In May 2020, Alex Weaver founded a website and Instagram account (@baseballletters) called “Baseball Letters.” Alex’s intention was to show how “Baseball is personal, it’s poetry, it’s art, and it’s thinking.” He encouraged his audience to share their favorite baseball moments with him, via notes, doodles, scorebooks, and letters, in order to share them with a wider audience of baseball lovers.
As of this writing, “Baseball Letters” has failed to take off. I hope that Alex revives this endeavor, one that profoundly resonates with me. Below is a letter that I sent to Alex.
When I was 12 years old, I was almost the same size that I am now, at 34 years old. That means that based on the simple fact that I physically matured more quickly than my peers, I was a pretty damn good power hitter. This was the 90s, when playing the game “the right way” still meant that when you hit a home run, you would put your head down and “act like you’ve been there before.”
For as long as I can remember I have voraciously consumed baseball in books and magazines and on the TV and radio. That means that I was well-aware of how to play “the right way” as a little leaguer. Even though guys like Ken Griffey, Jr. and Barry Bonds were turning heads with their swag, I respected guys like Mark McGwire and Cal Ripken, Jr., who always were composed and “professional.”
I hit my first home run in 1998 when I was 11 years old. I can still picture the ball coming off my metal bat and out towards left-center. I was playing for the Dodgers and the pitcher was Reid Calkins, a 12-year-old on the Cardinals. I could NOT stop beaming as I rounded the bases, especially when I looked up between second and third and saw Alan, my coach, celebrating for me in the 3rd base coaches box. I was so happy!
After the game, I vowed to “act like I’ve been there before” the next time I hit a home run because, hey, I would have been there before. The next year, I was one of the league leaders in home runs. I probably hit between five and ten, and for the life of me, I couldn’t stop smiling as I rounded the bases. Every time I saw Alan and high-fived him as I rounded third, I couldn’t stop grinning. I would try to force my mouth into a stoic stare, but I could never hold it in for more than a few steps. Hitting home runs was fun!
I wanted to be like Jeff Kent, the gritty Texan, or Scott Rolen, the young stud who played my position and was a midwestern baseball badass straight out of central casting. But I couldn’t.
I was pretty bashful as a kid. Smiling was a bit of a nervous response. I’m sure I blushed often too. One of my earliest memories of playing was when I was playing for the Astros at the Farm level. I would have been seven or eight years old. It must have been a close game. I recall running towards third base and the coach was excitedly waving me home. He is slightly crouched, right arm pointing home and left arm making huge circles, windmilling me towards home. He is gesticulating and urging me to run faster and head towards home plate but also, in a rather amused way, he yells, “STOP SMILING, SHANE!” as I start to round third base.
He was just kidding – in hindsight, he probably got a huge kick out of it. I remember feeling a little embarrassed. Was it bad to smile? Why was I smiling? I often smiled in a bashful way when the attention was on me. In that moment, with him yelling for me to score and my run being important to the outcome of the game, I was in the spotlight, which made me uncomfortable.
Or was it that I was just having so much fun, being in the middle of the action as an eight-year-old, playing the game that would learn to love?
I always have loved my family, but baseball was the first thing that I KNEW that I loved. I cared for it; it cared for me. I never grew tired of it; in fact, I couldn’t get enough of it. I wanted to know baseball’s in its simplicity and in its complexity. I wanted to not only just be around it all the time, as one might with a crush, but also to show my devotion to it and become one with it, as one does with a true love. I wanted to play in college, then be a big leaguer, and then a GM.
I’ll always be grateful for those early years, playing and consuming the game and being wrapped up in it so tightly that it set the foundation for life-long love.
Baseball is my first and longest love. It’s a love that’s not as passionate or consuming as it was when I was rounding third with a huge smile on my face, but we have grown together and developed a sense of companionship that will last until one of us is no more.
Your friend in baseball,