6 reasons I like Sportsball

Among the people I spend time with, referring to a game is as likely to be about 7 Wonders or Fate as it is to be about baseball, or basketball. In fact, depending on the precise people, it’s considerably more likely. During March Madness, all my office could talk about was Google’s AI going 4 of 5 against a Go champion. Sometimes, friends or acquaintances of mine disparagingly (or bemusedly) refer to whatever big sporting event that’s going on as sportsball, they seem so indistinguishable.

I’m not an obvious target for breaking from this culture, and liking sports. My favorite kinds of music are mid-century American folk, pre-baroque early music, and opera. I read science fiction and fantasy primarily. I have a 15 year career in software. I got my degree in medieval studies. This is not a profile that screams “I can correctly identify offsides before I see the flag go up”.*

But here it is, Sunday night. Game of Thrones is on, but I’m 100% tuned in to the Copa America finals, really hoping to see Lionel Messi do to Chile what he did to the US in the semis. I’ve loved the summer of soccer, although I admittedly only really watch the international tournaments. I listen to or watch at least parts of probably 80 baseball games a year. For the last several years, I’ve watched almost every Pats** game, and as many Seahawks games as I could catch. And it’s not because I love my husband who loves sports. In fact, he doesn’t like anything but soccer. He calls the baseball broadcasts “the voices in my head” and only goes to a game in person because he likes the hot dogs.

So why do I like sports? What makes it worth spending two or three hours on the couch?

1) You can connect with so many people
I started my sports interest in 1995, with the amazing Seattle Mariners team. Everyone around me was talking about the Mariners. Very few people were interested in talking about Seattle Opera’s superb staging of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, which is what I was excited about that summer. As a supercilious 16 year old, I did of course feel superiorly artistic. But also a bit lonely. At some point, I decided I would open-mindedly investigate this whole “baseball” thing to see what it was all about. And it was amazing! Suddenly, these people with whom I felt like I had nothing in common became friends. I could say, “Did you catch the game last night?” and then we could talk about the game last night. It opened up this huge point of connection, which was my primary goal. It was almost heady, how being interested in what other people were interested in made them more likely to talk to me… or even to like me.

2) It turns out sports are interesting
Chances are good you have one of two reactions to that statement.

    a) Well duh
    b) I doubt it

But the reason that millions of people spend time, money, energy, passion and attention on sports is because they’re fascinating. I think of them like the best poetry. The form is known – like a sonnet. You know that a sonnet will be ABABCDCDEFEFGG. You know the form so well you don’t even have to think about it. But like poetry, each expression of that form is profoundly unique. All the best sports have uncertain outcomes. The only way to know what will happen is to watch the game, even if probabilities and prognostication seem to point to certainty. It’s like poetry of human accomplishment, in opposition to other striving humans, written out for you in real time.

3) You get to feel strong, conclusive feelings
You can be dumped in the pit of despair, but no one actually died. You can exult in the height of exultation. (But you did not actually win the lottery.) You can have aching, edge-of-seat uncertainty for an hour or two, when you wonder if you have any underlying heart conditions. That uncertainty is always resolved at the end. Most entertainment is designed to help us feel things we don’t usually get to feel (and often don’t want to feel) in the day to day course of our lives. Movies make us feel, love, admiration, fear, joy, terror and disgust. Sports can do the same, but in a way that seems less scripted or constructed. We do not feel those emotions on behalf of others, but rather for our own selves, and in community with those around us. No one knows ahead of time which feelings they’ll feel. That’s a powerful catharsis, with a firm and absolute ending point.

4) You join the shared memory
We’ve had to redefine communal memory several times in the last few generations. For the generation prior, it was the shared tv shows on the few networks. Before that, the radio shows. Before that, it was likely more fragmented with stories being told in communities about those communities, that people would share and retell across time with other people who remembered them as well. In an increasingly fragmented world, where we have neither shared history nor shared media, the biggest sporting events are something of a touchpoint. In Boston, “Where were you when the Sox won the World Series?” is likely to get as many stories (well rehearsed, usually) as the still-annual “Where were you when the towers fell?” They make you feel like you belong.

