Restoring Old Leather…Part 2

This a three-part series on how I’ve come to recapture my love for America’s favorite pastime.

I consider myself a fan of sports in general. In their purest state, I don’t consider any sport significantly superior to another but I, like everyone else, have some preferences.

Team or individual sports, the particular skills that I may value over others, the influence of organizations and money, the structure of the rules and how they affect the competitiveness of the game…there are many things to consider. Especially, if you enjoy deeply thinking through things as I. If you’re reading this blog, you probably do too.

The bulk of my sports participation has been in individual sports – wrestling, boxing, taekwondo, track & field. However, there is something about the team game that I’ve always enjoyed that goes beyond kinesthetic mastery. Well-executed coordination steals the breath away from your body as your eyes strain to burn the image permanently into your memory.

Bernie's kick of death. (The Winning Run)

Bernie’s kick of death. (The Winning Run)

6-5-4-3 triple play – jaw falls open – breath – YES! DID THAT JUST HAPPEN!?

Then more information crashes like waves upon the beaches of your mind…

That clinched the wild card! On the last game of the season! We’re going to the playoffs!

I’ve seen this in boxing and other individual sports and it exhilarates me as well. But the bond between the players in celebration almost becomes tangible. That emotional force has a special character doesn’t compare well seen in contrast to the gratefulness an athlete has for the people who supported him on his rise to the top. Having teammates emphasizes the collaborative efforts and complex series of connections that occurred.

Life is full of interconnections that we often overlook. Studying music was one of the activities that defined my teenage development. Those kinds of interests may shuffle you into others because of strange circumstances. It’s because of music that I began to love the game of football. Why? I joined the marching band.

Virginia Tech's marching band showing some Hokie Pride. (www.wikipedia.org)

Virginia Tech’s marching band showing some Hokie Pride. (www.wikipedia.org)

So when you’re in the band at a football game, you have to pay attention to what’s going on. Fight song – when our team scores. Ride of the Valkyries – when the offense takes the field. The Imperial March – when the defense gets on. Hey Song – when the cheerleaders want to do aerials. Pay attention to the drum major so we know when to start and stop. Even with all of the directions to bear in mind, there can be a lot of tedium giving the band members time to chat, bond, and make memories. Then it’s off to college and do it all over again but on a bigger scale. Now you’re following scores throughout the week and hoping your team gets a bowl game that the school will pay for you to attend. But it’s only for football. There isn’t a marching band playing Take Me Out to the Ballgame during the 7th inning stretch. Maybe that’s why more of my piano/organ player friends are baseball fans and regular churchgoers.

At the high school graduation for a 4-star recruit going to a highly ranked Division IA college football program, there was an interesting announcement. Many of the students, who received special awards and scholarships, had their accomplishments announced. This recruit’s “scholarship” included a Jeep Grand Cherokee. You can let that marinate for a while.

College Football's National Signing Day has become a media circus, both good and bad. (www.realclearsports.com)

College Football’s National Signing Day has become a media circus, both good and bad. (www.realclearsports.com)

Watching ESPN as religiously as many sports fanatics, I began to wonder if these news anchors (I’m using this term loosely) and analysts (once again, a far cry from what it should be) realized the terrible value judgments they were making when propping up or taking down athletes for their issues with the system, the general public, their teammates, etc. Once you’ve emotionally uncoupled yourself from the sports matrix, sports scandals and their subsequent melodramas don’t flirt with the absurd. They are the epitome of it.

The multi-billion dollar sports economy will never function free of corruption but there are pockets where it is strong and weak. Sometimes you just take what you can get. In doing so, you find you have more than you asked for.

What does this have to do with baseball and rekindling a love for the game?

Major League Baseball has had its share of scandals and continues to deal with social issues about fair play, affordable tickets, and player health/salary problems. What drew me back to baseball as a fan is an acceptance of responsibility that seems to be lacking in football and basketball. You see open discussion about the old negro league, performance enhancing drugs, off-field substance abuse problems, and so much more. Some may say that it’s because there’s a deeper history to draw from but I believe there’s more.

Bob Gibson was the picture of intimidation on the mound. (www.rayonsports.com)

Bob Gibson was the picture of intimidation on the mound. (www.rayonsports.com)

For me, the glamour of NFL and NBA marketing collapsed upon the deteriorating foundation of a warped game. We’re starting to see this being called into question. The human element has been stripped from the adjudication of the game or suspiciously inserted to fabricate preferred monetary outcomes. Lowering the mound because Bob Gibson’s (and a few other MLB slingers at the time) tremendous dominance is different than forcing defensive backs who are generally smaller than wide receivers to have less options for playing defense so that fans get to see more touchdowns scored. The number of YouTube videos showing NBA superstars breaking gameplay rules, like traveling and double dribbling, is comical. Watching women play with more grit and determination in World Cup games than men who swan dive because a hand flicked in their direction breaks my sports fan heart.

Don’t see the difference? It’s in the spirit of creating a competitive playing field rather than exploiting a loophole.

Baseball demands athletes of a variety of skill sets and combinations. A single specialist cannot determine the outcome of games and seasons such as we’ve seen with the other four major sports leagues. It’s a more honest game for a time when people need it. It’s a game that demands long-term thinking and patience rather than reactionary trades and changes. That’s not to say that they don’t exist but, in baseball, that’s seen as a signal of weakness rather than one for positive change.

It’s not perfect but it’s honest. That’s perfect for me.

BL

*I want to clarify my remark on the comparison of how women and men play soccer. It’s not that I don’t believe women are dainty flowers or such nonsense. It’s that the women play harder but get less television exposure, less prize money from FIFA and their governments, and less gender-neutral marketing. This difference, in that I have to laboriously search for a sports bar that will play a women’s World Cup match on their main screen, is what I find appalling. Especially since they play the game with more of the heart and hustle that I respect above all.

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