Opinion: An ode to baseball

Sports are a hard thing to define. They can mean varying things to different people, from passion to profession — even a mix of both. For me, baseball was the sport that helped me grow up; I loved it. Loving a sport is something unique to each individual. The reasons behind loving the sport and the way a person was introduced to it shape what that sport means to them.

That love should never be tampered with; it’s personal and sacred. Unfortunately, my love for baseball was corrupted. This situation is not endemic to baseball. Corruption of passion for a sport is an issue whenever competition is introduced too quickly to a game that is about more than winning for the kids playing.

Growing up, I was a rather plump kid. Up until about high school, I looked like Ham from “The Sandlot” — minus the golden locks.

Due to my size, I was limited in the games I wanted to play. While most of my friends growing up started playing soccer, I began playing baseball at age five.

The first team I ever played for was the Boston Red Sox. It was tee-ball, so everyone played every position. My favorite was right field because I could spend the innings filling my glove with grass and then, while I ran back to the dugout, throw it in the air like it was confetti. Suffice to say, I was the best on the team.

I continued to stick with the sport as I grew older. While I was never bad at the game, I was never the best either.

Playing was fun, but the best part was the team sitting in the dugout and cheering one another on. Some of my fondest memories from childhood were playing baseball with my friends and then promptly getting back to “The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.”

At the time, this was what it meant to play sports. To me, baseball was a unifying game. It was a catalyst for friendship, and it holistically represented my childhood.

But when what naturally comes with growing better at a sport is added — competition — the beauty of the game begins to dwindle. If competition is introduced too early, it can alienate the kids who are playing the game for more than just winning. For me and most of my friends, we played baseball to be together. Once competition was introduced, that aspect of the game was ruined.

That isn’t to say it’s wrong to have competition in sports; it’s a natural aspect of the game. But in my case, that wasn’t what baseball was for.

To me, baseball is the sport that gave me confidence, helped me overcome bullying and enlightened me to the greatest snack food ever made — nachos.

Sports can be an outlet to becoming a better person, to being a part of something larger than oneself. While baseball did help me grow, it wasn’t about winning.

I believe I would have achieved a duality of loving baseball and being competitive if not for a certain instance that ruined my love for the game. I could have naturally fallen out of playing and done what I planned to do — eventually teach to my children the game I’d always loved.

Instead, a group of players and a coach corrupted the game. They bullied one of my friends on the team, made him feel lesser and weak. The breaking point was when I saw that even the coach was bullying him. My friend and I quit, and I turned my back on the game that had done so much for me.

This is my experience, my situation with baseball. I have nothing against baseball; I still respect the game and all involved, but my love for it has subsided.

To me, that is the saddest part: The game that I truly think made me the person I am today now just reminds me of a sad past.

Loving the sport you play is a beautiful and unique thing. For some, competition multiplies this love and gives them the drive to pursue the sport.

However, when competition is introduced too early into a children’s game — by either the coach or overeager parents — it can create environments like the one I was in. It can lead to arrogance, alienation and, ultimately, the loss of love for the game. While there are various reasons as to why this happens, what matters above all else is awareness that — for many — sports are about more than just winning.

There is a “loser” in every baseball game, but the true prize of the sport is being with your teammates and doing something you love together. Unity is a rare thing in this age, and it should be cherished when you find it.

This is what sports mean to me; this isn’t doctrine that should be adopted by everyone. All I hope is that you take away another perspective about something as universal as sports and, the next time you play your sport, reflect on how lucky you are to be playing the game you love.