Category Archives: sport culture

football

TRIBAL PLAYFARE

NOTES FROM THE HENGE
With two sports-related limericks for the price of one!
A baseball fan hopped in his car
And sped to the nearest sports bar
This might appear lame
(Since there wasn’t a game)
But the place served the bestcaviar
A golfing fan wracked with remorse
Tried to talk his wife out of divorce
But as much as he pleaded
His words went unheeded
Which frankly, was par for the course.
I’ve been enjoying watching some of the World Cup games this year, which pretty much proves me a hypocrite and negates the entire post below. Ah, well. As usual: just thinkin’ out loud here, Peeps.
There’s no “ME” in “TEAM!” Wait —
TRIBAL PLAYFARE
In October of 1986 my then-girlfriend and my 27-year-old-self decided to watch the World Series. No, we weren’t into sports even a teensy-weensy bit, but we lived in Manhattan and there was such a fury about the Mets being in the series that year we thought – what the hell – let’s give it a shot. Go Mets.
I’d been raised in a family that had no interest in watching any sports (my father, I think, would rather’ve suffered through a Novocain-free root canal than a sporting event) and, with the occasional exception of catching a televised tennis match or some non-team event in the Olympics, I’d happily maintained that proud Emshwiller tradition right up to that point in my life.
But there I was, watching the World Series. And I could not have picked a better introduction to baseball in particular… and team sports in general. It was a thrilling, nail biting, breathtaking, neck-and-neck seven games – ending in the Mets squeaking by to glorious, well-earned victory. My girlfriend and I were captivated. During those seven amazing games over those seven amazing days, we sat on our couch, yelled at the TV, and fell in love with our team. We learned the names of all our favorite players (she particularly liked the cute, curly-haired catcher, Gary Carter), and started to figure out each guy’s strong suits, weaknesses, quirks, and personality traits. (Who was a spitter, a cusser, a brooder, a wack-job, a nut scratcher? And what the hell was a “breaking ball?”) I still can remember many of the names: Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Rick Aguilera, Lenny Dykstra, Mookie Wilson, Ron Darling, Keith Hernandez, Howard Johnson, and on and on. They became like family in seven short days. We happily rooted for them. They were our guys. Our Mets. 
We were sold. During the long winter that followed we could barely wait until the next season started. When it finally did, we eagerly turned on the very first game our Mets competed in. And were crestfallen. Half the players on the team had been traded and now played for other teams. Our Mets weren’t our Mets any more. They were different people.
Suddenly we didn’t care.
This, I think, is why I’ll always have trouble with team sports. I don’t really know how to root for an abstraction. I’m a person-rooter, not a concept-rooter. I can get excited about particular, specific homo sapiens, but I can’t get all that excited about a flag or a city name or a logo or team moniker.
If, in the end, it doesn’t really matter if all the players get traded to Podunk, the coach leaves to open a vegan steakhouse, and the manager retires to paint gerbil portraits, then who exactly am I rooting for? My uncles used to joke about “Granddad’s Hatchet.” This was an old family hatchet which, over the years, had gotten its handle replaced multiple times and even its head swapped out more than once. So there was actually nothingof the original left to it. But it was still “Granddad’s Hatchet,” just because reasons.
This is how I feel about team sports. I’m supposed to care about one team over another (even if all the human “parts” involved have been swapped around) because reasons.
But I do kinda understand. I do. Sociologists often spout off about how team sports are a way for fans to channel their natural aggression and release all their innate warlike tendencies in a (hopefully) non-violent way. Us against them. Our tribe against those assholes on the other side of the hill. Maybe so. Evolution and whatnot. Cool. I don’t begrudge anyone this cathartic experience if they need it. And, no joke, I support all my friends and family who love team sports. (Heck, my ‘86 Mets experience was matched by a very similar Lakers one not too long ago. ‘Nother story.)
Extra team members are a good thing, right?
The thing is: It just isn’t for me. Probably never will be.
Maybe some of my lack of “team sports love” comes from being a loner most of my life. I don’t seem to feel that same sense of “My Tribe” that some do. When there’s a disaster overseas and hundreds of lives are lost but the U.S. news reporters focus on the fact that “three of those killed were Americans,” I can’t help but think, “Why should I care more about those three strangers than I do about those hundreds of other tragically dead strangers who don’t happen to be American?”
I occasionally even, and I know a few of you will consider this despicable, feel that way about issues like our jobs being outsourced. When someone rails, for example, about losing American jobs to India, I know I’m supposed to be super upset. Yet (exploitation and salary abuses aside), if I’m really honest with myself, I’d be delighted if some person in Calcutta who’s a huge Star Trek fan and who loves reading fiction, eating Italian food, listening to Broadway musicals, and blogging about nothing-in-particular snagged a decent job so he/she can now feed the family… whereas I wouldn’t necessarily feel all that horrible if, because of that particular Calcuttian’s new job, some tea-partyin’, Ted-Nugent-loving, Duck-Dynasty-watchin’, Chick-fil-A-lover from Duluth (who runs a dog-fighting ring on the weekends) lost his gig answering phones for Time Warner Cable.
I guess my “tribe” is more about personality, common interests, and common loves than about common borders, common language, flags, and arbitrary labels.
But, as usual, I digress.
Okay. Back to sports to finish this mess up. I mentioned the Olympics earlier in this post. I love watching them, but, as you’ve probably guessed by now, I watch them a little differently than most. I don’t find myself automatically rooting for the USA as a rule. I instead tend to root for any cool athletes who’s skills and talent I admire, or who seem to be interesting people, or who are fun long-shot underdogs, or whose life-stories and personal struggles touch me in some compelling way. And those kinda folks hail from all over the freakin’ globe.
Truth is the only team sport I currently watch now is professional cycling (yes, it’s a team sport – look it up!), yet, true to form, after following it for a dozen years I no longer actually cheer for any particular team. I instead cheer for my favorite specific athletes, who are, at this point, spread out in all over the damn board on many, many different teams and from many, many different countries. It’s actually a pretty fun way to watch. Any game, I think. Give it a shot, sports fans.

That said, if you can gather the 1986 Mets team together again, I’m in. Go Mets.