At The Allrounder: Being A Mets And Yankees Fan

This past April, in noting the online debut of a new sports journal, The Allrounder, I noted its self-description:

The Allrounder will be distinct from existing sports media sites in covering the whole world of sport. The site will feature writers from different countries, whose expertise ranges from basketball, cricket, and hockey to all codes of football. And The Allrounder will aim for the global fan—for the Indian who is up in the middle of the night watching the Champions League, the American who follows Six Nations rugby, the Brit who cheers for the Maple Leafs, the Brazilian with a LeBron jersey, and the Aussie who loves baseball novels.

The Allrounder will also offer a different take on sport. Most of our contributors are academic researchers at universities around the world. The site will bring their insights out of the seminar room and make them available to educated, curious fans—without getting overly theoretical or ponderous. We’ll be smart without being stuffy or snide.

I debuted yesterday on The Allrounder with Confessions Of A Mets And Yankees Fan. I’ve only touched lightly upon many of the issues noted in there: the tribalism of sports fans and the hankering for ‘home’ being two notable instances. More on that later. Perhaps here, or there.

The Post-Running Glow, And Watching Batting Practice

On Tuesday morning last, I awoke at 5:45 AM, drank coffee, changed into a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, laced up my running shoes and went for my now-regular twice-a-week 3.4 mile-loop of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. (I accompany an old friend, a far more serious runner than me, on the days he does his ‘easy runs.’)

After we had finished our run, I was sweaty, and suffused with the endorphin-saturated glow that runners like to term ‘the runner’s high.’  My way home lay along a small cluster of sporting fields: tennis courts, football fields, baseball diamonds. As I walked back, slowly, along the wire-mesh fences that marked off the boundaries and edges of these zones of recreation from the walkways and parking lots of the offices of the Park Authority, the summer sun’s rays, already finely honed to a warm sharpness by 730AM, shone through their grills, drawing diffraction patterns on me and all that lay around me. I was primed to regard this little urban oasis’ landscape with a benevolent and appreciative eye; this early in the day, as other residents of the city scrambled to prepare for their work and school days, I had already acquired the virtuous distinction of having performed service for both body and soul. And I had spent time with a friend, talking about matters cultural and political and emotional. Conversation with friends; physical endeavor; quiet meditative time; there seemed to be a Epictetan aura around my simple doings that morning.

At one end of the baseball diamond, a father and son pair appeared engaged in a distinctive summertime occupation: batting practice. The young lad adorned himself with his helmet, and twirled his bat in anticipation; his father, away on the pitcher’s mound, behind the practice L-screen, reached, again and again, into a sack full of baseballs, picked out one, and threw it over at varying speeds and trajectories; the batter in training swung or let go, trusting his judgment of balls and strikes; sometimes balls thudded into the fences behind which I now stood, my progress home temporarily halted, gazing on at this spirited attempt to acquire competence in a difficult sporting task; sometimes lusty contact was made and the baseball departed to sundry corners of the field, awaiting retrieval once the sack of spares had been depleted. Here was sport, here was family, here was physical aspiration.

I could not stay too long; my day’s responsibilities awaited me; I had to get home in time to aid my wife in her departure for work by taking my daughter to day-care; and then, I would have to turn to my writing, my syllabus preparation, and unfortunately, my perennial states of distraction. All too soon, I would be possessed by anxiety and self-doubt about my intellectual abilities, my suitability for the task of writing; I would fret and fume by all that I would leave undone as the day drew on. So this little morning-time instruction in that oldest of lessons, about the cost-free nature of simple pleasures, acquired in retrospect, as many of life’s experiences often do, some of the hue the summer sun had afforded to my treed and shaded surroundings on my walk back home from a run around the park.

Note: In an older post, I had regretted my inability to run regularly thanks to an old ankle injury; this latest bout of running marks a return of sorts to a much beloved activity of mine. I do not intend to risk injury and only run twice a week.

Baltimore Dispatches – II: Ford vs. Chrysler, Or, Picking Your Favorite Professional Sports Team

Today’s activities in Baltimore feature as centerpiece, attendance at a backyard barbecue structured around a football game. It’s Sunday, it’s fall, football is on, the Baltimore Ravens are playing the Kansas City Chiefs. There will be beer, grilling, and frequent trips to the restroom. Sounds like the kind of thing you’d do in a sports-crazy town on the weekend, one that started on Friday night, for then, Baltimore was in the feverish grip of the Orioles-Ranger playoff to determine the American League wildcard. Tonight, sports fans in Baltimore will execute a masterful segue from devoted following of the National and American Football Conferences to Major League Baseball’s American League Divisional Championships as the Birds take on the Yankees. Baltimore versus Texas! Baltimore versus New York! Er, Baltimore versus Kansas City! The stuff of long-standing, politically significant, emotionally charged historical disputes.

