Kelly Swan is a media rep for an energy company and leads a non-profit for the homeless in his hometown of Tulsa. And one other thing. He’s a baseball fan. Last season, Swan reports, he attended almost 30 Major League games. So many that he actually lost count.
Sometimes I forget that there are baseball fans out there. Seriously. I forget. Sometimes, I just sort of drift into the belief that everyone is like me. Once a huge baseball fan, now feeling no great connection to the game.
But it’s not true. There are people as passionate as ever about their team or players or just the game itself. Last week, when I wrote about the Hall of Fame voting, I got this response from Swan. It was very good, very though-provoking and, most important, very passionate. I thought I would share it with you.
The Hall of Fame: A Fan’s Perspective
by Kelly Swan
“I love baseball. Probably too much. Like millions of others, I can’t get enough of watching shagging, taking cuts, throwing a ball around the horn and double plays on summer days.
“Baseball beckons so many of my favorite moments. Like getting a home run in second grade thanks to throwing errors. Or catching This Week in Baseball. (Cue theme song, please).
“Or finding a treasure in a 1982 Topps rack pack that sold for around 69 cents at Walmart in small-town America (before supercenters existed). Think Cal Ripken Jr. rookie card.
“Or that time Harry Caray railed about Cracker Jacks right smack in the middle of their 100th anniversary despite Steve Stone’s deft attempts to save him. Did WGN apologize?
“I still have the pennant and program my dad bought for me at my very first big league game more than 30 years ago – in Kansas City between the Royals and Blue Jays. Frank White was awesome.
“Now, my own sons and I get all giddy over the release of the MLB schedule or planning our near annual pilgrimage to spring training in Arizona. We make the 1,150-mile road trip (one-way) in a single day.
“My memories are not unique. We share them with plenty of sons, dads, daughters and moms. Arguably, their indelible mark is that sense of innocence, purity and awe that comes with each.
“As it relates to the steroid era, therein lay a betrayal. Or the misplaced idolization of adoring fans captivated by events like the Great Home Run Chase in 1998. It was just the right salve for the 1994 strike (err work stoppage).
“Am I judge or jury now? No, neither. I agree with the sportswriters on that. Plus, a book I read famously says, ‘He who is without sin, cast the first stone.’ Even if I tried, I wouldn’t top 50 mph, which is just one of the many reasons I’m no David Price or Ron Darling.
“I’ve been to the Hall of Fame twice. Once flying solo at the tail end of a business trip to New Haven, Conn., and then again on a father/son trip two years ago with my oldest, who’s now a teenager, pitcher, first baseman and shortstop. Big surprise.
“Where I differ with some of the media contingent over all the Hall talk is the hand-wringing for the greats of the game who may never get through the Cooperstown gate (without a ticket).
“Consider a fan’s perspective. Haven’t we already paid our homage and given these greats their due? Through travel expenses to games, ticket purchases, our precious time and all the water cooler talk?
“With stories to our children about getting to see the Rocket pitch at Fenway for the first time as a member of the Blue Jays? I was there that Saturday in 1997, along with 33,104 others and my gorgeous wife.
“Part of me marvels at how Brady Anderson, Bret Boone and Big Mac hit all those bombs. Part of me wonders how there’s never been a class action case against MLB on behalf of fans who were duped into ‘buying’ a bill of goods (maybe valued in the billions) that in reality weren’t anything close to being real.
“I went to the Hall of Fame to see history, memorabilia, all kinds of cool stuff from before ‘my time’ and, quite frankly, to say I’ve been there. For most baseball fans, none of that changes based on who’s honored there and who’s not. It’s all about the experience.
“Honor, however, is a really good word. Maybe the Hall should be reserved for honoring those who honored the game? Eligible candidates from the player ranks who demonstrated as such by so distinguishing themselves from their peers should be marked on ballots.
“Which leads us to an obvious question. How do we define ‘honoring’ the game? Maybe Ryne Sandberg’s 2005 induction speech gives us some guidance. Ryno said, ‘The reason I am here, they tell me, is that I played the game a certain way, that I played the game the way it was supposed to be played. I don’t know about that, but I do know this: I had too much respect for the game to play it any other way, and if there was there is a single reason I am here today, it is because of one word, ‘respect.’
“I’m good with that. For the others who maybe fall short of ‘honoring’ or ‘respecting’ the integrity of the game or the spirit of ‘fair’ competition, haven’t they already achieved baseball immortality by accomplishing feats that will be remembered forever?
“Does being ‘remembered forever’ really require a bronze plaque that hangs on an oak wall at a museum in Otsego County, New York? Does it change the fact that I enjoyed watching Barry Bonds compete against the Cards in-person the day after he hit No. 714? No.
“The players made their millions. The fans have their memories. Teams still reward results however they’re achieved (ahem, St. Louis). So what’s all the hubbub about?”