#416 Put Me In, Coach

Hey, friends. It looks like I'm going to be leaving this camp soon, trying again to get to America unscatched, which means my posts will come to an end. Towards that, I'm trying to set up next week ahead of time in Draft mode (and have Kaida post them each day), so you get your fix of Hyperion Halloween fun. But before we start the spooky festivities, I thought I'd write about baseball for a few minutes. Hope you like it.

The Hyperion Chronicles
“I got your seventh inning stretch right here”

#414 Put me in, Coach

I didn’t get to see but I heard that the Detroit Tigers made their first World Series since 1984, their first winning season in forever. That brought me back. The Tigers were one of the first teams I ever latched onto as a kid.

I have to admit—and I suppose now is not the proper place for full argument—that I have never understood, nor really, respected, the idea of rooting for the “home” team. Perhaps some of this stems from never living in one place for too long. I always just found it so….arbitrary and common to pick a team based on the regional proximity. There are so many better reasons for loyalty.

Or maybe there are not. At its heart rooting for a team—especially to the lengths that some partisans take it, is an irrational exercise. A Sport is something of no intrinsic value in and of itself, and in that manner could be compared to one’s love of art. Who is to say one painting or movie is better than another, and are we not all entitled to our opinions? Similarly, is not root root rooting for the home team as valid a reason as any?

Except, as most of you know, I do hold to the theory that art can be objectively judged, at least to some extent. True, only the heart can say what painting moves it and what does not, but are there not reasonable quantifying and qualifying measures we can judge something by? After all, more than a few seem to put Shakespeare, CITIZEN KANE or Michelangelo (the artist, not the turtle) high up on a pedestal.

I have argued with ‘Chelle about this more than once, and she makes the point that for many, a favorite team comes from childhood memory. Either passed on from parent or an early imprinting experience of visiting an arena or stadium for the first time.

I can buy the imprinting idea, especially that point in childhood when we are first receptive to such things. However, I still think it bourgeois to grab on to a team because your parents or people around you liked them. I mean, that would be like being a Christian just because….

Oh, wait.

Anyway, I suppose I could go on offending deeply-felt and possibly little understood choices you made in your formative years, but time pressures and all that. Instead, I wanted to recount the year 1984, when I first discovered that sports meant more than just something in the way of watching cartoons.

Of sports teams in Kenya I have virtually no memory. There must have been national teams, I suppose, but we missionaries had things to do. Or, you know, maybe being 2 had something to do with the lack of memories.

I do remember very distinctly when the African Grand Prix came through. We lived on Ngong Road, and the cars came right by our house. We took the Kombi (what you would call a VW bus) out to the edge of the driveway to watch them all go by. The street was lined: this was the biggest thing to hit Nairobi since I got there.

Perhaps the memory is so firmly planted in my mind because I was on top of the kombi, and accidentally had my arm slide down to the side. The car door slammed on my finger, which hurt like nothing on this earth.

When we moved to America sports meant nothing. We lived in Ohio, and my parents, both natives, were huge supporters of the Ohio State University football team. They would sit Saturday mornings, cheering for the Buckeyes. (What a dumb name for a team. We should do a top ten list on that.)

Shamefully I will admit that while I certainly contemplated deep thoughts at that time, it did not occur to me to openly question their “homerism,” (rooting for the home team), at least not consciously. Mostly I was ticked because cartoons were cut short. (And this was in the holy time when cartoons were only on Saturday mornings.)

When I was 8, however, things changed. We lived in Oregon then, and my parents had no ties from youth. I remember the NBA Finals came on, the Lakers vs. the Celtics.

For the first time in my life sports were interesting. The uniforms (purple and gold vs. green and white) seemed exotic, the arenas steeped with history and menace, the players nothing less than acrobats.

I recall not actually caring all that much who won, at least at first. I was so taken with the game of basketball that I went outside to play. We had no hoop, or for that matter, a basketball, but any enterprising lad will tell you that lack of equipment should never stop you. (And I suppose that could be taken more than one way, you sick sick people.)

I took a soccer ball and found an evergreen tree in the back yard. I threw that soccer ball up to the top of that tree hundreds and hundreds of times, pretending I was in that game, my stellar play crucial to success.

I ended up rooting for the Lakers, who lost heartbreakingly in seven games. I can still remember the score. I have often thought back as to why I chose them and not the Celtics.

The way I tend to choose favorite teams—and I am not saying it is superior to any other way…ah, hell, of course I am. The way I do it is by a connection to a player or players. I have always seemed to make some sort of emotional connection to players on teams I care about, and that forms the basis of my support.

In individual sports this is obvious. I fail to see why team sports should not be the same way. There is a group aesthetic, to be sure, but are those groups not made up of individuals, who somehow touch our lives?

The Celtics certainly had a colorful group of people. Coached by K.C. Jones, they boasted Robert Parish, Kevin McHale, Dennis Johnson, Danny Ainge and Basketball Jesus himself, Larry Bird.

But it was to the Purple and Gold that I gravitated. Was it a greater number of black faces, to remind me of Kenya? Probably not. (After all, Boston’s Jones was black while the Laker coach Pat Riley was white.)

