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When I First Knew The Game Of Baseball

Baseball is a game of statistics.

A more obvious statement couldn't possibly be made, especially on this site. We like our statistics here and write about it frequently.

You may have noticed I haven't been around TCB for the past week. We'll get to why in a bit, but I'd like to run through some stats first.

This is my 452nd story as a writer for TCB.

I'm about three weeks shy of my one-year anniversary on the site, in fact.

I have written about sports professionally for five years now.

I still have approximately 248 baseball cards.

I'm able to get to about five live Astros games a year now and watch the rest on TV.

I've listened to Milo Hamilton for about 10,000 hours over the years.

I understand baseball now through statistics. I seek out newer metrics and newer ways to analyze the team constantly, searching for a more perfect understanding of what goes on around the diamond.

But, that wasn't the first way I came to understand the game. That came from my dad, who I lost last weekend after a 5-year battle with ALS. That's why I haven't been around much lately and why I won't be able to say anything significant about this team since I last left it. What I can do (until I get caught up) is talk a little about how I first came to understand the game that we all love so much.

We've talked before here about how we first came to be Astros fans, who our favorite players are and how we feel about statistics. This, though, is about how we first understood the game, how we were first introduced to it. For me, it was through my dad and little league.

Every time I reach back to think about baseball, the memories are colored with images of my dad. He got me invested in those 80's Astros teams. He bought me my first pack of Topps baseball cards with the cardboard-tasting gum. He helped teach me how to play and how the game was supposed to be played.

That's not to say there were these unwritten rules passed down like there are in the minor leagues. My dad wasn't close to being a professional player. He was just a lifelong sports fan. He wasn't my coach in little league. Instead, he was the team statistician. He'd help me with my swing, but not by showing me how himself, but by recording my swings in the back yard and then playing it for me on our VCR.

Heck, he even played Nintendo baseball games like Baseball Stars with me, even though I was more interested in making my guys dive into the wall rather than winning the game. He would get mad at me for trying to get into rundowns as soon as I got on base, even though I would force him to throw the ball away eventually or just slide back into first safely. It wasn't real baseball I was learning, but it was fun.

Similarly, he put up with my collecting all the Oakland A's baseball cards because that was my little league team that year. He also didn't like when I'd rather play Ken Grifffy Baseball a little bit later in life rather than watching an actual game on TV. Still, he would argue with me just the same about players, talk about trades and read the newspaper with me just the same.

He also colored my opinions in ways I had never really thought of. One of the videos we watched last week showed him back in 1989 talking about what a great fielder Rafael Ramirez was. It was in the background of some family gathering and he was having this whole discussion with my great grandfather about how smooth Ramirez was defensively. He added at the end about this "kid" Caminiti and how good he was, making all those diving plays and still throwing the guy out at first. I don't remember actually watching much of Caminiti as an Astro. I was aware of him, but I don't remember watching him play the field that much. I just always knew he was one of the best defenders at third, as one of those things I just never questioned, as one of those fundamental things I believed about the team.

As time went on, those things changed. I went off to college and started reading more stuff on the "internet." Michael Lewis published Moneyball, which I read and loved. I started tracking the minor leagues voraciously and my perceptions of the team changed ever so slightly from my dad's. We could still talk about the game, but we were different fans. We thought about the game in different ways.

Without all those arguments with my dad, I wouldn't be half the writer I am now. When I think about why I love baseball, I always think about the Astrodome, Glenn Davis and the defense of Ken Caminiti and that's all thanks to my dad. I guess that means I need to stop making fun of Carlos Lee so much, or my son will think fondly of how terrible "El Bufalo" was.

You probably could see this coming, but my question to you is this: what made you a baseball fan? It may be the same thing that made you an Astros fan, but was there something that drew you to the game at an early age? Did you find it when you were older? Has it always been there?