The Real Sports Stars

The best thing I’ll probably read today was by George Weigel.

The midseason break also brings to mind a legend from my baseball youth: 15-year All-Star Brooks Robinson, who arrived in Baltimore before my 10th birthday and reinvented the playing of third base. The true nature of his greatness—a human decency that is one expression of the Catholicism he embraced in 1970—was neatly captured by a teammate, Ron Hansen: “In New York, they name candy bars after Reggie [Jackson]; in Baltimore, they name their children after Brooks.” As Brooks Robinson struggles with the pains of age and disease, he remains, in so many hearts and minds, a perennial All-Star as a man.

I love these purple prose odes to baseball, especially since, now almost thirty and a father of three, I have just recently converted to baseball: I have no grandfather’s catechesis in the mysterious mists of my memory.

But they always run smack into the sad reality that we boys from working class towns that aren’t the darlings of ESPN like Boston and Los Angeles, can not hope to see our teams win the big prize, which would be nice, or even (usually) get to compete for it—which makes these wistful meditations bittersweet.

But thinking of this and thinking of the travesty that is the Boston Red Sox reminds me of an e-mail I received from a friend—a former colleague who had been a speechwriter on Capitol Hill for many years—a few years ago, after we traded banter during the 2007 ALCS, when my Indians gave up a 3-1 game lead and lost the series to his Red Sox 3-4.

Hey man,

No, there’s another now, a boy due in late August.

And I guess it’s been a while and you haven’t heard the news – I resigned my Red Sox fanship last spring.  The financing system in MLB had been bothering me for years, and I always promised myself if there was another strike I’d become a Royals fan or something.

Nagging, nagging, nagging.  And then last April – just like this past weekend – the Sox were playing the Yankees. Fox on Saturday, ESPN on Sunday night, naturally – and I realized after watching a few innings that I didn’t care anymore.  I couldn’t get out of my head the image of an eight year old kid in Milwaukee or Kansas City or wherever, knowing that their favorite players were leaving, that 20 of the 30 teams essentially exist to get to the other 10 ready for October, that both the free agent arms race and the stupid luxury tax revenue sharing system raped the fan bases of smaller market teams… and I quit.  I turned the game off, and the next day I turned on the local channel and have since become a rabid, card-carrying Nationals fan.

So, at least so far as the AL is concerned, go Tribe!

In time, I pretty much quit the Patriots and Celtics and Bruins, too.  The connection – except for the Celtics – was not at all the same.  I can never root against the C’s, except against the Bullets (like tonight!).  But I’ve gone all in, adopting all my hometown teams.  It’s liberating.  E[.] is most appreciative, having grown up here, too.  Though she didn’t realize this also meant my teams would be on TV every night instead of a few dozen times a year.

Reading this again now makes me think of my son at the Indians game we attended this summer in Baltimore, and how his beautiful, naïve excitement over one game out of 162 (the Indians won something like 12-4, racking up about 19 hits in the process), in the light of my friend’s sad picture, almost makes me want to weep.

Thanks, dear reader, should you ever find me, for being my gadfly.


About philokalos

Philologist, historian, and lover of great books, I started this blog to keep myself alert to the beauty of what I see amid the demands of my work.
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