Weird Thing, Sports

My dad called me on the phone Saturday morning.

I can count on one hand the times my dad has called me on the phone. Ever. Strangely enough, it’s happened twice in the past week. Last Tuesday he called to offer me his ticket to the next Raider home game.

The second call this week was to ask me if I had heard The News. The one about the passing of "Big Al." I told him I had. (Mom had beaten him by 20 minutes.)

(Now before you start to think this post is about the man that "destroyed" the Oakland Coliseum for eternity - most notably with the erection of the mountainous eyesore that bears his name - well, relax. It is not.)

Dad couldn’t get through on his first few attempts. That’s because my phone was blowing up. My oldest brother Ernie texted "Can’t believe how much loss I feel."

How, indeed.

Little did Al Davis know that a post was already in the works on why sports matter so much to us.

On the night that Alex Rodriguez swung through a Jose Valverde pitch to prematurely put an end to the Yankees’ season, the camera zoomed in on the faces of despair worn by fans who are accustomed to happier endings.

I know what you’re thinking. "Poor entitled Yankee fans. What do they know about suffering?"

Well, that’s not the point. The point is, why do any of us "suffer" over something so inconsequential as the final score of a ball game?

Take this faithful fellow following the Phillies' fall from grace last week:

The disappointment after the game was palpable. The slow crowded walk down the ramps from the upper deck to the ground floor had the cadence, sound, and ambiance of a death march.

Seems extreme, don’t it? Not if you’ve been on those marches before. And I have.

My nephew Greg used to say about a Raider loss: "It would ruin my whole week."

Writer Monte Poole took it a step further: "When the Raiders lost it would cast a pall over the entire neighborhood."

Baseball people don’t have the luxury in letting a loss consume them in such a way. There’s always a game the next day. Except when there’s not. Like those lonely Game 5’s that A’s fans endured...four years in a flipping row.

But it’s not only about the agony of defeat. The thrill of victory often brings us to lottery-ticket-winning heights. Every single person reading this has high-fived, fist-bumped, punched (looking at you Abel), hugged, or smooched a complete stranger because of something awesome their team has done.

Sports makes us do things we wouldn’t do in our normal, everyday lives. I barely get a handshake out of my brother John when we bump into each other, yet on one unforgettable autumn afternoon, he fought through a crowd of people to embrace me. It was one of those hard hugs, the kind where you don’t let go out of fear that what you just witnessed didn’t happen at all.

And it makes you wonder: what makes us fans in the first place? Go to a Little League game. The only people with chairs set up along the foul lines are there because their kid is on the field. Or related to someone whose kid is on the field. Even on the high school and collegiate level, I get it. The stands are mostly full of students and alumni or families of those students and alumni.

But what makes us pick a professional team? What makes 50,000 random people visit the same place on a Sunday (and as Mom likes to say, "Why are they not at church?") What makes you and hundreds of others log onto this very site to discuss Trevor Cahill’s FIP?

Why do we invest so much emotionally on adults playing a kid’s game, and furthermore, why do we pay hard-earned cash for the opportunity to have our hearts torn to shreds?

Well, because it’s fun, damn it.

To paraphrase Grant (names have been changed to protect the innocent, and by innocent, I mean me):

Think about why you like the (A’s). There are a bunch of specific reasons, I'm sure. Your grampapa took you to a game and gave you cotton candy and Twizzlers or some crap, and (Joe Rudi) hit two home runs. Something like that. Maybe your dad continued to follow them even though he never left the shadow of (Kansas City), but the team did. Maybe you just looked in a mirror and realized you looked like (Eric Plunk), and that's all you needed.

Whatever the reason, your choice in teams is totally arbitrary. It is. It's because you live in a certain area, or because your parents did, and because someone somewhere thought that moving for a job was the best thing for their family.

It's all meaningless! Everything! Sports! Your rooting interests! Life! Everything is meaningless!

So now that you've stared into that abyss, step back and embrace it.

Sports, we have learned, do more than make us kick off our shoes and do the happy dance, or drown our sorrows at the Whisky River saloon.

***

"And while the mourning and the suffering and the aftereffects will continue, in about thirty minutes the plate umpire, Vic Voltaggio will say ‘Play Ball', and the players will play, the vendors will sell, the announcers will announce, the crowd will exhort. And for many of the six million people in this region, it will be like revisiting Fantasyland. But Fantasyland is where baseball comes from anyway and maybe right about now that's the perfect place for a three-hour rest."

- Al Michaels before Game 3 of the earthquake-interrupted 1989 World Series

Sports know their place. They come to a halt when asked- when life becomes bigger than the game. But as we discovered regionally after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, and on a national level following the 9/11 attacks, they resurface at just the right time. Dan Daniel of The Sporting News once wrote during World War II:

"Baseball marches on. It marches on in martial tread, cognizant of its duties and its responsibilities, and the hazards which confront it on land, sea, and in the air..."Frivolous,‘ snorts Hitler. ‘Ridiculous,’ gutturals Mussolini. ‘Marvelous,’ says the American."

Sports provide a necessary diversion from life’s trials. Sports heal.

***

I have been accused of being a sensitive guy. I assure you it’s not from my dad’s side. I have seen my father cry four times in my life. The first time was when this happened. The second time when this happened. The fourth time. Oh, the third time was at a funeral.

Tears of sorrow, tears of joy. From a man who has never wasted one.

Weird thing, sports.

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