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Category: Sports

Being Fuji
I see where the betting professionals have installed the Chicago Cubs as the favorites to be the World Champions of baseball in 2016. While it is true that the Cubbies look very good on paper, it must be remembered that the game itself is not played on paper.

Grass is the preferred surface, and when it comes to those contests, that cursed team, though lovable, is almost certain to lose. Again.

Let me be clear. I bear no ill will toward the sad inhabitants of Wrigley Field. I root for them, in fact. I am pleased to see that they now boast the best record in baseball. But the Cubs, as I have said, live under a curse. That psychic whammy will triumph over mere numerical probabilities, and it cares not a whit for the human longing of Cubs fans.

No, the Cubs are out. Who, then, moves up the ladder as the real favorite? I am sorry, but with one exception all the other divisional leaders, both in the National and American Leagues, have the mark of the loser upon them. I feel no rancor for these teams, either; I merely report what I see. The exception I mention, interestingly, has the lowest winning percentage among this group. You know who I’m talking about. The San Francisco Giants, despite their record, must be the pick this year to become World Champions.

This is a new phenomenon. For the first time in recent memory, Los Gigantes were not an underdog heading into the season. This time, they are expected to win. As a fan, I take that as a good thing. High expectations will not weigh on these seasoned winners. I believe that they will meet those expectations and embrace them. Indeed, they will be lifted up by them.

Still, they will need my help. That is, after all, the central conceit of pulling for a team — one must believe that one’s efforts, no matter how remote from the game itself and the players in it, will help them win. According to this view of the universe, rooting matters.

Once we accept that premise, it is incumbent upon us to find an appropriate approach to our rooting. What should our stance as fans be for the season? What is our rooting posture?

I find that visualization is very helpful in these matters (just as it is for the players themselves). Since we are the favorites, shouldn’t we assume the strongest possible posture? Shouldn’t we stand, for example, like Mt. Fuji? Are we not immovable, unconquerable, and certain in our destiny?

Up here on Mt. Fuji the view is long and clear. We are visible to all, and we could see them, too — if they weren’t so small. And do you see it there, up ahead in the distance and visible over the curvature of time? That is another Fuji. It is ourselves in October, serene and unassailable and victorious. It is written, and so it will be.

So Godspeed to the Cubs. Let them have their Spring of hope and a Summer of excellence. Let them dominate the Cardinals in the fall and banish the Dodgers from the playoffs. Let them yearn for glory…until the very end. For when that day comes, it will be the San Francisco Giants, as expected, who stand apart from the rest, a towering presence above all of baseball.

I declare this to be my rooting posture this year. I am resolute, I am sure, I am Mt. Fuji.
The LeBron Olympics
Let me just say, right off the top, that LeBron James is the greatest athlete on planet Earth. Just watching him play basketball, you know he could play any sport and win. He looks like a man among boys out there, even when some of the boys are half a foot taller than he is.

He has speed, strength, size, agility, touch, vision, hand/eye coordination, and the will to win. He may even be the greatest athlete of the last hundred years — or ever. Now, please don’t come at me with your Michael Jordans, your Jim Thorpes, your Bo Jacksons, or whatever other great athlete you might suggest. Just picture any of them standing next to LeBron James, dress them in any uniform you like, then tell me they could beat LeBron …at anything. Unless you insist on getting into very specific cases (like the hundred-meter dash, say), you are just not being serious if you pick anyone besides King James.

Okay, I suppose Roger Federer would beat him at tennis, and Tony Hawk could out-skateboard him, but beyond those narrow fields of expertise, LeBron would crush them. No disrespect, but there it is.

If you are still not convinced, perhaps we should conduct a thought experiment involving an imaginary Olympics. Here are the rules: LeBron against the other top contenders for greatest athlete, all competing in every individual sport in the modern Summer Olympics (no Winter Olympics, I’m afraid — they’re just too silly).

First, track and field. Bo Jackson and Jim Brown (or Deion Sanders, if you must) might edge LeBron in the sprints, but he or MJ would take most of the other races. LeBron would go on to sweep the field events — and, of course, the decathlon (the winner of which, incidentally, if often referred to as the “world’s greatest athlete”). He’d win that event, by the way, with a new Olympic record.

In swimming, it’s all Lebron (unless Michael Phelps is competing). In gymnastics, you’d have to favor the smaller athletes, but I’d still place LeBron in the top three. Same with diving. Rhythmic gymnastics would be a runaway, with LeBron excelling with a particularly creative ball routine.

Wrestling: no contest. Boxing: probably, although Jim Brown might win on ferocity alone. Trampoline: of course. As far as all those ridiculous events involving horses and rifles and boats and bicycles, I’m just going to write in LeBron as well, but I won’t waste our time arguing about it.

And that’s it. LeBron James wins the LeBron Olympics, a zillion to practically nothing. And you know why? Because he’s the greatest athlete of all time.
Inscrutable Symmetry
In some parallel universe, I was rooting for the Kansas City Royals in the World Series. The San Francisco Giants would not have been in such a Series, of course; there is no universe in which I would root against them. In this imaginary parallel cosmos, though, the Giants would have been eliminated at one turning point or another along its timeline, and they would have failed and fallen away like all the other teams did this year — as must be if there is to be one champion.

