I am a team sports kind of guy. I don’t dislike individual sports, and I don’t like all team sports, but my preference is watching or playing a game as part of a concerted, joint effort.
I have never liked golf. My uncle (in-law) Sam Upin, took me out to a driving range a couple of times in Faribault, Minnesota , and I could not hit anything but grounders despite his tips and encouragement. I know it takes a while, but I was going nowhere fast; I knew even then, that trying to succeed in golf drove sane men nuts so given my neurotic nature, I decided to stop there. With practice I perhaps might have been okay at tennis, although my serve probably maxed out at about 7 miles per hour. Bowling was fun, I even rolled 186 four decades ago, but it wasn’t something I ever took seriously. Watching these sports on television is just boring for me.
What I like about team sports is simply that it involves a group of players performing together to accomplish a common goal. This group effort thing transcends, for me, sports. During my working career, I enjoyed going on team reviews of Job Corps Centers, working together to provide feedback on how to improve the program. I sang in choruses from grade school through college, and absolutely loved the group four-part harmonies. Some of my favorite rock and roll groups were The Association, The Hollies and The Mamas and Papas, because their soaring harmonies were not only three-chord, but incorporated different vocal lines that fit together well. And listening to John and Paul sing “If I Fell” still gives me the chills.
I love going to the theater, and for whatever reason, I often get a little teary-eyed when the cast comes out for their curtain calls, one by one and then as a group. I acted a bit in high school, most notably Harry the Horse in Guys and Dolls. I reluctantly admit I would have preferred to have been Sky Masterson singing the lead in “Luck Be a Lady”, but I was very happy being in the guy’s chorus performing “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat”. Basically I love group efforts.
So, before I go too far afield, let me return to the basic point. I like team sports, playing or watching. A well-executed pick and roll, a 6-4-3 double play, a cross to the midfield and a diving header goal (I saw my son David score that goal and that was a defining moment). Even though I am not a football fan, a long bomb is like ballet. I just love team work. The anticipation of knowing what your teammate is going to do, where to cut, where to throw the ball and then carrying it out, is just a thrill. It is something we take for granted as we watch multi-millionaires catch or throw a ball, but the precision, the trust, the execution all make it look easier than it really is.
For me, though, there is something deeper. When I watch a baseball game, particularly the joy when a team wins a big game, I take the significance of this a little further. We live in a world that is so divisive, so fractured with disrespect, hatred and bigotry. When I watch teammates of all different races laugh with and hug each other, jubilant after having accomplished this goal that was established, for baseball as an example, in 30 clubhouses six months prior, watching that feeling of brotherhood, camaraderie, is as meaningful to me as the victory. Obviously, this also applies to women’s sports. It applies to my co-ed softball team the few times we made it to the league finals (never won it all, but the hugs and joy we shared at having gotten that far were priceless).
I have a tendency to make things bigger than they really are. I don’t know how those white and black and Hispanic and Asian players feel about each other aside from that moment. I mean, I don’t have any reason to doubt that they all get along, except for the occasional and inevitable crazy, but do they go out to dinner on road trips? Do they play dominoes or cards together in the clubhouse? Do they tend to hang out together with folks of their own race because they have more in common, like music, or homeland or cuisine? I have no idea; I am not privy to any of these off the field situations. I am quite sure it is a very mixed bag.
I do know, however, what I see, when I watch the post-game celebrations of the Giants. I see Matt Cain hugging Gregor Blanco for his perfect game-saving catch. Nori Aoki may not speak English, but when he gets a game-winning base hit, he will be on the bottom of a multi-racial dog pile. I even remember (I think) seeing Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent hug each other, because even though they are reputed to have hated each other, I think it was personality not race, and they respected their mutual contributions to the team’s and even each other’s successes.
Again, do these outpourings of affection and love and care extend beyond the field? You often hear players being interviewed, talking about how they love this or that teammate, or all of them, and if you listen to the names being rattled off, they usually involve players of different races. Are they on each other’s Christmas card lists? Are they on each other’s speed dial texting options? Again, I don’t know. What I do know is that, for at least those moments, often of joy, probably also of consolation, when I look at these players there is no racial discord. They are all brothers (or sisters). They have been through battle together. They are experiencing that common outcome.
That is what I love most about team sports. I would rather share that curtain call with my teammates than stand by myself holding a trophy.