Wednesday, June 03, 2009
Earl's Darkest Secret
Most of my friends are aware that I'm not a big sports fan. I can name perhaps two hockey players, two football players, one soccer player (Pele, from ads in comic books), and I know a few team names. Oh, and I know who Muhammad Ali is, thanks to the classic 70s giant tabloid comic Superman vs. Muhammad Ali. ("Superman, WE are the greatest!")
But at the urging of my parents and various teachers, I was involved in a few sports in my youth. I curled for three years, and my team placed third one year, first another - no thanks to me, really. I played baseball in Leaf Rapids and Leduc - terribly. During one memorable game, I was hit in the groin twice and the buttocks once while at bat. However, that was three more times I got on base than usual, and at least I was better off than my friend Jeff Pitts, who once famously took a flung bat to the skull. (He's okay, and has survived far worse.)
And, as pictured above, I actually managed one of the intramural baseball teams at Leduc Junior High. I still have the score sheets kicking around somewhere.
Despite my indifference (some would say "antipathy") to sports, I find myself drawn to baseball. It seems more civilized to me than other sports, for one thing; it seems as much a game of physics as anything. There's little physical contact (unless there's a brawl), and there's something appealing about the culture of baseball: the music, the association with hot summer days, popcorn, hot dogs, cold drinks. And it's a game that anyone can play - anyone with a bat, a ball, a glove and some forgiving friends.
Jeff Shyluk and I played Earl Weaver Baseball on his Amiga during the waning days of our university careers. We created two teams: the Minions of Chaos and the Paladins of Order, based on characters we created (or stole) for a series of collaborative short stories we wrote on Ron Briscoe's Freedom BBS. Players such as Irrational Carrot and Beef Ball Moo squared off against Paramount Importance and Bottle Dropper at two ball fields Verlucci Gruond (yes, spelled exactly that way) and...and I can't remember the "good guy" field. Perhaps Jeff will assist.
This all culminated in the End of the World Series, a real nail-biter of a contest, during which one certain homer was memorably foiled by the ridiculously high outfield wall of Verlucci Gruond. I screamed and yelled and my manager character onscreen did exactly the same, kicking virtual sand on the umpire. When that happened, Jeff and I almost went mad with laughter.
The Paladins - my team - won the series, if only just, and thankfully the infamous All-Star game didn't count. (I believe I lost that one 99-1.)
Even now I sometimes get the urge to find a bat, a ball, a glove and a friend and waste an hour or two cracking wood against...against whatever baseballs are made of.
I do understand, at least a little, why so many of my friends and family members enjoy sports. There's something beautiful about the human body in action the human mind calculating angles and vectors and velocities, interposing bat or stick in just the right spot at just the right moment. Perhaps it's just the angry side of sports that turns me off, the urge to win at all costs, to hurt others in the pursuit of something as abstract as a championship.
When people play, everyone should win. Maybe that's naive, but that's the kind of sportsmanship I can get behind.