Last week, I met an old friend in Little Italy for dinner. To my surprise, I saw, when arriving to the restaurant, that a third man would be joining our meal. For the purposes of this article, we will call him Rob.
After chatting for a while, I learned Rob was a former collegiate golfer—and a good one. After playing at one of the major California programs, he had even considered turning pro for a while, before various life events nixed that possibility. For me, this encounter was still a welcome opportunity to meet with someone who’d operated near the upper-echelon of sport. I had questions: questions about his fitness routine while playing; questions about his upbringing; questions about his competitive philosophy.
After a while—polite man that he was—Rob turned the focus on me. What was my deal? I tried to explain, as briefly as possible, that I wrote about baseball, for a Padres-oriented site, and for a more news-oriented site called MLB Trade Rumors. I explained the kind of pieces I would write for each, what I found interesting about baseball, and how much time in a given week I devoted to researching players and trends.
Rob, at least for my benefit, appeared fascinated. He had always wondered, while playing golf in college, about people like me that he would run into—golf-obsessed fanatics that would know everything about a given team or program, while often not being very good at the sport themselves. Where was the joy in it? Wouldn’t it be better to just use that energy playing sports, rather than following them? In as nice of a manner as possible, Rob was essentially asking: “Why are you such a nerd, Dylan?”.
Rob hadn’t realized he was stepping right into my wheelhouse—I had spent a lot (like a lot) of time thinking about these very questions. I tried as best I could to explain it—to explain myself, really—to Rob, just as I’ll try to explain it to you today.
Growing up, there was nothing I wanted more than to be a professional baseball player. It probably started with my Mom’s whispering.
As a single Mom of three in Imperial Beach, armed with a nominal amount of child support and whatever income she could gather from odd jobs, Janet Chase probably knew that her children faced long odds for success. But that didn’t stop her whispering.
It began as far back as I can remember: while walking with my Mom—maybe at the beach, maybe at the Sav-U-Foods where we shopped, maybe at the courthouse where we spent an inordinate amount of time—a voice would lean down, and implant a dream into my ear.
The implant was different for each of my sisters and I. To my eldest sister Lauren, who would be tasked with the lifelong responsibility usually demanded of eldest sisters, it was “Doctor”. In the ear of my sister Callie, my Mom allowed herself a bit more room to wonder—it was ”Artist”.
In the ear of her youngest, she implanted a notion that bordered on the unfair—it was “Baseball Player”.
On days where I did see my father—about twice a month during my childhood—we didn’t always have a lot to talk about. In fact, conversation often felt like learning to maneuver through a minefield—as I’m sure it is for many children of divorced parents.
Allude to my Mom? Be met with another recitation of her faults. Try to learn about my Dad’s past? Be met with another story that, ultimately, led to “The Divorce”. Ask about some future event? Hear again about an approaching court date involving my custody, or another battle over child support. In my earliest memories, “The Divorce” seemed to be the sixth member of our family.
Until my Dad found a seventh member to act as interpreter between us.
I will always remember the three of us—my Dad, my uncle Lynn, and I—packing into my Dad’s Toyota LandCruiser and going to a place called Qualcomm. I will always remember: the smell of sunflower seeds in the truck cabin; the sound of the pre-game show, static and warm on the AM radio; the glare of the stadium lights seen as the truck climbed down the valley into the stretching gloom of the stadium parking lots.
As I toddled behind these two grown men in the concourse—the only grown men I knew, really—I overheard their conversation about the Padres. My uncle thought that we had become a “minor league team”. My dad thought the owner was a “bastard”.
I learned a lot of other things that night. I learned that a player named Jon Olerud wore a helmet while on defense, because he had hurt his brain. I learned that stealing was, in the context of baseball, OK—encouraged, even. I learned that a man named Tony Gwynn was the best hitter on Earth, and that he played for our team.
Our team—that night was the first time, to my knowledge, that my Dad and I had shared one.
All of this —my mom’s subliminal messaging, the central role baseball played in the relationship between my Dad and I—might have added up as prelude to a great and illustrious baseball career.
Except for one major problem—I was always really, really bad at the actual, you know, “sport”.
Between the ages of 8 and 14, I spent most of my time thinking about baseball. Afternoons, I would hit a Wiffle ball against the garage door, until, inevitably, I would clear the garage entirely and lose my ball to the neighbor’s yard next door. I played MVP baseball on Playstation 2 incessantly—building up Padres teams into perennial World Series winners on the strength of forced trades and prospects that I enhanced by setting their “Potential” ratings to 99.
In my imagination, I was a future Padres great who would bring stadiums to their feet one day. But in reality, my Mom couldn’t afford Little League fees, and I played real-life baseball in a recreational league near the San Ysidro border.
