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Category: Sports

We Are the Champions
I’ll admit it. I can’t drain the three from half court the way Steph Curry does. I might be able to heave it in once in a hundred tries, but not with such grace and ease — and certainly not with such regularity. There is no way I could pick the hot grounder in the style of Brandon Crawford, either, much less plant and throw in one smooth, powerful motion. I am not a professional athlete.

But I am a fan, and I can appreciate these feats. My sinews twitch sympathetically when I witness that kind of physical mastery. It is as if my muscles are dreaming of such acts themselves, imagining greater versions of something similar they might have done.

What’s more, I have never brought tens of thousands to their feet, roaring their approval for my on-field heroics. I’ve had my moments, but never that kind of acclaim. Such ovations are reserved for a special few.

I am fine with that. When I root for Steph Curry, I can feel his basketball wizardry as if it were my own. Through Brandon Crawford, I can exhilarate in the cheers as if I were on the field with my teammates, hoisting the World Series trophy in celebration. This is the single greatest benefit of sports fanhood — being a vicarious champion.

And even though I find myself drifting away from the brutality of football, I can still stand at the very peak of that sport. This week I shared that mythic moment with journeyman back-up QB Nick Foles of the Philadelphia Eagles. We rose to the moment with our against-all-odds, career-defining, MVP performance in the clutch. We basked together in the glow of victory. I have no bruises to show for my borrowed triumph, no gaudy ring, no winner’s purse. But I am fulfilled.

A paycheck? No thanks, I’m in it for the glory.
Little Big Man
The last time I was 5'6" tall I was an eighth grader. That's not exceptionally tall for a boy of that age, but it's above average. I remember hoping at the time that the trend would continue and I would grow up to be six feet plus as a man.

Well, here I am now, all grown up. And though I sometimes fantasize about being twelve or thirteen again, I never wish that I would shrink back down to my height at that age. It's better to be tall, I've always thought, no matter what.

But now - or at least this week - I have reconsidered my position. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad to be five feet, six inches. Or even five-five, as long as I was Jose Altuve.
These are difficult days in the universe of baseball. Or at least in my universe. The San Francisco Giants, world champs in three of the last seven seasons, can’t catch a break this year. They don’t stink, exactly, but they don’t smell of roses either.

As we emerge from the All-Star break, it is the universe of the Los Angeles Dodgers that gives off the fragrant aroma of good fortune and high hopes. With the irrepressible Astros of the American League, they share the best record in major league baseball. At the points where L.A.’s universe overlaps the Giants’, interestingly, we lead 6 wins to 4. That, however, is faint consolation to me and my last-in-the-West team. We can’t hit, we can’t pitch, and our world-class horse Madison Bumgarner hurt his pitching arm…dirt biking.

The Dodgers, by contrast, can do no wrong. Their horse, Clayton Kershaw, is his usual dominant self. Their starting third baseman has the highest batting average in either league. Last week they came from behind to win with a walk-off walk that was preceded by three other walks. The baseball gods aren’t just smiling on Da Bums, they’re grinning from ear to ear.

Now, I have friends who are Dodgers fans. Everybody knows a few. They’re always very nice about the Giants. Root for them outside the rivalry and all that. At the very least, I appreciate the gesture. This year, though, it is L.A. who is on the crest of the wave, and now my friends wish to seduce me into rooting for the Dodgers. “Your boys are out of it,” they say. “Why not root for us?”

As I say, these are difficult days in my baseball universe. I am not a Dodger hater, but I know that I cannot root for them to win it all. It would run counter to the fundaments of my rooting philosophy. I recall that my father stressed a geographical rationale in his rooting patterns. Once his team was eliminated from contention, he rooted for the team whose ballpark was physically closest to ours. That, in this case, would be the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Sorry Dad, but no. I’m not sure where L.A. ranks in my hierarchy of second choices, but it is not near the top. Could the Bosox swear allegiance to the Evil Empire in a similar situation? Would Auburn ever root for the Crimson Tide? Of course not. And to my bluish friends: it’s not personal, it is an axiomatic rooting principle — right there in your copy of the Rooter’s Bible.

