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Category: Sports

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.
Baseball vs. Soccer
It would no doubt be a useless exercise to try to compare baseball to soccer, so let’s get started.

Let me make clear from the beginning that I am a lifelong baseball fan. It is, after all, the Great American Pastime. That does not mean, however, that this piece will be a hatchet job on soccer. It is the national pastime of practically every other nation on earth, so it must be doing something right. No, it is my intention here to find a way, through comparing these two great sports, to find ways to improve on both.

Let’s start with the prohibition in soccer against using one’s hands or arms on the ball. We can all agree, I think, that this is a silly rule. We are a hands-centric species, so what sense does it make that we are not allowed to use them? Why eliminate such a potentially exciting dimension from the game? The sport is an English invention, so perhaps the answer lies there.

Baseball has a similar, though antithetical, problem. While there is nothing in the rules banning the use one’s feet to field and pass the ball, you almost never see a player do it. My guess is that the overwhelming power of tradition in baseball will not permit such a thing, nor will it allow the wearing of gloves on a player’s feet. And that is really a shame, because such practices would certainly liven up this slow-moving sport.

Which brings us to another parallel between baseball and soccer. To the uninitiated, they‘re both boring. There, I’ve said it, and it’s true. In one of them, they stand around all the time; in the other, they run around all the time. And that’s pretty much it. It’s a wonder anybody goes to the games. The problem, of course, is scoring — or the lack of it. Why can’t baseball and soccer be more like tennis, where a point is scored on every play?

Fortunately, the solution is right there in the game. All we have to do is make some small adjustments to the scoring system. For soccer, a goal could count, say, fifty. Steals of the ball would count one, and goals off headers would receive a five-point bonus. Hands-on-ball would be allowed, but if you’re still hung up on the hand thing, perhaps hand-related goals would count for less. The result would be a sport more like quidditch, and I guarantee that it would keep people on the edges of their seats!

For baseball, I’d make a run count for 25 points. Additionally, a walk would score one point, a single count two, a double four, a triple six, and a home run ten (over and above the 25 given for a run). Lastly, putouts made solely with the feet would add ten points to the defenders’ score. Fans wouldn’t be able to tear their eyes away from the field!

I think we’ve made some real progress here, but I don’t think we can end this discussion until we’ve addressed two unpleasant topics associated with these otherwise worthy games: beanballs and biting. As part of any national pastime, such behavior is unseemly and should not be tolerated. Mayhem and maiming, if we are to have them at all, belong in the lesser sports, like American football. To deter beanballing, I suggest that offenders be fined a finger. Similarly, biters would lose a tooth for each incident. Pinching and poking will be punished with a timeout and loss of dessert for a week.
I was touring the wine country a while back and found myself in front of Calistoga High School, home of the Wildcats. On the cyclone fence next to the baseball field hung a large rendering of the mascot. “Wild” does not fully describe the expression on its face. “Unhinged” would be more like it. The brows were arched in an oddly exaggerated way, and the eyes blazed maniacally. I found the image disturbing. In fact, I find most mascots disturbing.

Perhaps the intention was to make the wildcat appear angry, but it came out looking like a gibbering lunatic. Many mascots do exhibit some kind of rage, which is probably meant to intimidate potential rivals. I question, however, whether a grumpy Blue Devil or Spartan or Captain ‘Cane would ever strike fear into the heart of an opposing athlete ... especially if it was wearing a giant foam head.

So what is the point of an angry mascot, then? To entertain? To promote team pride? To represent the best qualities of an educational institution or geographical area? It may be that an angry mascot will serve in these ways, but the goofy, cartoon brand of mascot would serve just as well. That is to say, poorly.

Let’s face it: mascots are an embarrassment. Nobody really likes them, but they are now an inextricable part of our sports culture. My hope is that they will somehow evolve to represent what is best in us — not our anger or goofiness, but our clear-eyed competitiveness and intelligence.

Let the Calistoga Wildcat exhort its team to feats of strength, grace, and practiced precision. Let it offer a reasoned discourse on the merits of fair play and teamwork. Let it encourage the players in a firm, resolute voice.

And let it do all of this through the mouth hole of its giant foam head.

Rooting Posture
“Root, root, root for the home team
If they don’t win, it’s a shame…”

The Philadelphia Phillies are a fine team. They have a proud tradition, and their rivalry with my San Francisco Giants is spirited without being unfriendly. My problem is with their fans.

Phillies fans, like fans from many East Coast cities, often get credit for being “knowledgeable.” That is code, of course, for “abusive.” They regularly booed the greatest player in Philly history, hometown boy and first ballot Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt. That is only the most famous example of their scoliotic rooting posture.

As a sports fan, there’s not a whole lot you can do to affect the outcome on the field. Scream, cheer, stamp your feet, boo, pray. You want to think it will help your team, but it would be hard to prove that any of that makes a difference. Very rarely do players pay attention to anyone in the stands; they are rightly focused on the ball, their own execution, and the actions of other players.

If you are at home, your connection to the action is even more remote, and your participation in the web of causality even more imaginary. Often, no one can see you, much less hear your shouts and moans. It would only be natural to feel that your rooting counts for nothing and that you are powerless to help your team.

I reject this notion of helplessness. In doing so, I rely on no less an authority than the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. For our purposes, that principle holds that mere observation of phenomena, no matter from what distance, can affect it.

On a quantum level we are not only at the game, but we are actively participating in it in a meaningful way just by paying attention to it. In fact, we are members of the quantum team we root for.

I’ll admit that, under the Heisenberg Principle, we are also members of the other team, a face in the crowd at the game, part of the umpiring crew, and also intimately connected to every blade of grass on the field. Even so, I think we are bound to have the greatest effect on the things we pay the closest attention to: the play on the field, and particularly, the thoughts and actions of our (quantum) teammates.

It is important, therefore, for us to be good teammates by adopting an appropriate rooting posture — a positive one. A team riven by backbiting, finger pointing, and dissension is not a team but a collection of losers. I’m talking to you, Phillies fans.

But no hard feelings, Phillies — whatever your quantum status. Bottom line, it’s hard to bear ill will against a team that the Giants regularly thump with such gusto in the playoffs.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon