Some of the grandest rarities in life are those moments that make you feel like a kid again. It’s a special feeling — one part nostalgia and, when it’s good, one part elation.
Such was the experience three years ago at my first American Century Championship. And no, it wasn’t because I was hoping to get Steph Curry’s autograph or fawn over Justin Timberlake.
While navigating the hordes of people with my media badge and camera in tow, I kept thinking about all the names from my childhood who were out playing the course and mingling with fans along the way.
Many of those faces adorned cards that I voraciously collected in binders and boxes as a kid.
People like Roger Clemens, David Wells, Ivan Rodriguez, Kenny Lofton, Greg Maddux, Trevor Hoffman (no relation, although as a kid I did try to convince the neighborhood kids otherwise) and others.
There were NFL and NBA legends I regularly watched on TV; people like Brian Urlacher, Emmitt Smith and Ray Allen.
As a native of Cincinnati, Ohio, I had a deep familiarity with a few of the folks in the field. Carson Palmer and Marvin Lewis come to mind in particular. That personal history also meant there were a few names I loved to hate, especially Charles Woodson (from his college days) and Jerome Bettis.
All those memories — swapping baseball cards with friends in the neighborhood, watching Carson’s leg be mangled by the awful Steelers — were stowed away long ago and left untouched, much like the actual baseball cards.
Sports were a passion of my youth, but that day out at Edgewood I was a fan again. It was a strange feeling, given that all those people I idolized had traded in their jerseys for polo shirts and the field of play — particularly Hole 17 — felt more like spring break than a competitive sporting event.
My dad and younger brother came to Tahoe to attend the event in 2018. If I felt like a kid in 2017, my brother (a man in his mid 20s) reverted to elementary school. He stalked the course trying to get autographs from the likes of Rob Riggle and Ray Romano (both men gave him an autograph and were very friendly). We all left that day with smiles on our faces.
Organizers of the tournament will point to the fact that it draws thousands of people to Tahoe. They’ll highlight the millions of dollars raised for charities and nonprofits over the past 30 years — a noteworthy fact, indeed.
Some locals will grumble about another event bringing an influx of people to an area that feels over-saturated. They’ll point to the fun after-hours — which is typically fueled by alcohol and can, at times, get a bit Stormy — as an example of undesired branding.
In my mind, this tournament isn’t about any of those things, the good or the bad. It’s about feeling like a kid again. It’s about getting a fleeting taste of that freedom you had in the days of backyard baseball, when you’d step to the plate and mimic your favorite slugger.
Everything else — the picturesque views, perfect weather and on-course amenities — are just added bonuses.
Ryan Hoffman is the editor of the Tahoe Daily Tribune and Lake Tahoe Action.