Things have changed since my father’s day. The Giants/Dodgers rivalry has evolved since moving west. It was a spirited match-up in New York, but now a whole new dimension has been added. In The Big Apple, neither team was ever going to dislodge the Yankees as the alpha dog. But now the Yanks are out of the picture, and the Giants and Dodgers contend for bragging rights to the biggest state in the union. It has turned into, if not a blood feud, then the kind of classic rivalry that divides the universe into opposites. Like matter and antimatter, those two realities cannot intermix.

So I must focus, as Buster Posey does, on the next pitch. I cannot be distracted by yesterday’s game or “maybe next year” or solicitations from the antimatter universe. I am caught between my default position (hang tough, we can still win this thing) and mathematical elimination. I’ve just got to keep playing.

If I were to look forward (though it would be a violation of the proper rooting posture), I can imagine that mathematics might well catch up with the Giants this year. For the sake of this writing, then, let me entertain the possibility that I might end up rooting for some other team to win it all. Who would that be? As a nod to my father, let me suggest one geographically appropriate answer: the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

So you see, my Dodger friends, it’s not personal. I’m rooting strictly by the book. If the Giants fall, it’s go Angels. The Rooter’s Bible tells me so.
Win or Lose, You Decide
Okay, I’m going to say right now that it’s me. I am a dinosaur, a relic of a bygone age. I am out of step with modern norms of interpersonal conduct. Sometime during the last generation, it seems, there was a major shift in acceptable social behavior, and I have been slow to adapt.

I’m talking about touching. No, not that kind of touching, sickee. Ordinary physical contact. Hugging is perhaps the most obvious example. In recent years it has somehow become expected that we embrace others at greeting and parting, even people we barely know. The handshake and the friendly pat on the back are still around, but such modest displays of familiarity have been superseded by the intimacy of a full, two-armed embrace.

So be it. Customs change (sometimes rapidly) within a culture, and sometimes, as with hugging, across cultural boundaries. Human interaction, like language, is an ever-evolving form of communication. I accept that. I am concerned, however, by a parallel development within the world of athletic competition.

I’m not sure when it started, but there has been a sharp uptick in communicative touching in sports. The change is most noticeable to me in basketball. A teammate will miss a free throw, say, and every single member of his or her team will shake the hand of the free thrower or make physical contact in some way.

It never used to be this way. I don’t remember anyone bumping fists with Wilt Chamberlain after any of his 5,805 missed free throws. They certainly didn’t say or do anything to show him up, like moaning or rolling their eyes, but they didn’t pat him on the back, either. So why did that change?

I know that these acts are meant to signal solidarity and encouragement, but they trouble me. Part of my objection is that these gestures might send the wrong message to a teammate. I don’t think our free thrower would think that his buddies are encouraging failure, exactly, but he might get the mistaken impression that his failure is not a problem. Worse yet, these touchings might be subliminally received as signs of consolation or pity. If they are, then they might actually weaken team chemistry and lead to yet more failure. All these roads lead to losing, and in sports, that is a bad thing.

Furthermore, the touching seems a bit perfunctory, like a ritual act that must be performed. Doesn’t it lose its meaning, mixed or otherwise, if it is obligatory? The whole thing smacks of touchy-feely overreach and coddling, and I don’t see how that helps the team. Shouldn’t this kind of positive communication be reserved for success rather than failure?

Please don’t misunderstand me. There is more to sports than winning. It’s important to enjoy the contest regardless of the outcome, blah, blah, and blah. But this is competition we’re talking about. It doesn’t work as an enjoyable pastime if the participants aren’t actually trying to win. And when you get to the NBA or the Olympics, that drive is what makes the game fun. We’re not supposed to feel good about failure in this context. If we don’t feel bad about losing, then we’re not truly competing, and the whole thing becomes a charade. Who won? Who cares? Let’s have a round of hugs and all go home happy. I’m sorry, but I just don’t see the point.

I’m not a natural hugger, but I like it well enough, I guess. Most humans could use a little more shared intimacy in their lives. I’ll even hug total strangers if that will really help. When it comes to sports, however, I prefer the old ways. We’re not playing nice, we’re playing to win. If you make that free throw, I’ll give you a high five. If you miss it, I know I can count on you to try harder next time.
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee