Inspired by an article from the Boston Globe, the Sports section presents this series on our favorite memories as Daily sportswriters. We start with this article from Daily Sports Writer Abby Snyder.
I love baseball.
I grew up loving baseball: impatiently counting down the weeks until Opening Day, checking the paper every morning before school to see if the Red Sox had won, poring over the box scores every afternoon, falling asleep on my grandparents’ sofa with the familiar, comforting voices of NESN’s Sox broadcast in my ears.
Baseball, for me, has always been the sports equivalent of comfort food, of rereading my favorite book for the hundredth time, of putting on music I love in the background. Something about it — the resounding smack of a fastball as it collides with the catcher’s glove, the echoing crack as that perfect, once-every-hundred-pitches swing meets the ball just right — makes me a particular brand of happy that’s hard to find anywhere else.
Baseball is the first real day of spring, and that universal instinct: “Can we have class outside?” It is the dog days of summer, the grill cooling down and your sunburn still tingling as you sink into the couch and turn on the game. It is hot dogs, and bleacher seats, and freshly-cut grass. It is the leaves changing color, that first prickling of cold, and burrowing into an old, soft blanket. It is cold winters spent dreaming of sunshine and Opening Day. It is pulling on my battered Sox cap, no matter the season, no matter the weather, on my way out the door.
It is my grandfather, teaching six-year-old me that when the batter doesn’t hit the ball, it’s BS, balls and strikes; sending 10-year-old me newspaper clippings of articles about the Red Sox; calling 20-year-old me to talk Sox at least once a week in the summer.
Baseball is a unique kind of evergreen joy, and for that reason, it has always been my favorite.
So when my editors gave me the opportunity to cover Michigan baseball for the Daily, I jumped at the chance. I signed on in January, weeks before Ann Arbor would even think about anything other than cold and snow and ice, months before a Cinderella postseason run that I was lucky enough to cover. And I loved every minute.
I was as surprised as anybody when my favorite day wasn’t even a gameday.
It was June 19, just two days before Michigan was set to play Texas Tech for a spot in the final of the College World Series. I’d been in Omaha for almost a week covering the team, living and breathing baseball. My fellow baseball writers were growing incredulous (and concerned) at how long I could survive off of pasta, but I was as happy as could be. A week spent living and breathing baseball and eating nothing but carbs and chocolate? I was living my best life.
But it had been two days since Michigan’s last game — a 100-pitch complete-game masterpiece from Tommy Henry, a 2-0 victory over Florida State — and with more hours than I cared to count separating me from the next game I could write about, I was running low on ideas for an article for the next day’s edition.
As you might imagine, my editors were less than pleased with this.
But I was in luck, because on June 19, the Michigan baseball team spent the day visiting the children’s hospital at the University of Nebraska’s medical center.
The story practically wrote itself. Players joking around, teaching adorable kids how to swing the bat? It’s pretty hard to mess that one up. I churned my story out in the press box at TD Ameritrade Park and filed it with hours left before deadline. I spent that warm summer night eating pasta and watching baseball.
But that’s not why that day was special.
That day was special because I met eight-year-old Elizabeth, a girl who the word “firecracker” doesn’t begin to describe, a girl who cannot — will not — be tied down by the med cart attached to her or the tubes disappearing between her ribs. I looked on as she took swing after swing, her laughter echoing through the usually-quiet halls. You practically had to tear the bat out of her hands.
That day was special because I watched Karl Kauffmann teach a crowd of sick children how to swing the bat. I saw Jeff Criswell throw underhanded cream puff after underhanded cream puff to Elizabeth. I ducked out of the way as catcher Joe Donovan played the most high-spirited game of catch I’ve ever seen with a boy who couldn’t have been more than three or four, as his mother looked on, visibly relaxed for the first time in who knows how long.
That day was special because I stood in the wings watching with Michigan coach Erik Bakich. He was days away from clinching a spot in the final, a week from a series-opening victory in that final, living off the buzzing adrenaline that only a Cinderella postseason run can produce, and that day is still the proudest of his players I’ve ever seen him. He turned to me and told me he was glad I was there, asked me what he could do to help me with my story. I may have been the first (and last) reporter ever to hear those words. I listened as he told me how important this was for him, for his team, and I watched as he helped a little girl around the bases.
That day was special because before she had to leave to see her doctor, I asked Elizabeth who her favorite player was, and, blushing, she shyly pointed to Criswell. That day was special because late that afternoon after practice, when I asked him the same question, the usually-stoic Criswell broke into an uncharacteristic grin as he told me about Elizabeth.
But most of all, that day was special because, in a place that needed it more than most, I got to watch other people experience and spread the inimitable kind of happiness that only baseball can provide.
My headline that day was “Bigger than baseball.” But looking back on it, I don’t think that’s right. I think the smiles that I saw that day are exactly what baseball is — what it always has been, what it always will be for me.
The joy that I saw in the room that day: that is baseball.
And there is absolutely nothing better than that.