Sunday, August 22, 2010

Any Room on that Bandwagon?

First, an update on the Dumbest Thing I Heard All Week situation from last week's column.

A couple of readers chimed in with their understanding that the lid/straw ban prevents people from chucking full drinks onto the field. OK, fine. Riddle me this, Minor League Baseball. I was at another game last week, where I witnessed the sale of 32-ounce frozen fruit drinks, complete with straw AND convex lid, presumably so you can pump some extra frozen goodness in there. It’s like a rainbow slushy dirty bomb.

Quite a safety measure. It’s like finding out that the Department of Homeland Security scans only about two percent of the shipping cargo entering the United States.

Wait a minute…

Moving on to this week’s column.

One of the strangest byproducts of the Obama presidency has been Hillary Clinton's service as Secretary of State. Incidentally, if, back in 1993, I had gotten a visit from my 2010 self, and I told 1993 Me that Hillary Clinton had become an effective Secretary of State, I'm fairly certain 1993 Me would have been terrified, convinced that the Terminator movie franchise had actually been a prophecy, and Skynet had, in fact, taken over. What's more amazing, I hear very little Republican criticism of Clinton’s performance as America's top diplomat. Either the Republicans hate President Obama even more than they hate Clinton (possible but once unimaginable that Republicans would hate ANYONE more than Hillary Rodham Clinton - although this may have more to do with the fact that those eager little beavers at Fox News only have 24 hours in a day in which to broadcast), or they actually think she’s doing a decent job (astonishing). Or maybe they’ve actually forgotten she’s Secretary of State. I can’t decide which of these is the weirdest reason.

Whatever the case, it's like the Republicans just lost their passion for hating her.

As a fan of the Cleveland Indians (manager change -- October 2009), the Washington Redskins (coaching change -- January 2010), and the University of Virginia (basketball coaching change - March 2009; football coaching change - December 2009), my feelings about sports sort of mirror the Republicans' toward Hillary. I haven’t had a lot to root for in the last decade. I used to get all kinds of riled up about each team’s game, cussing, perhaps taking it out on a defenseless remote control, but eventually, the losing took its toll. I stopped caring. I watch, they lose, I go on with my life.

I halfheartedly root for these teams these days, but I’m having a hard time putting up the front anymore. I am a U.Va. alum, and so that connection is hardwired. But my loyalty to the two professional teams stems from arbitrary and capricious choices I made nearly three decades ago, which makes it even harder to care about professional sports.

Honestly, if I could change one thing about my childhood (that cold gust of wind you just felt is my parents leaping out of their chairs, yelling, “what did you have to complain about, we gave you everything!”), it would be to have grown up in a city with a professional sports franchise, preferably baseball or football (at ease, Parental Units). Even now, my hometown remains one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country that still doesn’t have one of the four major sports. There are a number of reasons for this, all of which are boring and hard to make fun of. But the bottom line is that I wish I’d had a default team that I would be obligated to root for forever. I’d have others to commiserate with when they sucked. I could pass it on to my kids, imbue their DNA with it. And if that team did suck perennially, well, you don’t get to pick your family either.

I do have vague memories of my dad rooting for the Yankees and the Cowboys in the 1970s (he also roots for antibiotic-resistant bacteria), and so early on, I rooted for them too. Danny White and Ed ‘Too Tall’ Jones were my favorite players, and the first short story I ever wrote involved me playing for the Cowboys. At some point, sometime before the 1983 season, I switched my football allegiance to the Redskins, for whom I have rooted ever since. I don’t know why I did this, but I imagine it has something to do with the fact that I was a gigantic pain in the ass as a kid, and it seemed like a good way to get on my dad’s nerves. Sometimes, I wish I had just stayed a fan.