The Royals, after all, were a Cinderella team, and I have no doubt that most baseball fans around the world were pulling for them. Hey, no hard feelings. Those fans were not rooting against the Giants, so much, as for the brash, exciting team from a city starved for a title. Indeed, the Royal Blue seemed marked by destiny this year. They had been red hot since the All-Star break, using a combination of speed and daring on the base paths, dazzling defense, and a ‘pen of fireballers to best the opposition. They came into the Series with an unprecedented eight straight postseason victories. It was hard not to like them.

They had great fans, too. They were led by George Brett, the great All-Star and leader of the 1985 team that last won for Kansas City, and they rooted for their team with a pure love. Newborns were named for players, and the team itself was treated like family by the KC faithful. There was no doubt, no second-guessing, no recrimination over small failures. A tanned Brett looked like he could still play, even after the twenty-nine year wait for a championship. “Let’s party like it’s 1985,” he kept saying, and the baseball world seemed ready to join in.

The fans, the city, the young, confident juggernaut of a team all seemed to be doing everything right. It was as though there was some grand symmetry of baseball history lining up to bring that fate to pass.

But it was not to be. The Giants, and history, had other ideas. There was Madison Bumgarner, of course, who made brilliance seem effortless, but there was also that game-stopping double play — Panik to Crawford to Belt — in the third inning of Game 7. It stopped the game for two minutes because the Giants challenged the safe call at first. It was the first time this kind of challenge had been used in the World Series because this was the first year that such video challenges were allowed. It went the Giants’ way, as we know, and the Royals’ promising rally was snuffed out.

If video challenges had been around in 1985, they might have changed that series, as well. In game 6, the Cardinals were up three games to two and had a 1-0 lead in the ninth. That’s when umpire Don Denkinger made perhaps the most famous blown call in baseball history. KC’s Jorge Orta grounded softly to the right, the Cardinals’ defense handled the routine play, but Denkinger ruled the runner safe at first. Replays showed Orta out by a yard, but there was no video challenge in 1985, and the Royals went on to take the game and the Series. It was a stunning turn of events, and it is my belief that it left the baseball universe badly out of balance.

And so, the baseball universe needed to right itself. It is unfortunate that the Kansas City Royals of 2014 suffered for a mistake made so long ago, but we can’t help that. It is the baseball gods alone who maintain the delicate clockwork of baseball history. Fans may have thought they saw a different fate unfolding this October, but we make such projections at our peril.

Now begins the long winter of introspection and rejuvenation. In Kansas City, fans may turn their attentions to the Chiefs for solace from their loss. So it is for those who follow the Detroit Tigers, who have already turned to the Lions, and the Nationals fans to the Redskins, and so on throughout baseball. For Giants fans, however, there will be no change of focus. We have what we wanted most, and it demands our undivided attention. Our time of contemplation is already underway, and we will have until spring to reflect on the meaning of our victory.

During this time, I expect, my thoughts will often return to the Royals faithful. They did everything right. Their team competed hard and fair and carried themselves with honor. The season was filled with heroism and high drama. The fans modeled the very best in rooting behavior. They believed in their team and supported them without question. And yet, they lost. So be it.

I honor Kansas City and her people. I know not what fate the inscrutable symmetry of baseball history may yet hold for them, but for now, the San Francisco Giants are World Champions.
Season In, Season Out
If you believe, as I do, in American exceptionalism, then you probably also believe that God has granted us our own, all-American afterlife. What other reward could there be for such an exceptional people than a special U.S. of Heaven?

And if heaven is truly the joyous place we have been promised, then there will surely be abundant opportunities to root for our favorite teams while watching them on eighty-inch HDTV screens. That is the very least we can expect.

Ah, but which sports? Here, the theologians disagree, but to me the answer is clear. Baseball is what people watch in American Heaven. Football is only available in American Hell.

I am sorry if you are disappointed by this news, but I don’t make the rules. Football, with the violence, and the murders, and the wife-beating, and the gun-running…I could go on, but you can see where this is heading. God is a stickler on these kinds of things, so if you want the NFL for all eternity, you’ll just have to burn in hell to get it. On the bright side, it would be an American Hades, and the hot wings would be great.

For the record, I do watch football. I take as much pleasure in watching others being brutalized as the next guy. I only tune in, however, when baseball is not available. Baseball, you see, is not a violent sport (unless you count the occasional beanball fatality), and its pace is much better suited to the life eternal. This doesn’t mean I am destined to go to heaven, you understand, only that I would prefer to go there.

It is possible, I suppose, that no sports at all are played in American Heaven. If that is the case, then I prefer not to die at all. And if that turns out to be impossible, I’ll have to cross my fingers and hope I’ve got the grades to make it into Limbo. I realize that Limbo is anything but exceptional, and that English is not the official language there, and the only sports they have is water polo on the radio. With any luck, though, after the polo match they’ll announce the late scores out of the National League West.
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee