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Category: Sports

Still with the Football?
If you follow these writings closely (as my dog does), you know that a few years back I stopped watching football. It’s just too violent.

When I say “stopped watching,” of course, I mean “kept on watching.” It has been difficult, moreover, for me to shake my lifelong habit of watching grown men savagely assault one another. I do like to tell myself, however, that the reason I still tune in is not for the brutality, but for the ascendant feats of athletic brilliance on display during these contests. That’s my excuse, anyway, and I’m sticking with it.

I can also say, as a further defense, that I don’t watch as much as I used to. The playoffs are now underway, for instance, and rather than spending three hours in catatonic transfixification, I have relegated football to just one position in my channel-surfing rotation. As I sweep by the game, I am keeping an eye out for great plays, comebacks, and other sports heroics. If there’s nothing, I move on. Usually.

Another reason I continue to watch is that I still have a rooting stake in these games. I want some teams to win, and I want others to lose. The Niners, for example, are my home team, and they must always win. The Dallas Cowboys, on the other hand, must always lose. You may remember that it was they who killed JFK.

Preferences involving other teams are strictly relative and subject to my complex and arbitrary rating system. The politics of players, coaches, and owners is an important variable, as are their various personalities, uniforms, mascots and haircuts. Sometimes the slightest offense can tip the scales for or against a team. Mispronouncing “Jaguars,” for instance. There is no such thing as a “Jagwire.”

At least I have a code. Otherwise, I’d just be into football for the bloodlust. Like I am was for boxing.
Hail to the Victors
I was elated, of course, when the San Francisco Giants won the Western Division of the National League this year. That feeling, however, is already a ghostly memory. Like all the other victories I have enjoyed this season, this one is merely another means to the far greater end of a World Championship. That outcome, as we know, is still uncertain.

Not that I am ungrateful for the ride. Running up the highest number of wins in team history was a thrill, as was hitting the most home runs ever by a Giants squad. And doing all that while nosing out the archrival Los Angeles Dodgers (the second best team in baseball this year) was certainly a pleasure. Furthermore, they did it all against the odds. And yet, even the luster of these deeds will fade if we do not secure that ultimate victory.

I only say such things because they are true. If we do not win it all, we can never fully luxuriate in remembering this year’s accomplishments. No matter how wondrous, they will submerge in the past without the honor that could have been theirs…if we had won at the end. Think of 1962, or ’89, or 2002. What do we recall of those seasons except for the loss at the end? Very little. Sad, but true.

Vince Lombardi (who, I am told, was a famous coach in some other sport) once said that winning is the only thing. I can’t go that far. If we were to win the World Series this year by taking out hits on all our opponents’ pitching staffs, I don’t think it would be very satisfying. I am confident that, even if the law and Jehovah Himself never caught up with us, the baseball gods would surely step in and deny us the ultimate prize. Even though winning it all is the only way to preserve our memories of this year, it will have to be done fair and square.

It has been a great season of baseball, and not just because my team has done well. The Giants/Dodgers rivalry has been honored with a hard-fought battle to the very end. So has the other premier matchup between the Yankees and the Red Sox (a conflict still to be decided as of this writing in a duel between Wild Cards). And more ferocious competition is yet to come, no doubt featuring feats of athletic heroism never before witnessed on the field of dreams.

At the end, though, the result will be the same. Only one team will come through with its precious moments fully enshrined in memory. For the others, a few bright inklings might glimmer for awhile, but everything else will be lost.

Oh, the losers will no doubt experience a measure of character growth from their experience. They will enjoy the warm feelings of camaraderie that come with good work toward a common goal. They will know friendship, pride, a heightened sense of self worth, and an array of other blessings from their participation in Major League Baseball this season.

But not glory. That is only for the victors.
Erect Posture
As we enter the cusp of the playoffs for Major League Baseball, I would like to take a moment to assess our rooting posture. My concerns rest chiefly with the fortunes of the San Francisco Giants, but I am hoping there will be something useful here for anyone who has a team still in the hunt to become World Champions in 2021. That includes those who consider themselves to be fans of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The first canon of our fandom is pretty straightforward: don’t get ahead of yourself. Yes, even though this year the Giants have literally been ahead of every other team in baseball for most of the season. In fact, that history of success is all the more reason to ignore it. To pause — even for a moment — and reflect on those glories would all but guarantee disaster in the playoffs.

The only glory we will settle for is winning the World Series, and the only way we get there is by not thinking about getting there — or how we got here. Only the present matters.

It will be particularly hard to stay in the moment this year. Our championships of 2010, 2012, and 2014 all came with teams that were widely dismissed as real contenders, and rightly so. They were all wild card teams with not much to reflect on from the regular season. That made it easy to focus on the here and now.

It is possible that they could end up a wild card team again this year. Even though the Giants currently sit in first place in the National League West, the Dodgers are right behind and gaining. Or, worse yet, the Bums could tie us, forcing a one-game playoff to decide the West. The loser of that game would then face another one-game playoff against the other NL wild card team.

That would be a hellish scenario for either team, especially if you consider the long and emotionally charged rivalry between the two teams. None of those other Giants teams had to contend with the Dodgers in their postseasons, and that surely helped their chances.

This brings us to our second rooting canon: don’t be a hater. I understand that this may be difficult. Hating the Dodgers is seen by many as central to the Giants’ fan ethos. My research, however, has revealed that hating actually makes it harder to win. It’s much better, I have found, to think of your opponent as a lifeless thing, something you can crush and dismiss without a second thought. Like lint or a dead maggot. But no hating, please.

Lastly, the most important guidepost of all: keep your eye on the ball. While this rule is admittedly less important when you are sitting at home on your fat Barca-lounger, the focussed mindset it represents is fundamental to winning.

So see the ball, be the ball. And get me a beer.
I Want to Be in That Number
Let me take a moment, if I may, to talk statistics.

First, and I think most compelling, is that the San Francisco Giants have the best record in all of baseball. That number is .644, wins against losses. Another impressive number: 109 home runs, also the best of any team in the MLB game.

I have a couple more stats for you as well. The Giants pitching staff has the 4th best earned run average in baseball; their defense is the 2nd most efficient; (and just for fun) they have recorded more RBIs from their pinch hitters than any other team so far in 2021.

Statistics can only take you so far, of course. You still have to play 162 games and grind through the playoffs to the World Series if you want to have the chance to become World Champions. In other words, you have to keep winning every game that you can — especially the very last one that you play.

I am not making any predictions. I will only say that I am pleased and a bit surprised by the current successes of my team. It is one thing to cultivate the default conviction that your team can and will go all the way, but to elevate that belief to a bankable certainty is folly. Moreover, such talk is a dangerous diversion from the mission at hand — and quite often the hallmark of a losing attitude.

That will not happen on my watch. I am luxuriating in these dazzling statistics right now, but my attention remains fixed, as it should be, on the ball. Hit it, catch it, throw it. The rest will take care of itself.
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Yes, voting matters. Polls do not.
~ H, Santa Cruz