There are several paths available to nonathletic adults who love baseball. Some treat it as a simple but cathartic escape as they did through their childhoods. Others feel that their feel for the game gives them a deep and visceral understanding. Still others are constantly pouring through numbers, searching for new ways both to comprehend and to enjoy the sport.
Although those last two camps find themselves frequently at odds, most of the above share a common bond - they started out as fans.
Pedro Martinez is my favorite player of all time. I don't remember the Red Sox trading for him - I was 8 - so I certainly couldn't appreciate the theft they committed when they sent Carl Pavano and a player to be named later, who was named Tony Armas, to the Montreal Expos. When a certain New York Post writer left him off his MVP ballot, citing a belief that pitchers should not win the award even though he had voted for Yankees' pitcher David Wells one year prior, 10-year-old-me was not enraged.
I did not fully comprehend how great his 2.52 ERA in seven seasons with the Red Sox was, much less appreciate that his 2.45 FIP shows he was not a beneficiary of great luck (much the contrary - his 1.39 FIP in 1999 is the best in the modern era), that he struck out 5.45 batters for each one he walked, or that he allowed less than baserunner per inning (discounting, of course, the 77 batters he hit with pitches) in that time.
I didn't realize that so many of the batters he was tearing down were superhumans, improved in laboratories by an advent of higher technology, allowed to fester by captains of industry that were ignorant to the situation at best and turning a blind eye in favor of revenue-generating moonshots at worst. I did not know that his two best seasons, 1999 and 2000, happened to be the two years with the highest home run totals in history, or that Pedro astoundingly allowed just nine homers over 213.2 IP in 1999.
No. Many of the reasons I now love Pedro were foreign to me when I began loving Pedro. But I still loved Pedro. Conversely, even if I didn't now understand how truly significant that once-in-a-lifetime talent was, I would still love Pedro for the reasons I loved him then.
I just knew that I grew up watching a righty who was under six feet tall dominate batters. I knew that he showed an intense passion. I knew that, at a time when the Red Sox hadn't won a World Series in more than 80 years, he said, "I don’t believe in damn curses. Wake up the damn Bambino and have me face him. Maybe I’ll drill him in the ass." Then, the very last time he took the mound for the Red Sox, I knew he put the team up 3-0 in the World Series with seven shutout innings against the Cardinals.
When I go to the Hall of Fame Sunday (a trip my dad and I have planned for many years knowing Pedro would obviously be elected on his first ballot) to watch my favorite player be forever enshrined as one of the best of all time, I'll do it as a fan, informed every bit as much by my memories of watching him as I am by the numbers that are still shocking each time I look at them.
That's a comforting notion, I think - as so many fans evolve from spectators to athletes, writers, analysts, scouts or whatever else, we might all disagree with each other, our roots are all the same - people who love baseball.