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Category: Sports

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.
Grid Irony
I had thought I would drift away from football and reserve my precious fan time for more worthy sports. I felt good about this decision. It made me feel morally superior to all the yahoos who thirst for the inhumanity and raw violence found in this uniquely American sport.

Sadly, this high-minded posture is no longer available to me. After some years of quasi-abstinence from football, I have fallen back into old habits. It is playoff season in football, and I have succumbed to temptation. This weekend I found myself watching games that involved the likes of the Buffalo Bills, the Houston Texans, and the Tennessee Titans. I have no feelings, positive or negative, for any of those teams (although the Titans’ logo may be the ugliest in all of sport). And yet, I watched those games as if they actually meant something to me. Why?

I could say that my renewed interest is a product of the surprising success this year of the San Francisco 49ers, who are my natural and life-long home squad. But how can I blame the team for my own failings? That would violate my core rooting principles.

Now that I have returned to the world of watching football, however, things have changed a little. For one thing, watching myself watch football has now been added to the experience (and, with this essay, watching myself watching myself watch football). As I hover over myself on the couch, I see that I’m getting the most enjoyment from individual feats of athletic brilliance: stunningly accurate throws, acrobatic catches, and dazzling runs. In other words, all those elements of strength and skill and focus that make sports such a riveting form of entertainment…along with the fact that it is real, and not made up.

I also witness myself reacting to the moments of life-threatening brutality. I cringe, and most of the time, I turn away. I’m not sure, though, whether turning away is a good thing or a bad thing. It shows that am repelled by the violence, but it also shows that I’m willing to overlook it. It’s like going to the arena and averting your gaze just before the lions devour the Christians. To the person who is watching me watching me watch, that seems a bit hypocritical.

At least for now, it appears that I am able to live with that. Go Niners!
I want to be clear, right from the beginning, that I do not watch golf on TV. I have nothing against the game, really. It’s just too freaking boring to watch.

It is a form of competition, I suppose, and it does involve a ball, so I guess it’s a legitimate sport. Maybe it’s the fact that everyone has their own ball and that competitors are forbidden from touching any ball but their own. That seems wrong. How can it be a real sport if it consists of a bunch of hackers out there on the lawn, each playing essentially alone with his or her own ball, without any meaningful interaction (much less physical contact) among them?

And then there are the contestants themselves: bland, to put it mildly. With a few exceptions, they all seem to have the same personality: decent, thoughtful, but not especially deep or particularly memorable. Most of them, despite of their obvious skills, do not look very much like athletes.

And then there’s Tiger Woods. If he’s in the field, I can always find a little time to stop and watch. It was that way before he became the Deeply Flawed Hero, and it has remained that way up to and through his riveting victory last weekend at the Masters. There is a lot to that story — the struggles, the history, the transit from light to darkness and back to light — but what makes it the stuff of legend is this particular hero. If we plugged the name of any other golfer in this tale, it would be impressive, but ultimately just another heroic comeback story. Such stories are commonplace in sports.

But not with Tiger as the hero. Among other things, he looks different. No spare tire there, even at 43. No droopy boobs-in-banlon, either, or goofy walking style, or quirky-but-effective swing. With Tiger, it’s all grace and power and that flare for exultation. You can’t miss him walking down the fairway; you don’t have to look for him because he’s the one you’re already looking at.

Indeed, it’s hard to think of any athlete in any sport who has that kind of star quality. Roars like that are rare, especially on a golf course. And though Tiger has moved closer to the boring golf mean in personality, he now has an even bigger bigger-than-life backstory. That will always be there whenever you hear him speak, so that even the most predictable golf platitudes will sound like ageless wisdom coming from him. Plus, he is the GOAT (for the uninitiated, an unfortunate acronym meaning Greatest Of All Time). On top of everything else, then — besides the comeback and the aura and the beautiful power of his game — he is really, really, really good at his sport.

It’s only golf, admittedly, but I’d sit down and watch him even if it were curling.
The Upside of Madness
Please allow me to burst through the cascade of daily idiocy and extol the wonder of Spring. This bright moment on Nature’s cycle brings with it a promise of renewal, of another chance to thrive and grow, of the sheer power of life itself. And, of course, of hope.

Allow me to further suggest that the NCAA college basketball championships are also a part of this pageant of life. What better point to contemplate the simple purity of amateur athletics? And what event better represents a kind of competition untainted by materiality than the innocent quest for victory that is March Madness?

It might be argued that the Olympics would be better cast in such a role. Sadly, however, the Games have been infected with the professionalism of perpetual champions. They have been co-opted by politics and degraded by rampant cheating. Most of the participants in March Madness, by contrast, will never see a paycheck for their athletic skills. A very few will go on to the NBA or WNBA and claim a brief living as professionals, but the rest will come to lead otherwise normal lives. For them, this is not about the money. It is about a moment of glory that only the young can feel, one that comprehends the virtues of good, clean competition: respect for your opponent, playing by the rules…and prevailing with honor against the very best.

It’s just sports we’re talking about, of course, but how can we be numb to such worthy intentions? Especially when such purity is tested in the national spotlight for all to see? It is good to know, in spite of the tide of meanness and selfishness we must swim against each day, that there is a universe, however small and insignificant, where our better selves can find affirmation.

(I should say here, in the interest of full disclosure, that there might be another factor coloring my Pollyanna-ish view of these NCAA tournaments. My bracket was the lucky winner in my pool. I am told that such betting competitions might be illegal, but I can only say that I played with a purity of heart that mirrored that of the the tournament itself. My cash winnings, though substantial, are irrelevant. I was in it strictly for the glory, and though I will no doubt be praised for my unique system for picking winners and my clear-eyed assessment of multiple branching probabilities, I will not brag about my victory nor do anything else to disrespect my fellow competitors. I salute you all, and thanks for playing.)

If my victory has in any way affected my analysis here, however, I will not apologize. How could I? My existence is now fortified by a kind of hope that only a truly glorious victory could provide. My notions of fairness and honor are renewed, and I am emboldened as I step back into a wider universe where such virtues must fight to gain traction.

At least that fight will be easier now. With the power of life itself under my wings.

That, and the cash in my pocket.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon