Baseball is the perfect Valentine for a true fan
Take your sweetheart on a ballpark tour to show your love
Happy Valentine's Day, everybody. Here's hoping it's absolutely perfect, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.
For instance, Miller Park.
If you think this wouldn't be a good day to sit six rows behind the home dugout, you don't understand the mind of a baseball fan.
Baseball people -- and plenty of fans -- love their ballparks on days like this, when the weather is cold and the place is empty.
Only, it's not really empty.
Ballparks never are. They breathe the history of the place, the moments etched in the hearts and minds of fans. They ooze with expectation, too, for all the memories still to come.
When you sit there, you feel it. That's where Mike Trout went over the wall to bring a ball back. Yes, right there.
Every fan has dozens of memories just like that. Baseball people will tell you they love taking a work break and sitting in their home ballpark for a few minutes, because, even empty, there's something magical about the place.
"I love Fenway Park when it's packed," Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said last October. "I also love it when it's empty."
The Red Sox have this meeting room in their offices that they welcome visitors to. They bring them in, show them the artwork on the wall, and then at just the right moment, they open the curtain to offer a spectacular view of the ballpark.
If you've ever been to Fenway Park, you know what this moment probably feels like. There's no place like it.
Suddenly, Ted Williams is young again, rocketing balls to right, taking the extra base. Suddenly, it's as real as if it were yesterday.
No Red Sox fan is ever going to look at that empty ballpark again without thinking of the grand slam David Ortiz hit in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series last fall. Boston had lost Game 1 and trailed Game 2 by four runs in the eighth inning. The Red Sox were well on their way to having their ticket home punched.
That is, until Ortiz hit a towering, majestic, breathtaking home run into the right-field bullpen. There was a thunderclap of an ovation as the ball left the bat, and then the kind of cheers that will be etched in the brains of Red Sox players forever when it cleared the wall to tie the game.
Yes, by all means, take your sweetheart on a tour of Fenway Park today. Give him or her the perfect Valentine.
Can you sit inside Camden Yards and NOT think of 2,131? That's the night in September 1995 when Cal Ripken played in his 2,131st consecutive game to pass Lou Gehrig and become baseball's all-time iron man.
No one in Charm City will ever forget, whether they were in the park or not. There was Cal waving to his parents, and then taking one of the sweetest victory laps ever.
Baseball is important in Baltimore. Baseball is Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson, Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray. That one moment, that Ripken celebration, summed up every single thing those of us who love Baltimore feel about the Orioles.
Two summers ago, the greatest of the Orioles came back to celebrate the unveiling of their statues in a plaza the brilliant architect, Janet Marie Smith, did up so beautifully. Earl Weaver and Jim Palmer returned, and so did Cal and Eddie, Brooks and Frank.
The O's were reborn that summer thanks to a great core of players -- Adam Jones and Matt Wieters and others -- and manager Buck Showalter, who took his players to the statue ceremonies because he wanted them to understand why people love the Birds.
Yeah, that's a pretty good Valentine's Day gift. Box seats and crab cakes and a couple of cold ones. Afterward, we'll go to the warehouse and see if Rick Dempsey stops by his own little watering hole.
We'll ask Dempsey about the 1983 Fall Classic -- he was the World Series MVP -- and about catching all those terrific pitchers, from Mike Flanagan and Scott McGregor to Dennis Martinez and Mike Boddicker.
On the day Camden Yards opened in 1992, Ripken marveled, "It feels like baseball has been played here before."
That memory, that ballpark, is one way to warm a baseball fan's heart on Valentine's Day.
OK, back to Miller Park.
It's one of those perfect places to watch a baseball game. The brats are the best. The people are the friendliest.
They've been packing the place the last few years, and on those nights when the fans are loud and the Brewers are playing well, you start to think there might not be a better place on earth.
Valentine's Day? Give someone you care about two tickets to AT&T Park, to a place where the fans are so energized it has the feel of a college baseball game. EVERY Giants game is a big deal, an event. San Francisco fans are noisy and enthusiastic, and there's not a better baseball atmosphere on earth.
This amazing game connects generations and neighbors and co-workers. It's almost every single day for six months. It's unique the way it gets its teeth into us, how each game dictates a little bit of our mood the next morning, and then before you know it, there's the anticipation of another game and a new beginning.
If you were watching the National League Wild Card Game last fall, you couldn't help but feel what those fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates were feeling. There they were in that beautiful park, making it deafening loud. As Pirates closer Jason Grilli said, "The Reds weren't just playing us. They were playing every single person in Pittsburgh. That's how it felt."
And that's why we love it. Valentine's Day signals the start of another baseball season. It's Valentine's Day, and it's baseball season. What could be better than that? For the next nine months, baseball will deliver something every single day.
Happy Valentine's Day.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.