I’m one of the millions of Americans who, when the inevitable grade school writing assignment came, told my teacher “When I grow up, I want to be a professional baseball player.”  It didn’t work out (neither did my second choice – a penguin).

But the seeds of my lifelong sports fandom were sown with that essay. I think the primary reason I watch and follow the sports I do today is because I still cling to a childlike wonder when I marvel at how these athletes can make it look so easy to do things that I know from (humble) experience are extremely difficult.

Have you ever tried to make solid contact on a 95 MPH fastball with a thin wooden club in a batting cage? How about stickhandling and shooting a puck into a compact net while on ice skates? Now imagine trying to do those things while someone else just as talented as you tries to prevent you from doing them, with thousands of onlookers scrutinizing you. Ridiculous, right?

It’s a complicated world, but my inner idealist still believes in the unscripted and pure beauty of athletic competition. Individuals and teams striving to constantly improve, to perform at their peak levels, for one to emerge as the “winner”…but with a respectful solidarity among all the contestants and a grateful appreciation for the sport itself. That might sound naïve, but I don’t care.

Being a sports fan can absorb you and frustrate you. It can drain your emotions and your finances. It can even stir groundless animosity toward strangers in other cities who root for different laundry than you do.

But when enjoyed with proper balance and perspective, sports – at their untainted best – can inspire and unite people from all walks of life. Except for umpires – they’re blind as bats.