About the same time that I ditched the Cowboys, I started playing Little League baseball, and my first team was the Indians. Hence, I became an instant fan of the Cleveland Indians, which was sort of like buying stock in Enron after Moody’s downgraded its stock to “soggy Nilla wafers” status. No one could ever accuse me of being a bandwagon fan, even if I didn’t know what that meant. That being said, did they even HAVE bandwagon fans back in the 1980s? That seems like more of a recent development. Anyway, I was beyond thrilled by the mid-1990s, when the Indians had become the class of baseball and beyond devastated when they blew a 9th-inning lead in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series to the Florida Marlins. (It’s been seven years since the Marlins won the Series – how can their fans stand to go on?). In the 13 years since, the Indians have been back to the playoffs only twice, including their 2007 implosion when they blew a 3-1 series lead to the Red Sox (BANDWAGON ALERT!).

Now that I have kids of my own, I wonder what I should do about guiding their pro sports allegiances. Like I said, we have no hometown team, and it’s not like I’ve got any Redskins or Indians championship gear lying around to brainwash him with. On his own, my son has become a big Steelers fan and loves watching Big Ben (now THERE'S an awkward conversation we’re going have to have someday). He’s not crazy about baseball, but he has gravitated to the Boston Red Sox. Hmm. I’ve been to Boston! Once. He has become a big fan of my alma mater. Unfortunately, because the football and basketball teams have been so wretched for the last few years, joining the team’s fan base is about as happy an occasion as being assimilated into the Borg collective. If that’s the way he goes, if our house is plastered with Red Sox and Steelers gear, I’m not going to do anything to stop it.

I was probably well into my 20s before I could accept the fact that players sometimes left the teams they came up with or that you identified them with. I once believed that players should stay in one place for their entire careers because they got to play a game for a living, and that really should’ve been enough. (Mr. Corner, Mr. Corner, please pick up a white courtesy phone in Concourse A and use it to smack that idealistic nonsense out of yourself). On a related note, now that we’ve had six weeks to digest it, when it comes to players changing teams, will we ever see anything like Lebron James’ handling of his decision to leave Cleveland? I suppose the only betrayal to top it would be if the greatest player of his generation was actually born on the court to a miraculously virgin mother, later took that team to the NBA Finals, intentionally scored the winning basket in the opposing team’s basket with no time left on the clock in Game 7 (or whatever the appropriate football or baseball equivalent would be), and then took a dump on the court. Wouldn't it take something of that magnitude to top The Decision?

That said, if you don’t come from a city or state that has a team, you’re left adrift, like Sawyer, Jin and Michael in the Season 1 finale of Lost. My son rooting for the Steelers and the Red Sox makes as much sense as my rooting for the Tribe. Seriously, why the hell not? Like Jerry Seinfeld joked back in the 1990s, we really don’t root for the players, we root for the uniforms. It was true then, and it’s even truer now. Virtually every superstar in every sport has changed teams – some more than once – and, so what is it I’m rooting for? I don’t know squat about Cleveland. I lived near D.C. for a year, but it’s not like it’s my hometown or anything.

Why shouldn’t I direct him or my daughter to the teams with the national followings and the big-spending owners, the teams that might actually win a championship? Am I supposed to feel all hip and trendy because I’ve rooted for the Indians since 1985? That I'm somehow a real-er sports fan? Because you know what that’s been worth for the last 25 years? Zip! Zilch! Nada! If you’re into sports, you’re going to be disappointed more often than not, so why would you pick a team that all but assures misery for the rest of your days? I read that the Indians could be a decade away from being competitive again. Are you freaking kidding me? I’ll be pushing 50 by then!

Sports are entertainment, right? Well, I don’t read books or watch movies that suck. Do you? (obviously, the Indians’ suckage is an objective, quantifiable fact, whereas you may question my subjective opinion that Will Ferrell is the greatest comic actor of the last twenty years). So if sports are entertainment, don’t you want to pick a vehicle that will allow you to enjoy them?

It’s too late for me. I’ll lukewarmly root for the Indians and Redskins for the rest of my life. If they don’t deliver a championship, whatever.

Or maybe, just maybe, 2027 Me has some good news for me.

Although it'll probably be something like Lindsay Lohan has become the fifth woman justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Cleveland! Long live the Tribe.