I’ve never been much of a sports fan. My mirror neurons have just never fired up the same way I suspect they do in other humans while watching sports games. There was a shiftless period in my life right after the army when I had a bunch of time and money on my hands, so I started to get into baseball. It lasted about a season and a half. Mostly I just liked going to the games. It was the event of it all. I could pick up tickets on a random day off (of which as a nightclub bartender I had many) and sit in a park drinking with friends while a baseball game was going on near me.
The good thing about baseball is you don’t typically have to glue yourself to the game. More often than not, you can just ignore it, converse with your friends and the other fans around you and listen for the crack of the bat to let you know when it’s time to focus back onto the field for a few seconds before returning to your socializing.
As such, I could never really get into watching the games on television, and certainly not if I was alone. It was the social aspect of it all that I was actually experiencing. The sport was just a framing reference. It provided context for the human event.
I never acquired an ocean of statistical knowledge or got to know the history of the players various paths through life; which teams they had played for before, who had rivalries and scores to settle, or any other of the million bits of information that true fans hold in their minds in mesmerizing and intellectually interesting ways. I did, however, pick up the core concepts of the game. I know how it’s played, and have a decent sense of the game-behind-the-game. There’s a psychology to it all. It’s more than just a mechanical process of hitting a ball with a bat as hard as you can. The players are playing each others minds as much as their bodies. Perhaps even more so. There’s something akin to chess in the game that I also find interesting. Perhaps other sports are like this as well, if you really get to know them. I’ve simply never taken the time.
So I’m not a super fan, but I do know a little something. I knew the Cubs and the Indians had made it to a historically significant World Series, although I knew nothing of the season that got either of them there. I got glimpse of the headlines on social media, although never was inspired to click on any of the articles. The headlines were enough.
“Cubs Series Blah Blah Blah, 108 years since Blah Blah Blah”
“Indians Series Blah Blah Blah, 68 years since Blah Blah Blah”
Really everything I needed to know about it is contained in those two sarcastically paraphrased pseudo-headlines…
I knew that there was a drama unfolding in the first 6 games of the series, and that it had all come down to game 7. I caught wind of the unfolding score of the game through the side of my social media eye; I can always count on the stream of posts and tags to let me know if something important is happening. I wasn’t, however, rushing home from the office to glue myself to it in anyway. It seemed like the Cubs were going to pull it off with an early lead and good for them. They were, after all, the team with the longest dry spell. It seemed justified they would be the ones to break the streak first since they put in more time, right?
Catching wind of the tie-up of the game, and the encroaching 9th inning, I understood that there was something even more momentous than the series itself about to happen, so I turned on the TV and decided to get into it a little bit. I do like television history, even if our streaming lives mean there’s less of it these days. We don’t really ask each other, “Where were you when it happened?” anymore. Probably because we aren’t prepared for the answer to be, “Watching on my iPhone from a toilet the next day.” But back to the game.
It was like watching every baseball movie cliche unfold into reality all at once. Game 7, World Series, tie game, 9th inning, longest dry spells in baseball history, a moment more than a century in the making…Just as I had been doing in those earlier years of my short-lived baseball fandom, I was really tuning in to the human aspect of it all rather than the game itself. I just wanted to watch the look on everyone’s faces for a while and contemplate their emotional processes.
Being a fan of humans more than a fan of baseball meant I had no dog in this fight. I had no one I was rooting for, except maybe the random old guys in the stands who looked like they were about to have a heart attack at any given moment. I was definitely rooting for those guys. The suspense was terrible, and I hoped it would last. And it did.
The 9th came and went with no score change. Extra innings. Then a rain delay. I wondered how many times the phrase You’re killing me, Smalls! was exclaimed across the country. I hoped it was a lot.
I feel like I could have climbed on to the roof of my condo and been able to shoot a direct azimuth from Phoenix to Chicago by the large cloud of tension I could sense on the Northeast horizon. I’ve never been to Cleveland, so I couldn’t empathize enough with that city to sense its collective emotional being, but I assume it was comparable.
The rain delay ended and the game got back underway. As much as I was checking in with the high emotions of the crowd, I also noticed the relatively calm demeanor of the players. It was commendable to watch professionals being professionals. If they were freaking out at all, as one would expect them to be, they certainly weren’t showing it on the outside. Or maybe they were all just in their flow states and focused on the game without the context being permitted into their minds. I’ll chose to believe the later because it’s more interesting to do so.
The 10th inning played out the way it did, Cubs gained two runs in the first half, then held the Indians at bay in the second half with a snag and an out that gave them all the glory.
And the crowd went wild! (Yet another cliche, but a well deserved one.)
It was good stuff, a good emotional ride even if I was only a tourist that caught up with that last hour of the journey. Again, I had no dog in the fight. I just like watching the people feel things.
It was interesting to watch the reporters start to hound the players right after the game had ended. They all wanted to know what thoughts the team had about the way the game went. I thought, “Just let them have their moment for crying out loud! If I had achieved something half as momentous as that, the last thing I’d want to do is answer a bunch of questions with a damn camera in my face!” I’d probably just want to be as mindful as I could muster and experience everything real I could. The pageantry of it all is just a part of the game, I suppose.
After it all was said and done, I think my wife summed it up best when she said, “I’m just happy that Bill Murray is happy.”
Congratulations, Chicago Cubs. Enjoy the day today. You’ve earned it! I wish I could get on a plane and go to Chicago right now. I’m certain today will be a great day to be in that city.