5) It provides a brief break from reality
Do you know what word WASN’T spoken during the broadcast tonight? Brexit. I work hard to stay well informed. I read and listen to a reasonable amount of news. But sometimes I like to have media that allows me to dip in and out (so not a gripping novel), that involves people talking, and that isn’t as depressing as the Dead Sea.

6) Legitimate excuse to sit on the couch
Maybe this is just me, but if I can do something “later” I often don’t do it “at all”. But with sporting events, it’s really really best if you watch it when it’s live. And that means I get to sit still and relax. I don’t live a life conducive to relaxing. If I wasn’t watching the Copa America*** tonight I probably would’ve done the dishes, worked on the attic project, cleaned the living room and then fallen into bed exhausted. Instead, I got to sit with a friend on the couch with no demands. It was brilliant.


What about you? Do you love some sports? All sports? No sports? Do you think sports are silly? Do you follow them passionately? Have you learned over time to see the point in them?

*New skill. Won’t lie. I just figured that one out this summer.
**Having acquired the skills and background in just the last few years to find American Football really interesting, I have decided it’s not a sport I can feel really good about watching. The recent findings about the way football destroys both mind and body of so many of the players makes it feel too much like a blood sport – like I’m a Roman in the coliseum. I’ll still come watch with you if you invite me (and I’ll probably enjoy it), but I decided to take it off my calendar as an event I’ll pursue of my own interests.
***I still can’t BELIEVE that ending!

Because futbol

Three of the Team Greece players
Three of the Team Greece players

There have been many discussions during this World Cup round whether this is finally the moment where the United States joins the rest of the world in not just FIFA-fever, but in a regular love of the game.

I remember when I watched my first soccer games. There was no soccer in my community or school – it simply wasn’t an option available. But the summer of 1998 I was home for the summer. I was working, but not SO hard. And the World Cup was on tv. I don’t remember any of the games I saw, or the teams. I do remember that it was sponsored by Snickers and there was a Snickers logo right under the score box for every game. I probably ate 10 Snickers during that World Cup, and just watching the game still makes me want a Snickers Bar.

My sons have a different experience of soccer. We’ve tried a number of things: swimming, aikido, dance (ill-fated), basketball. (They both really want to do t-ball, but the times for t-ball are completely unworkable with two working parents.) But they’ve done more soccer than pretty much anything other than aikido. I actually love the games and practices. I love sitting on the sidelines in a camping chair that smells like woodsmoke, next to MY friends, and watching the boys play. I love on gamedays, when all six fields are full of blue and white jerseys and parents and neighbors and friends – with little siblings putting together their own little games on the sidelines. (I’m impressed and grateful to the excellent run Stoneham Soccer Club for the program they’ve put together for our kids.) My sons know soccer better than baseball, football, hockey, basketball or any of the other classical American Sports.

Grey’s team, Greece, coached by our excellent next door neighbor, came in second for U8! I found myself engrossed and full of nerves while I watched these 8 years olds I have come to know and love do actual ball handling and real actual skills and passes. It was amazing to see how much they learned and improved in one year!

And it’s not just the prior generation. I’m a suburban WASP, surrounded by many other folks whose families have lived in the US for generations. And you know what we’re talking about these days? How great it feels to finally leave Ghana behind. How we owe Renaldo a debt of gratitude. How we’re caught between wanting to watch Messe play and not wanting to face him and Argentina on the field. Whether that biting suspension was a bit too much, and how hilarious it is that he fell on the ground and clutched his teeth after the whole biting incident. We’re messing up details and maybe not 100% sure on all our countries/claims, but we’re watching and talking.

I think the time has come for the international game to take its rightful place in the US. I think that we’ll not have to wait another four years – or watch Univision – to watch the game!

What about you? Are you watching the World Cup? Do you find yourself having to Google things in order to follow along with the conversations? Are you feeling inspired to go see your local MLS team?

