Sports can be transformative, I’m living proof.
Before we start, I think it is important for anyone reading this to know some things about me. I am a trans woman that was born and raised in Central Texas. I didn’t come out until almost two years ago so my youth featured me presenting as a male in a world that often didn’t make sense to me. It was a true comedy of errors for a majority of those 26 years. A lived experience like that can alter the way you relate with things that are considered to be “masculine” in modern society. Until I reached my teen years most, if not all, of my interaction with sports, was watching NASCAR races and Dallas Cowboys games with my dad. Throughout the years I’ve watched many sports but two have really stuck with me; baseball and hockey.
People usually ask me, “why do you only like the sports where nothing happens?” And to that I say, have you ever watched them? There may be some downtime between big moments, but that downtime makes the big moments so much more meaningful and fun.
In sports where points are scored frequently, it lessens the drama. You only need to watch the end. In sports where big moments happen infrequently and spontaneously, you never know when the big moment will happen. The whole game matters. Every pitch matters. Every shot, every save, every check matters.
Think of it this way; if you ate ice cream for every meal and then a friend asks you to get ice cream one day, that ice cream isn’t as meaningful because you’ve had it so much. I’d be lying if I said these sports had equal footing in my heart, though. Baseball will always be number one. It was my first true sports love and it has shaped me into the adult human woman I am now.
I had never really watched or cared about baseball until I was in my teens. There were times when my grandad would have Atlanta Braves or Texas Rangers games on when we visited him in Lubbock; or the random afternoon Cubs game on WGN when I was bored during the summer. On the whole though, the game was a bit of a non-entity to me.
Enter the 2005 Houston Astros.
I don’t remember exactly when I watched my first Astros game. I’m sure it was some random afternoon that it was too hot to go outside and I was flipping through the channels. There they were, the boys in red, “railroad brick” and black pinstripes, doing their thing. If you remember anything about this ‘05 Astros team, it’s probably that they started off horribly after an amazing 2004 season and then pulled off a historic 74-43 pace to finish the season 89-73 after starting an abysmal 15-30.
The players on this team are still some of my favorites, despite the fact that none of them are still actively playing. I’m talking about Lance “Big Puma” Berkman, Craig Biggio, Morgan Ensberg, Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, Roy Oswalt, Brad Lidge, Willy Taveras, Jeff Bagwell (kind of), and the ultimate daddy Brad Ausmus. I don’t know what it was about the team, but I was hooked.
The fact that they hooked me is interesting because at the time I was dedicated to not supporting Texas sports teams, mostly because I wanted to be “interesting” I guess. I couldn’t express myself the way I really wanted to but liking out of state teams allowed me to “other” myself in a safe way. This trait is still present in me to this day.
I’m generally fond of Texas teams, but because of baggage and a stubborn will to be contrarian, I wouldn’t say I love any of them. Even the Astros are more of a steady hook-up than true love. There is probably a whole article to be written on that subject, but it is an important attribute of my life that helps illustrate how much this team meant to me at the time.
The Ride of ’05
There were a lot of fun moments in that Astros season. The dramatic fashion in which they won the NL Wild Card berth, going toe to toe with the Phillies down the stretch. Roy Oswalt winning Game 6 of the NLDS, thus securing himself a shiny new bulldozer from owner Drayton McLane. Chris Burke’s dramatic walk-off homer in the 18th inning of Game 4 of the NLDS to send the ‘Stros to the NLCS. Not to mention Jeff Bagwell returning from injury late in the season for one last ride before his retirement.
The moment that I remember most fondly though, is an admittedly odd one. On June 29th of that season, Craig Biggio got hit by a pitch from Colorado Rockies pitcher Byung-Hyun Kim to break the MLB hit-by-pitch record. I remember in the games that followed hearing about Biggio being sent a lifetime supply of bandages and the HOF asking for his classic, bulky elbow guard.
The reason this moment is so memorable to me is because of a quote from Biggio after it happened. Biggio is reported to have attributed his milestone to “fearlessness and stupidity”.
Fearlessness and stupidity may not seem like incredible attributes to have but they are attributes that have helped me immensely throughout my life. It took fearlessness and a bit of stupidity to come out when I did. Being trans means you need to be fearless when walking out into the world. Fearlessness comes naturally to trans people, whether we admit it or not. Our existence is an act of defiance in modern society. There is never a right time to come out, so when you make the choice to finally say something, it can make you feel a bit like you’re embracing stupidity. You’re accepting that nothing in your life will ever be the same.
Stupidity is often billed as a negative trait, but sometimes a little bit of stupidity can help you be brave. Some people would say that being trans and coming out is stupid; and to that, I would say that my stupidity has made me happier than I have ever been in my life.
Sports have the power to inspire us. We watch men and women do extraordinary things every time we turn on a game. That’s what baseball is to me. Anything could happen when the ball is thrown, and we’re all just waiting to be inspired. The smell of the grass, the crack of the bat, the pop of the glove, and the roar of the crowd are signs that baseball is back. And baseball being back means there are 162 chances to be inspired or see something amazing.
At this point in my life I have a complicated relationship with the ‘Stros. They’ll always be my first love. No team will ever be able to touch them in the “emotional attachment” category. I’ve gone through phases with other teams (bandwagoning is good, fight me) but I’m always following the ‘Stros, keeping myself aware of how they’re doing. I was over the moon to watch them FINALLY win their first World Series title in 2017. I love that they’re in the AL now because pitchers hitting is dumb and I will dig my own grave to die on that hill.
The team, though, has made some questionable choices as far as player acquisition and conduct are concerned lately. It isn’t fun to openly root for a team that employs a known domestic abuser. It isn’t fun to support a team that employs a first baseman that will make racist gestures towards an opposing player in the World Series.
The ‘Stros will always be a factor in my life. They are the literal reason I love baseball today, so I refuse to ignore them. Being critical of things you love is important though.
And that is what I try to do as a baseball fan.
I love this game with my whole heart. I take Opening Day off of work so I can stay home and watch baseball all day. But there are structural and institutional issues that need to be critiqued in this sport, especially when it comes to MLB. As a fan, I love to celebrate the less flashy moments of the game, like Biggio’s HBP record. There is enough good to outweigh the bad. But, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be trying to eliminate the bad.
The ‘05 Astros were inspiring. They were counted out, they were laughed at, they were buried six feet under (literally if you recall the famous tombstone article) and yet they stepped on the field every night with fearlessness and stupidity and made themselves legends to a scared, closeted trans girl in Clyde, TX. Any time I feel down about life or I’m doubting myself, I think about Craig Biggio stepping into the batter’s box, head and heart full of fearlessness and stupidity, and I feel ready to face any pitch that is thrown my way.