Thursday, May 30, 2013

On Being a Fan

Part of me gives a damn. I don’t know why, I just do.

I thought maybe this season I’d put away childish things like the Bible says. But I had put away religion long ago. Now my only childish thing is sports, particularly baseball.

The young cannibal says to the elders, I don’t like missionaries. They reply, so eat your vegetables then. As sports fans we devour our heroes. We become them for a few hours, a day, a season. We love them to death... and if they falter, as they must, we boo them, return to the table and eat our vegetables. We’re actually booing ourselves for having invested in a mere mortal mistaking him/her for a god.

Baseball’s best fail two-thirds of the time. If they were law students they’d never pass the bar, And that‘s not necessarily a bad thing. If they were surgeons they’d have a pile of dead bodies. Fans are familiar with failure. But we celebrate our great hitters and pitchers for their relatively measly success.
In his final game, final at bat, Ted Williams hit a home run as something to remember him by, as if we needed it. He circled the bases with his head down in true baseball fashion. The crowd was on their feet cheering. His teammates were in awe. The stadium rocked. Fans were eye-witness to history. They begged Williams to take a curtain call. Opposing players cheered him, urged him out of the dugout, even the umpires. He refused. As John Updike put it, Gods don’t answer mail. The iconic ones are always remote.

A fan suspends his judgmental mind and sacrifices himself easier than laying down a sacrifice bunt. We slip into another skin. Without us these demigods would be collecting shopping carts in some parking lot. We know their hour in the sun is short. They need us and those of us who never grew up and hope never to, need them. It’s as if Ted Williams came from another planet; Krypton for instance. He could slow hurling objects like celestial bodies. He saw into craters on the moon and could count the stitches on a fastball. Perhaps he saw what we weren’t meant to see. The way Mozart heard music of the spheres Williams could reverse the spheres, launch them into orbit.
We fans must be looking for better versions of ourselves. There’s an ovation in our head, a swagger in our step. The game is so much easier from the couch. In the end we will taste the ultimate failure. Baseball prepares us well. There are strategies always in play on the field. Even more enduring are the stats etched in some great ledger to be chewed on endlessly by the faithful over lunch 65 years later. These are the fixed points we insist upon in a random uncertain world that won’t hold still.

Now hush, I know you are bored but fans see everything happening on the green grass. There is a lyricism to the three strikes, three outs. Of all team sports only baseball is played without a clock. It could last a lifetime. Late inning shadows are falling. One by one outs are made, at the plate, on the bases, in the field. The wind has stopped blowing; the flag is limp. The batter knocks out dirt that isn’t there from his spikes. Your early miscues have been forgiven. There is an enormous coiled silence only 37,912 can make. So much depends on the outcome... and so little.

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