The sand practice lots we played on were often imbued with mysterious treasure: used condoms, Sabritas chip wrappers, and empty 40-ounce bottles that combined to add extra obstacle for proper infield footwork. I played first—the position usually just reserved for the biggest, clumsiest kid on a youth team—partly because, as my Dad would remind me on rare occasions when he would attend a game, I threw “like a girl”.
Most days, arriving to the park, I would totter to the dugout to find “Chase” scribbled down next to the number “9”. It wasn’t hard to figure out why. Stepping to the plate, I would do my best approximation of the big league hitters I admired: I would spit, scowl, and tap my bat three times—in front of, on, and behind home plate. Then I would usually go down—three strikes, always swinging, eyes closed.
By the end of middle school, I was riding pine. By high school, my career as a baseball player was over.
Searching For Home
But it was around high school that I found the website Gaslamp Ball. Along with a few other sites—including a chat forum for Elliott Smith fans and MLB Trade Rumors —Gaslamp Ball helped inform the way I thought of and interacted with the world.
I remember that the site was funny, and light-hearted. I remember that comments reached into several hundred for a given Game Thread. I also remember that I never, ever commented.
For a teenage kid still learning the nuances of the game—as well as the mounting trove of statistical measurements around it—reading Gaslamp Ball comments meant watching and listening. What I remember is just how much the commenters, with their inscrutable web handles, seemed to know about the game: WAR, SIERRA, Heat Maps—almost every thread produced some new term or phrase that I had to turn around and Google for understanding.
But as I lurked these threads daily, I was learning much more than just how to evaluate players or pitchers. What I found in the Gaslamp Ball forums was more like a code of conduct: how to craft a joke in writing; how to lay out an argument; most importantly, how to voice disagreement with some level of civility and respect. For a teenage kid who would grow up to become more and more bookish with the passing of time, it was a portal, more than anything, to other people.
Yesterday, after reading through hundreds of recent comments on this site, I was given the impression that, sadly, we may have lost some of that magic and civility. It’s for that reason that I’ve returned to this story—why I’ve returned ultimately, to one of the stories of my life, and how baseball and this community has played a central role in shaping me into the person I am today.
Somewhere, there’s a kid reading this site. Somewhere, there’s a kid who is reading not just my writing, but your comments. There is a kid who is coming to encode the various ways that different commenters lay out their arguments, the ways they craft their jokes, and the way they treat their fellow members. This is, basically, a public place.
Ultimately, there will always be a part of me that wishes I was a professional baseball player. It feels pathetic to admit it, but I suspect more than some among us share the same latent dream, long-abandoned and long-deferred. There is a larger, more explicit part of me that occasionally wishes to go back—to go back to when I first learned about the Padres while sitting in a bleacher seat with my Dad at Qualcomm Stadium. That much, I’m sure, almost all of us can relate to.
As a community, we share much more than we realize. In addition to most of us sharing ties to the San Diego community, we are all, diehard and casual, fans of the Padres. This categorization is not to be taken lightly. As perhaps the most beleaguered team in MLB history, the Padres have done little, over the decades, to inspire such steadfast devotion. But here you are. To me, that’s character. I respect the character that has been required of Padres fandom.
As such, I respect all of you. As a writer for this site, it’s then incumbent upon me to inform all of you that we have got to to a better job of respecting each other.
Many of the things I’ve witnessed on this forum lately are not a reflection of our best selves—not to my eyes, and not to the eyes of some kid out there pouring over your comments for idle distraction.
It is really high time that we start acting like the classy community that we are. I hope that me sharing my story, including some of my failed dreams and frustrations, helps you to understand that there is a real person at the end of every commenter handle.
As such, we shouldn’t feel inclined to:
- Attack someone’s intelligence/sincerity
- Imply that they must be drunk or inebriated to hold a certain opinion
- Questions someone’s credentials or qualifications for having an opinion (EVERYONE here is entitled to whatever whacky opinion they have, so long as it isn’t hurtful or discriminatory)
I think we can do a better job on all of these fronts, but it will take come patience on everyone’s part. As ever, you are always encouraged to message myself or Aaron if you see anything unacceptable from another community member.
It’s still hard to explain to people like Rob why I do this—why I’m so compelled to write about and talk about baseball at every opportunity, despite never being able to play the game with any success. It’s still hard for me to explain to my Mom what it is that I do, knowing that once upon a time she implanted a dream in my ear that has stayed with me forever since. And it’s still hard for me to talk to my Dad about anything except—what else?— baseball.
But you, Gaslamp Reader, should at least understand what it is that I’m doing here. For those of you who have come for the first time or the thousandth to this site, the reason is the same—to discuss a game, a team, a town, and a common character. We came here, as crazy as it may seem to other people, to talk baseball.
Let’s not forget that.