It's finally happened. I never thought it would, but it has, much like gainful employment. I am, of course, talking about Sports-Induced Old-Man Syndrome.
This is a terrible disease that afflicts thousands of people every year, and can happen to anyone at any age beyond 20. Common symptoms include watching ESPN Classic every Saturday afternoon and using phrases like: "When I was young..." and "Remember when..."
If you had asked me back when I was younger if I thought I would be a victim of this disorder at such a young age (24), I would have scoffed loudly in your face. Or screamed and ran away, as you're a stranger. Either way, the important point is I would never have believed how close I was to SIOMS (pronounced "Sioms") at that time.
When I was young, I enjoyed the moment. I soaked up everything I was watching without dwelling on the past. I went from wanting to be Bret Saberhagen to wanting to be Roger Clemens to wanting to be Pedro Martinez effortlessly. Each new role model took the place of the former without a second thought.
Pedro was different.
I first heard of him in 1993 when he was playing for the Dodgers, and really became enthralled with him when he was with the Expos. I liked him mostly because he was small but very good. You see, when I was 14 years old I was under five feet tall with about the same body mass as a standard low-fat saltine cracker. And I desperately wanted to be a good pitcher.
Roger Clemens was my first hero, but he was nothing like me. He was tall and thick and covered in hair, and had been that way since the womb. Pedro, on the other hand, was just like me, except for the talent, heritage or the ability to legally drive. He was, however, a short, skinny guy who intimidated everyone he faced and won more often than a cheating Monopoly banker.
Then, in 1998, Pedro was traded to my hometown team, the Boston Red Sox. To put this into perspective for you youngin's, it was almost impossible to watch games outside of your area in the late nineties. There was no MLB.TV or giant cable sports packages or anything like that. The only way you could follow a player outside of your viewing zone was through the newspaper, or maybe SportsCenter.
So Pedro coming to the Sox meant that I could finally watch him everyday. And that first year he did not disappoint, but the seeds for true SIOMS were not really sowed until his sophomore season. That was when Pedro really laid the groundwork for his future HOF campaign by winning 23 games and striking out over 300 with an ERA near 2 by seasons end. And in the playoffs, he turned in one of the greatest playoff pitching appearances ever in Game Five of the ALDS. Truly stunning.
By the time his Cy Young and MVP bid came around, I knew that Pedro was my man. I would never again switch role models the way I did with Roger and Bret. And for the next several years, I was in the baseball equivalent of heaven, minus the harps. I never missed a single appearance.
The problem today is that I still imagine those glory days. Pedro is now a member of the Mets and is, staggeringly, a fairly average pitcher. Still good, mind you, but certainly not Pedro. And now, I catch myself talking about the old Pedro in much the same way old people talk about the '50s.
When my friends discuss the great game by Josh Beckett, I say things like, "Oh yeah? That's nothing! In 2000, Pedro would have struck out 20!" When ESPN talks about CC Sabathia making a push for the Cy Young, I find myself thinking, "If he was up against Pedro back in the day, they wouldn't even be talking about this clown!"
I'm still, to this day, viciously, violently bitter that Barry Zito stole the Cy from Pedro in 2002. There would be a very real danger of some serious criminal litigation were I ever to come into direct personal contact with anyone who voted against Pedro that year. It might also be best for Zito to keep his distance, just to be safe.
In conclusion, I offer a warning to all you young men and women out there: Don't take SIOMS lightly. You may not believe it can happen to you, but it surely can! And once it takes hold, you're doomed. There is no going back... Much like Pedro can't go back to 2002 and win just a few more games, even though he shouldn't have had to; he had a lower ERA, more strikeouts, a better WHIP and... and...