Saturday, October 26, 2013

What Bounces And Rolls

Baseball is down to its last hurrahs with football well under way and the basketball season soon to come. Who cares, is a legitimate question for any mature, rational adult to ask. After all, athletes are arrogant, vainglorious, inarticulate brutes. Right? And owners are unyielding, greedy and obscenely rich. Furthermore collegiate sports programs have caused universities to lose their primary mission as they exploit their student-athletes.

Only an incorrigible fan who never grew up watches the World Series. I know. I’m one of them; unless, of course, you live in Boston or St. Louis and can’t help yourself.  My Dodgers have already gone home waiting till next year. So I must slip into the skin of one team and generate a slight antipathy for their opponent. It’s make-believe, this suspension of objectivity. Fans share the secret allegiance for a few hours. It’s no more indefensible than wearing a Halloween costume. One can be civil and constrained for only so long. Repressed vehemence is uncaged.

Being a sports fan is so demanding, so time-consuming, so distracting and ultimately inconsequential. And that may be why I’ve embraced it for lo these many years. Strategizing offers the illusion of control and coherence. To the disinterested, football is a game of violence. For students of the game it is a human chessboard with a concussion here & there.

Sports, like politics is theater. Instead of mendacious, soporific speeches and pandering we get live human drama. The real debate that never happens in Congress at least takes shape on the playing field with unrehearsed outcomes; a form of meritocracy prevails. It may not be as meaningful as health coverage but I would argue that competition is a pre-existing condition of our species. No harm, no foul. Let fevered opponents, pretending to care, do battle as entertainment and sublimate, for a nation, the urge to enter into real combat spilling real blood.

As William Hazlitt the great English essayist wrote, Nature is made up of antipathies without which we should lose the very spring of thought. Life would turn into a stagnant pool were it not ruffled by …the unruly passions of men. This was written in the early part of the 19th century when all we had were tugs-of-war and pitching horse-shoes; no sports bars, slam-dunks or point spreads.

The operative words, for me, are transit, transformation and transcendence. This has been a difficult year in the real world. I need my alternative universe. When my team loses I grumble for twenty minutes and push it away from my consciousness. But when they win, I win. They have represented me well, my imagined speed, power, agility, and grace; the competitive spirit I have otherwise disowned.

In last week’s playoff series the Dodgers were painted as overpaid Hollywood types, hot dogs, disrespectful to baseball traditions. The Cardinals became the team with proper decorum exhibiting little emotion in the manner of Middle America. Subtext: The Dodgers have a preponderance of Latinos particularly from the Caribbean. They brought a child-like enthusiasm to the game, a dimension apparently offensive to those who still regard baseball as an American pastoral sport. Seen through a political lens this was a contest between changing demographics. Si habla beisbol.   

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