root, root for the home team; if they don’t win it’s a shame.
’Cuz it’s one, two . . . yadda, da, dum . . . at the ol’ blah,
I’ve been thinking about baseball recently, which is kind
of odd because I don’t give a toss about baseball. But I’ve
been reading Phillip Roth’s The Great American Novel—a
truly funny, truly mean book—and, reliant as it is on an almost
unquestioning assumption of the primacy of organized professional
sports to the American experience, the American character,
it’s got me pondering my own lack of ability to vicariously
enjoy athletic endeavor.
In great part, it’s true that my disconnect is due to ignorance.
I have a mostly remedial understanding of the Byzantine statistical
intricacies of baseball—without which, the game is, even fans
must admit, almost exactly as exciting as watching tubby guys
stand patiently in a field. It’s my own fault: I managed to
play a couple-few years of Little League without learning
a thing about the game, except that right field was where
the inept were sent to die—the pre-teen equivalent of the
gulag—and that the precociously gifted athlete is usually
a preening goon whom the girls will nonetheless prefer to
the Solzhenitsyn in the outfield.
I did enjoy the handful of professional games at Yankee Stadium
I attended with my dad, usually around the time of my late
summer birthday, but I managed to better preserve an appreciation
of Amtrak and hot dogs than of the—legendary, I’m told—likes
of Reggie Jackson, Graig Nettles, Thurman Munson, Catfish
Hunter, et al.
In fact, my feelings about the game itself were probably best
given voice by Marc, a Belgian kid working one summer for
my grandfather, whom we took along one August. In the uncompromising
glare of the late-summer sun, Marc slammed down a dozen or
so beers—as my dad vainly attempted to explain to him the
onfield “action”—and then, somewhere in the fourth inning,
fell soundly asleep. When several innings later he woke, flushed
and a little disoriented, he looked out at the game and, with
what sounded like real desperation at his inability to discern
any difference whatsoever from the pre-slumber tableau, he
asked, “Why is this game so slow?”
And, I’m sorry to say, I’m not much more conversant in any
of the other major organized team sports either. Again, I’ve
tried my hand—and foot—at a bunch of them: After Little League,
there was an abbreviated year of junior varsity football (I
was motivated by a coach who didn’t like my smart-alecky backbench
driving to take an early retirement); a year of junior varsity
soccer (to this day, I have no clear idea what side is the
offside); and then a year of intramural lacrosse (the insane
violence of which fascinated me as much as any love of the
sport itself—“I get to hit that guy? With this stick? A lot?
Are you shitting me?”).
Honestly, the two sports that most appealed to me were tennis
(at which I am so bad that I can’t assign to my game the designation
sport, it remains stalled at pastime), and rowing. I spent
one summer rowing crew with a private club and, man, that
was great—but, though there were seven other people in the
boat working to row faster than some other eight in some other
boat, it didn’t really seem a sport, per se. Focused striving
toward the mechanistic perfection within a limited range of
motion is an inward, almost meditative practice—you’re working
near someone, rather than with. It was trancelike.
Or maybe I’m just self-involved.
But, the point is, I’ve experienced the joy of sport as neither
a participant nor as a spectator. And I wonder if I’m missing
out on something. There’s some scientific evidence to suggest
that—all other things being equal—people with strong affinities
for sports teams live longer and more satisfying lives than
those without such connections. It’s a type of community-building,
I guess. Honestly, I’m a little unconvinced by the salutary
effects of sports spectation, what with all that beer and
those hot dogs, but still I feel a little left out. You know:
Homo sum et nihil humanum a me alienum puto, and all
So, instead of trying to drive myself to the sport, I’m going
to bring the sport to me—or rather make sport of that which
is already there. For example, in the neighborhood where my
office is located, there’s an angry, drunk guy who has recently
taken to attacking the municipal garbage cans. He screams
vulgar challenges and then goes at them with the gusto and
determination befitting a champion offensive lineman. Hitting
those cans right in the numbers. I’m rooting for that guy
now. You could call it pointless—you could just as easily
call it Quixotic, but I digress—but it’s hardly less arbitrary
than the objectives of other athletic activities. If at first
blush, the obvious intoxication seems out of place, I’ve got
three words for you: North Dallas Forty.
But, your point is taken: It’s a little imperial to be cheering
on such an obviously self-destructive pursuit. So, when I
get to feeling guilty about my appreciation of this alternative
sweet science, I’ll head down to the other end of the street
for the exhibition performance by Dancing in the Doorway Guy.
Rail-thin and plugged in, he stands in the doorway, Walkman
going, hand weights pumping, twisting in the lowest-of-low-impact
floor routines. And what a smile, Jim, what personality. Above
the quiet precision and fluidity of his form, that’s what
the judges respond to. I’ve got to agree with you, Jane. In
a word: charisma. This guy’s a real competitor.