I am obsessed with baseball

My name is Justin Sayers and I have an unhealthy obsession with baseball. I know, I know, it sounds pathetic. However, to me, baseball is as important to life as eating, breathing and sleeping.

I played the game since I was five years old, starting out in tee ball and ending as an 18-year-old outfielder at Milken Community High School. I recently figured out that I’ve watched more than 1,000 games of my favorite team, the Atlanta Braves. I have even attended more than 20 games in four Major League stadiums and have been outside of three more.

As a result of my obsession, my family and friends would always get me baseball memorabilia as gifts on my birthday and Hanukkah. Over my 20 years, I’ve accumulated a collection of items that includes a jersey, thousands of baseball cards and two foam tomahawks.

However, out of all the baseball memorabilia I have, it is something that I don’t have that means the most to me.

When I was seven years old, my dad got me Triple Play Baseball, which was my first baseball video game. Just a couple years removed from playing on the Atlanta Braves in my tee ball league, they automatically became my go-to team. I was addicted to the game’s Home Run Derby game mode and would always pick Chipper Jones as my contestant. As simple as it was, this was start of an unhealthy obsession with a baseball player.

“I am a huge Braves fan. I watch almost every game,” read a letter I wrote to Jones to third grade. My teacher had assigned us to write a letter to our role model and then actually send it.

With help from Turner Broadcasting System, the 8-year-old version of me would sit in front of the television at 4 p.m. on weekdays with a bag of sunflower seeds and chewing gum and watch every Braves game. Therefore it wasn’t odd for me for sign the letter with, “Your biggest fan, Justin Sayers.”

“Ball four!” I took my base with two outs in the bottom in the seventh inning of the championship of the Tournament of Champions as an 11-year-old. Squinting through my fog-filled goggles, I used my speed to steal second base. Standing on second base, my teammate lifted an innocent pop-up to the third baseman. The ball hit off the fielder’s glove and hit the ground with a thud. Already hustling because there were two outs, I scored the winning run easily.

With my baseball-playing career in full swing, I had forgot about the third-grade assignment. It was later that summer that I received an unexpected letter in the mail.

“I wanted to write to personally thank you for interest in me and the Atlanta Braves,” it said. “It is people like yourself that make the game of baseball the greatest sport in the world…In an effort to be fair to all those that send items to me, I have decided to purchase and sign and a photograph at my own expense and return it to you.” The name at the bottom read, “Chipper Jones.”

Extremely excited, I began digging through the envelope. Nothing. I unfolded and refolded the letter. Still nothing. I turned the envelope upside down and began shaking it. There was nothing there.

It did not take long for me to get over the initial disappointment of not finding the autographed picture. It had been a couple years since I had mailed the letter, so just receiving a response was satisfaction enough. The letter hung on my door for years before I took it down and stashed it in my desk drawer.

On June 4, 2010, the Milken Community High School Wildcats played the Cornerstone Christian Eagles in the CIF-SS Division 7 Championship and lost 5-1. With the score 2-1 in the bottom of the sixth inning, I was in right field when a line drive was hit right towards me. Giving my best effort, I dove for the ball and came up just short. Two runners scored and the deficit proved to be too much to overcome. That was the end of my baseball-playing career.

It took me over a year to file away all the memories of the second-place finish into my keep-safe box. During last summer, I decided to purge my room of all my unnecessary collectibles and sort them into one box. While going through my stuff, I stumbled onto something familiar that I hadn’t seen in a while. It was the letter from Chipper Jones.

Just a couple months before, Chipper Jones announced that he was going to retire at the end of the 2012 season. Even though I knew that at 40 years old his career was dwindling down, it was still shocking to realize my worst nightmare. He eventually played his final game in October, with the Braves losing to the St. Louis Cardinals 6-3 in the first round of the playoffs. After the game, I cried hysterically realizing that the nightmare had become a reality.

A few months before his career ended, I had decided to mail a follow-up letter to Jones, acknowledging that he had forgot to send me the autographed picture he had mentioned in his letter. I retyped my letter, explaining what had happened and included a picture of me at a Braves game that I had gone to at Chase Field in Phoenix, Ariz. That game was the last time I got to see Jones play in person.

Now that Chipper Jones’ career is effectively over, the upcoming season will be the first time since 1995 that Chipper Jones will not be playing third base for the Braves. With the 2013 baseball season set to start in less than a month, it is going to be weird to not see No. 10 on the Braves’ lineup card.

While there may never be another Chipper Jones, I don’t have to officially close the book on the 14-year chapter of my life until I receive a response. And if he writes back to me or not, baseball and the Atlanta Braves will continue to be an important part of my life.

Note: This assignment was completed for my Journalism 411: Feature Writing class.