For some reason I fell for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. James Worthy, Michael Thompson, and Michael Cooper. Byron Scott. The goofy but hardworking Kurt Rambis.

And of course Magic Johnson.

I had never seen a more charismatic athlete in my life. The things he could do with a basketball were just….unbelievable.

Call it a crush, call it true love, call it what you will: I was hooked.


A few months later the next sport came into my viewfinder: the World Series.

The two teams were the San Diego Padres and the Detroit Tigers. Had I known that I was destined to attend college in San Diego and live there twice, might I have chosen those men?

I doubt it. I’m just not made that way.

Plus, I hate the color brown.

But the Tigers, they just had charisma and personality all over the place. Their manager (not coach, like basketball, in case you’re going to watch the World Series this year and pretend knowledge), was Sparky Anderson. I now know he is one of the most legendary managers in history, winning World Series in the ‘70s with the Cincinnati Reds. All I knew was that he looked pretty cool.

I also loved wild Ace pitcher Jack Morris, and slugger Kirk Gibson. Both were unshaven burly men who looked like they were always looking for trouble.

Strangely, it was the quiet shortstop Alan Trammel who took my heart away. His poise and dignity overwhelmed me, and I had my second team. (The Tigers won in 5 games, making me one for two.)


Later that year I got wind of something called the NFL. Again, I didn’t really notice until the playoffs, when the last four teams were playing. San Francisco battled the Dallas Cowboys while the Miami Dolphins took on the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Those were the days of Joe Montana, and possibly Terry Bradshaw was still around too. For that matter, I’m fairly certain Danny White still took snaps in Big D. All four teams also had legendary coaches, and great color schemes.

But it was love at first sight. That Dan Marino, he really boiled my potatoes. I had never seen that much natural talent on a football field. True, it was my first game to ever see, but somehow I knew (and was correct, by the way).

When the Super Bowl came, everyone predicted a 49rs victory by staggering proportions. Philistines! What did they know? If anything, it only hardened my resolve to stick with Dan and the rest of the Dolphins.

The game came, and for the first (and for a long time last) time in my entire life I was allowed to stay home from church on a Sunday night and watch the game. I was in Heaven! I was so grown up!

The final score was 38 – 16.

I was sad. I was devastated, much more than I should have been. When the Lakers lost I had yet to form the real bonds that come with a team. And of course the Tigers won. For the very first time I tasted defeat, and it hurt like a thousand paper cuts on my heart.

But my love for Dan Marino was pure. He, and the Dolphins, were too talented. They’d be back, I knew. He’d have plenty more chances.


That year saw the NCAA basketball tournament come into my world view and my life changed forever. I became a huge sports fan. I devoured biographies of all my heroes. I found I was capable of remembering statistics, often reading them only once. Sports became a gigantic part of life, a place it still holds.

Now, some may ask, if I pick my team based on players, does that mean you change your favorite teams? To me, it can. If my love for a team is based on its people, then logically you move on when the people do, unless they have been replaced by others. (Great example: I love Shaq, and it thrilled me when he joined the Lakers. I put up with Kobe while Shaq was there, but how can I in good conscience cheer for a team with a player that selfish now that Kobe is gone?)

Jack Morris, Kirk Gibson, Sparky and Trammel left the Tigers. I tried to stay loyal, but the newer players had no emotional connection to me.

In recent years the Tigers have been an embarrassment. I never wished them ill or anything, and I always checked the standings, but there was no connection made. When Trammel rejoined the team as a manager I had hopes, but he failed to produce.

And now they are in the World Series again. Intellectual honesty compels me to admit I did not follow this team. I did not watch but a few of their games this year, and can’t spout off the roster, let alone the stats for individual players, as I could in times past. The Tigers of my youth were just that, of my youth. If I cheer for anyone in baseball now, it is probably for Barry Bonds, and that perhaps more for the lip-curling sneer I feel about the motives of most of those who get positively horny at the idea of demonizing him and blaming one man for a problem baseball created en masse.

But I still had a warm feeling when I saw that the Detroit Tigers made the World Series. It was nice. I am not like many of you who make those connections to teams (whether they be home teams or whatever), and stick with them for ever. It’s not part of my makeup. (For similar reasons, I have never enjoyed the Olympics all that much. Why am I supposed to cheer for someone I know nothing about because they happen to live in the same land I do? I’m too much of a Globalist for that.)

So, this is as close as I get. For Alan Trammel, who helped mold this team the last three years, even if he couldn’t get them over the hump, and for that magical year of 1984, when I became aware of a whole new world (one of the top five new awarenesses in my life, right up there with movies, beef jerky, how girls didn’t necessarily cause cooties, and one other I won’t share): for all of those reasons, I’ll root for the Tigers to dismantle whomever.

The uniforms alone make it a great choice.

October 16, 2006

1 comment:

Chelle said...

For the record, my love of baseball was never based on anything my parents did or said. (both hate baseball) My love is purely based on seeing the sport for the first time at a young age and being enraptured by it.

And you, Hyperion, will hate me for this next statement: I hope the Tigers win the Series not only because they fall within my realm of loving the worst to first, but my dear John Smoltz is from Detriot.