A curated article written by Mark Newman for MLB

A record 76 million fans attended Major League Baseball games in 2006, and all signs point toward yet another single-season mark in 2007. On this Valentine’s Day, MLB.com decided to investigate this torrid love affair more closely by asking people around the game this simple question: “Why do you love baseball?”

Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter: “I think because everybody can relate. You don’t have to be seven feet tall; you don’t have to be a certain size to play. Baseball is up and down. I think life’s like that sometimes, you know. Back and forth, up and down, you’re going through this grind. I think people like watching it. Baseball’s like a soap opera every day.”

Ernie Banks, Cubs legend and Hall of Famer: “It’s just life. When I think about baseball, it’s just life. It’s really the way life is. It requires a lot of mental capacity to be involved in it. It creates a lot of joy for people and memories for people who follow it. It’s a family. You like it because it’s a family. You started with it and know all these people — it’s family, it’s friends, it’s fun, it’s a beautiful game. All in all, baseball is amazing. I wish everybody could play it for at least two years. I wish everybody — men and women.”

Indians manager Eric Wedge: “The game gets inside you. It becomes a part of who you are, and you don’t know anything different. It’s just something you feel passionate about. If you really feel that strong about something and you feel something that special, it’s really hard to put it into words. For me, the love of the game is a given. It’s been the one constant that I’ve known, for as far back as I can remember.”

A’s general manager Billy Beane: “What I love is that when it is Valentine’s Day you’re getting real close to going to Arizona and to me there is something real pure about Spring Training. Most of us are getting out of a long winter, and it’s nice to get outside and be in the sunshine in February. To me, Spring Training is my favorite time of year for baseball. It’s the most relaxing time as an executive.”

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard: “I think it’s just the overall atmosphere: to be able to come out in the summer, nice weather — you can bring your kids and make it a family event. People just can come out and have fun.”

Joel Kweskin, 56, White Sox fan based in Charlotte, N.C.: “It’s unique unto itself. Football, basketball and hockey are variations of the same concept — back and forth in a linear progression to score a goal. Baseball, however, is mapped out on the field unlike any other sport. A running back or return specialist can run 100 yards, tops; a baserunner legging out an inside-the-park homer runs 20 yards farther. Baseball is the most democratic of sports — any size can play, and because the ball is not controlled by the offense but rather the defense, every player at any given time is involved in a play. Along with the anecdotally accepted premise that hitting a pitched baseball is the single most difficult thing to do in sports, so might be fielding a 175-mph line drive or grounder down the line. I love baseball because it is the greatest game ever invented.”

Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon: “Makes you feel like a kid again every day, you do it every day. And that’s what makes it so attractive.”

Giants bench coach Ron Wotus: “Baseball has always been in my blood, and there’s nothing like being on grass outdoors, playing the game. It’s a great feeling just to hit the ball and have some success. The pace is slower and it’s a thinking man’s game, and there are so many different facets of it. And because so many people have played it, from Little League on up, they can still give their opinion on what’s happening on the field, what kind of pitch should be thrown next.”

Former Royals star Willie Wilson: “The first thing is, I don’t think there’s any criteria for size, so anybody can play. I think people can relate. A lot of people never played football; basketball, you’ve gotta be tall and be able to jump. But baseball is a game where you pick up a bat and a ball, and you catch it, you swing the bat and you hit the ball. Most people have played softball or some kind of baseball, so they can relate to the sport. For me, that’s why I think America just embraces baseball, man.”

A’s outfielder Milton Bradley: “I just love getting together with a group of 25 guys and everybody is working together on a common goal. I like competition whatever the sport. Baseball for me is the hardest thing to do. That’s why I ventured into baseball. It’s more difficult than any other sport and I just liked the difficulty of it. I like a challenge.”

Cyn Donnelly, 38-year-old Boston author of Red Sox Chick, the most popular fan-written MLBlog: “I love baseball because my parents love baseball and even as a kid I knew it could be something that connected us no matter what else was going on in our lives. I love watching young players come up, I love watching mediocre players do well, even if only for a game. I love watching a struggling player come out of a slump. I love seeing the unexpected, which happens an awful lot in baseball. Unlike any of the other major sports, baseball gives a team many chances to do well. In a three-game series with the opposing team, you can lose one game and still come out of the series up. It makes every minute of the game ‘important’. Baseball is a wonderful diversion from my real life. Especially when my real life isn’t going quite the way I planned.”

Royals outfielder David DeJesus: “It’s such a team game. You can’t rely on one guy to win the game. You build relationships, you make good friends out here, and you’re having fun with 25 guys from different places all over the country. I grew up loving it because my Dad always loved it. We practiced together, we watched baseball games together, so it’s one of those things I’ve always been around.”

Royals outfielder Joey Gathright: “I can’t really put it into words. It’s not something I really grew up around in Mississippi. All they do is play football. But, when I was a kid, I was in awe of Rickey Henderson and Ken Griffey Jr., so I just fell in love with those guys and later I fell in love with baseball.”

The Lealie family of Spring Valley, Calif.: During the recent FriarFest event, Jazmine, 4, tugged at father Marc all the way into PETCO Park, with 2-year-old brother Quincy bouncing in stride, eyes bright and alive. “Man, she loves this place,” said Marc, formerly of Chicago. “I mean, Jazmine really loves PETCO Park, everything about it. These two are Junior Padres now. They come to games every Sunday. Her favorite player is Mike Cameron.”

Lorenzo Bundy, manager of Mexico at the Caribbean Series and manager of the Dodgers’ Triple-A Las Vegas affiliate: “I love the camaraderie and being around the guys. There is nothing like coming to the park and smelling the grass every day. It’s the greatest game in the world … and on any given day anybody can win. That’s how the ball bounces and that’s fun. They are probably going have to bury me in this uniform.”

See the entire article here.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. Contributing to this story from MLB.com were Anthony Castrovince, Bill Chastain, Rich Draper, Justice B. Hill, Dick Kaegel, Tony Kuttner, Carrie Muskat, Jesse Sanchez and Lyle Spencer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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