While other sports are now in full swing, I couldn’t help but think about baseball among the snowy conditions we’ve received this week.

The postponements or cancelations of athletic events this past week plus because of inclement weather has allowed me to kind of get ready for baseball’s return.

I’ve mentioned several times before baseball is my favorite sport and that hasn’t and likely will never change.

This weekend marks the beginning of college baseball; high school baseball is on the upcoming horizon; pitchers and catchers reported for Spring Training at their team’s respective sites in Arizona and Florida; and Minor League Baseball schedules have been released, all within this past week.

While much of the central region of the south has been hammered by snow, below freezing temperatures and loss of power, it almost made me envious of seeing players in new uniforms getting to experience the warmer conditions of both Arizona and Florida.

It makes me excited to hear mits pop and to hear the crack of the bat.

It makes me thirst for being back in stadiums along with 30,000-plus fans cheering on my favorite team or booing the opposing team.

Throughout the offseason, I keep up as best as I can with all the different transactions, but it doesn’t seem like baseball is back until mid-February.

The start of Spring Training has always made me more excited about baseball returning and to help that rekindling of anticipation until the first pitch is thrown, I watched the ESPN 30 for 30 special “Long Gone Summer.”

For whatever reason, I didn’t get to watch it when it initially came out in 2020, but I watched it this week.

The focus of the documentary is the home run chase of 1998 between St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire and Chicago Cubs right fielder Sammy Sosa.

In a previous column, I mentioned how this energized me for watching baseball.

This season was the one that truly made me fall in love with the sport and one that has led to this moment, writing about my favorite sport.

Watching it, I was reminded of growing up watching this season unfold as best as a 7- to 8-year-old could at a time where I was a highly impressionable baseball fan.

As a kid from Springfield, Missouri, – right in the heart of Cardinal country – I remembered getting excited for Mark McGwire’s chance to catch and pass Roger Maris for a home run record that stood for 37 years.

I quickly found I was more of a fan of McGwire than I was of the Cardinals, and started my Chicago Cubs fandom.

But that ‘98 season was the beginning of a beautiful relationship between me and baseball.

I, of course, played some form of baseball before that season, but to me, McGwire was larger than life that season, perhaps larger than Sosa.

Rewatching McGwire’s line drive home run that just creeped over the left field wall to break Maris’ record 22 years later, brought back one of my first baseball memories. Chills filled my body watching McGwire miss first base and go back to touch it, shaking the hands of the Cubs infielders and embracing Sosa as he made his way from right field.

Many people point to this season as baseball’s revival after the 1994 strike that nearly killed baseball.

Watching “Long Gone Summer” showed the competition between McGwire and Sosa to not only get to and pass Maris’ record, but also be the league leader in home runs.

Both entered the final three games of the season with 65 home runs.

Sosa hit his 66th home run before McGwire did, but McGwire hit his 66th that night and eventually passed Sosa and hit 70 on the season.

McGwire’s record seemed like a far cry to get to after Maris’ stood for 37 years and then surpassed by nine.

Of course, Barry Bonds broke McGwire’s record three years later with 73 home runs.

But, almost as quickly as the home run chase made people happy and excited about baseball again, people became angered with baseball as players became associated with the rampant use of steroids.

Several players during that era whose numbers are good enough to make Cooperstown have been ostracized from the Hall of Fame.

Some have forgiven these players, but some have not.

Sosa hasn’t been invited back to Wrigley Field since the Cubs traded him after the 2004 season.

McGwire was elected to the St. Louis Cardinals’ Hall of Fame.

But despite all the steroid admissions and allegations, I’ll always remember that season as the one that developed my love for baseball.

Andy Robertson is the sports editor of the Log Cabin Democrat and can be reached at arobertson@thecabin.net.

Andy Robertson is the sports editor of the Log Cabin Democrat and can be reached at arobertson@thecabin.net.

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