Stylin' on the sidelines
Stylin’ on the sidelines

October is Over

Sometime around Halloween, I usually start to despair. My life is such that I’m always busy. But between September and November I’m not just busy, I’m epically busy – and it’s been even truer than usual this year. Contributing factors include four birthdays in six weeks, apple picking and preserving, Halloween and the last good weather of the year (see also: raking time!).

This year I added to that normal busy mix a cat who requires tube feeding, soccer-which-requires-practices, a new role at work that has me travelling fortnightly and the World Series (I didn’t miss a game this year, at the cost of sleep, relationships and using my spare time for anything that wasn’t baseball). Somehow I felt just a touch busy, even with the strong effort by my husband (and mother-in-law for the past week).

So this is a catch-up post, where I get back on the horse and update on you a few activities.

Grey striking, surrounded by two of his good friends.

Soccer
Stoneham has a great town Soccer club. We haven’t done it in the past because it’s on Sunday mornings. But this year, it really seemed like something we needed to do. (It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that all their friends are in the league.) We showed up to church in cleats a lot, and only missed a handful of Sundays. It was pretty great. Grey was on team Greece, who pretty much rocked it. They lost two games (I think) and won several quite decisively. By the end they were doing things like “passing” and “having a strategy” and “knowing what they were supposed to be doing”. There were a few actually thrilling moments of soccer! It did involve practices, but Grey’s coach understands that I’m coming from work, and so it was relaxing instead of stressful. Greece will hit the fields again in Spring, and I’m excited for it. Thane did soccer too, but his version seemed to involve a lot of falling down.

My best preserve, I think, is the autumn pear.

Canning
This year I made: 2 strawberry jam, 3 pesto (frozen), 4 plum jam (shiro, red, Santa Rosa & mixed spiced), 1 plum compote, 2 autumn pear, 1 ginger lime pear (remind me never to accept a bushel of pears again), 1 crabapple jelly (from wild crabapples on the soccer field), & 1 apple butter. I think that’s it. I missed making a second batch of apple butter (I usually make two) and pepperonata (the red peppers didn’t do as well this year). Next year I hope to have damson plums from my tree.

Thane listens to Grey read a very sick Tiberius a story about cats. You can see Grey petting Tiberius.

Tiberius
One of our new cats (what was I THINKING getting new cats at the beginning of heavy season?) developed fatty liver disease, and required a feeding tube. It was put in three weeks ago (I think?). For the first week, he was being fed four times a day and throwing up five. He was within two days of me deciding that this was no kind of life, and ceasing his pain. The second week we started getting some traction. It’s been up and down since then (it was a great day when I got down to three feedings a day, eliminating the middle of the night feeding). Today, for the first time, he started eating food. You’ve never seen someone as excited as I was about a cat eating cat food. He’s going to make it!

Best friends in line for a roller coaster

Grey’s birthday
Grey turned eight, and I took he and two of his best friends to Canobie Lake Park. I had a blast as we rode very mild roller coasters, hung out in the arcade and made fart jokes. Well, some of us did. Then we had sushi, followed by a Minecraft cake. It felt… older. It was the first time I’ve taken Grey and his friends out to do kid stuff and be kids. I loved it – they were old enough to have so much fun with, but young enough that all of them would hold my hand. Pictures here

Scary birthday goers!

Thane’s birthday
I will confess that I just threw an invite out there at the last minute for Thane’s fifth birthday, figuring I’d figure it out as I went along. Two days before the event, I panicked as I realized that it was EXACTLY THE SAME TIME as the Main Street trick-or-treating! I was going to miss it, and all these five year olds were going to miss it too. So I sent out a last minute change asking that the kids come in costume. We spent the first hour trick or treating together. We had a blast, and I felt brilliant. Let the record show that it took 5 years for a kid with a 28th birthday to have a Halloween/Birthday party. I held out that long.

(Does it say anything that I’m going through my pictures trying to remember what the heck I’ve been doing that’s made me so busy?)

Well, that’s about it. I think you’re caught up. Don’t get too comfortable with it though, because Mocksgiving is in (EEEEK!) a week and a half, so yeah…

Anyway, pictures of my super-busy October can be found here!