trying to tie it up for the final six outs understandably felt the pressure at the end. Eagerly trying to deliver, they didn't go as deep into counts as they had so often before.
But that's the counterintuitive nature of the sport. If you try harder, you usually do worse. If you clench the bat tighter, the range of failure tends to gets wider.
Patience is demanded. Calmness is rewarded. Anxiety is often punished. The game helps us grow.
What a tremendous season for the young men of my nephew's high school. What a great time in his life, with the promise of another chance with more involvement a year from now.
What a fun experience for this writer to have a team to root for with fervor. My sister was so nervous she couldn't talk, and I respected that as we just watched.
We watched a game I'm glad my family has chosen to love.
• Matt Spiegel co-hosts "The Spiegel & Goff Show" 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday on WSCR 670-AM. Follow him on Twitter @mattspiegel670.