How Mike Mussina Made Me a Baseball Fan
Well, I have been a part of the online baseball community for roughly 6 months now, and I feel it is time to share how my fandom came to be, no matter how cheesy or clichéd it is.
My love affair with baseball began in the spring of 2006, with a single stop at my local Target.
At the time I was 9, and finishing up the 3rd grade. It was a pivotal point in my life, as for the past 9 years, my interests had varied greatly. It started with Firemen, then trucks, then Dinosaurs, then Power Rangers, then Animals, and finally Pokemon.
(Trust me, if you weren’t interested in Pokemon, you weren’t a very cool 3rd grader back in ’06.)
Those hobbies were typical of a kid my age. I didn’t have an advanced outlook on life, nor should I had. For all I know, I thought I could play Pokemon forever.
One day, after school, my mother forced me to accompany her on a trip to Target. To be honest, I am pretty sure I put up quite a fit when I heard where we were going. The only thing that made me comply was that she promised to buy me a pack of Pokemon cards. Little did I know, that would be the end of my fixation on Pokemon.
Near the end of the trip, as usual, we stopped by the card aisle. I carefully scanned the packs of Pokemon cards, but something else caught my eye.
It was a pack of Upper Deck baseball cards.
I don’t know what drew me to it. Maybe it was the fact that baseball players were real people who did things I could only imagine of doing. All I know is that until that moment I had despised baseball. That is mostly due to being forced to play little league when I was younger (6-8), at a time when I had little interest in anything but my childish hobbies. So, that day I decided to get a pack of baseball cards instead of my usual Pokemon pack.
Hey, I was young, I had many more Target trips to buy more Pokemon cards ahead in my future.
I waited until I got home to open the pack. I will say that the 1st card I ever saw was Tino Martinez, but it was the next card that caught my eye.
There it was, the 2006 Upper Deck Mike Mussina card #315, in all its glory. I’m slightly stumped at why I liked this card so much. Maybe it was because he looked really cool in uniform. Maybe it was the fact he played for the Yankees, and everyone knew who the Yankees were. Or Maybe it was because he looked like a spy (a phase I went through in the 1st grade), as he peered over his glove.
Whatever it was, it prompted me to turn the card over.
Sure the image on the front was pretty, but the stats on the back struck me in a way I’d never felt before.
I was always one of those few kids who actually liked math. I just liked the idea of logic being presented in such a graspable form, and I still do today, as a 15-year-old entering my Sophomore year of High School.
You see, at that moment, baseball became more that a simple game to me. I was able to look past the grown men wearing tight pants, and playing a kid’s game for a living. I saw that baseball was something that had so much more to it.
It wasn’t like football, basketball, or any other sport. It was a game that truly involved mathematical reasoning, physics, and the need to look past just pure athletic ability. I wasn’t an athletic kid, so that appealed to me.
I spent days looking at players stats on the back of baseball cards or online. I was a novice. Heck, I still thought wins, saves, and RBI’s were the end all, be all of baseball. Boy, did I have a lot to learn.
Those early years were spent establishing a base of my fandom. Mussina made me a fan of the Yankees, but then I discovered my hometown Angels (I was born in the OC, but grew up in Dodgers territory), and I quickly switched. I started collecting baseball cards, mainly because they looked cool, but also because I was building my own “secret” database of stats that could be viewed on the back of each card. (I hadn’t exactly discovered the joys of google yet.) I rejoined little league, and discovered that I really loved playing baseball, but I sucked at it.
(After learning about the value of OBP, I looked back and found that I wasn’t as bad as I thought. All I did was walk. I rarely got hits, and didn’t strikeout all that much. I just walked a lot. I probably had an OBP in the .400’s. No wonder I scored so many runs.)
Through all that, I still stuck with Mussina. For my 11th birthday, I flew to New York and watched Mike Mussina beat the Blue Jays. Seeing him in person, just made me a bigger fan. He was a larger than life persona to me.
That same year, I sent out letters to a couple of ball players asking them to sign a baseball card. Mussina was the only one who sent a letter back. In it was 2 signed cards and a note, straight from Williamsport, Pennsylvania. That was probably one of the best moments of my life at that point.
I stuck through Mussina’s ugly 2007, and enjoyed his last hurrah of the 2008 season. Watching him retire was hard, but it began a different phase in my baseball fandom.
I discovered sabermetrics and other new aged stats. I began to look at baseball in whole new light. It became a lifestyle rather than a hobby.
When I first heard of all these new stats, Mussina’s was the 1st player I looked up.
So here I am today, a self-proclaimed “stat-head.” Baseball is now my lifestyle, and I strive to work in baseball.
I believe I owe my fandom to Mike Mussina.
You can follow Justin Millar on twitter at @justinmillar1, or email him at Justinmillar1@gmail.com. Comment below to join the discussion.