Or not.

Which is a long-winded way of saying I am confronted again with the mystery of how millions of sports fans, here in the US, and all over the world, develop long-standing, passionately defended and articulated, emotionally infused, personal allegiances with large, profit-seeking, corporate entities, an enterprise that should be–but most definitely isn’t–akin to finding someone to cheer for in a Ford vs. Chrysler encounter. (Sorry, bad example; if you walk through the parking lot of a NASCAR event, you will find many who can do just that.) I succumb to the marketing pitch all too easily myself. Somehow, despite all my misgivings about the Barclays Center arena in Brooklyn, despite its gentrifying, traffic-causing, neighborhood-destroying tendencies, I find myself making plans to go watch the Brooklyn Nets, cheap tickets for which will run well north of $50, looking forward eagerly to Knick-humbling, thinking about a Nets shirt and cap. They are, after all, a very cool black. Dodgers-shmodgers. Brooklyn has its ‘own’ team, hooray. Bring on the rest of the world. Or at least, bring on the other boroughs.

Disliking some teams is easy too: I reflexively loathe the Cleveland Indians for their mascot and the Washington Redskins for their name; I dislike the Boston Red Sox because, well, they’re the Red Sox. In the world of professional soccer, I take refuge in easy formulas like disliking English soccer clubs, thus transferring prejudices acquired in the world of cricket to a new domain. It seems all too easy. The Edgar Allan Poe theme of yesterday’s post reminds me that last year, when I asked my sister-in-law if she had adopted Baltimore’s football team as her own, her answer was, ‘Well, of course, how could you not cheer for the only team in the NFL to be named after a literary character?’ Which in turn reminds me an old rejoinder of mine when asked about my NFL allegiances: ‘Both New York teams, the Green Bay Packers, and no one from the NFC East.’ Why the Green Bay Packers? Well, how could anyone not like the NFL’s only non-profit team?

As this little collection of irrationally acquired prejudices shows, there isn’t much sense to it, and there couldn’t really be when easy tribalism is such a prominent motivation. The true wonder of it is how it builds and soars to the heights of quasi-religious fervor, expressed loudly in those gigantic, fueled-by-tax-breaks temples, sports stadiums, which dot the land whose dictator would be called coach.

Ozzie Guillen, the First Amendment in the Workplace, and Bromance

The Florida Marlins’ suspension of its manager Ozzie Guillen for his ‘pro-Castro’ remarks provides yet another teachable moment about the First Amendment and its relationship to the workplace. (Guillen has been suspended for five games.)  Guillen’s original remarks read:

 I love Fidel Castro. I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that [expletive] is still here.

(As always with deleted expletives, I’m curious: What did he say? Anything worth reusing?)

After a storm of outrage from Miami’s Cuban community, the most ardent ‘anti-communists’ in the US (* see note below), and a quick suspension later, another familiar storm of outrage: How could this be possible in the US? Don’t we have free speech? What about the First Amendment, eh? Land of the free, Schmand of the Free!

In response to which: The Florida Marlins are private actors; they can abridge speech in their workplace as a condition of employment; and Guillen, if he doesn’t like it, is free to move to another employer more tolerant of his professed opinions. Employees have very few constitutional protections in the workplace; it is where we go to cease being citizens and start being minions. This confusion occurs most commonly with regards to the First and Fourth Amendments (“You mean my employer can search my stuff without a warrant?” Yes, they can). For some reason, most folks don’t think of Fifth Amendment protections in the workplace. Has anyone ever complained that he was forced to ‘testify’ to his boss? Has anyone ever tried taking the Fifth in a work meeting? Abandon all Constitutional Rights Ye Who Enter Here, indeed.

Of interest to me, too, was Guillen’s ‘defense,’ offered, in his own words, on his knees (can you back-pedal on your knees?):

This is the biggest mistake of my life…I’m on my knees. When you make a mistake this big, you can’t sleep. If I don’t learn from this I will call myself dumb. Today is the last day that this person talks about politics. Everyone in the world hates Fidel Castro, myself included, and I hate him for all the damage and all the hurt. I was surprised he’s still in power – that’s what I was trying to say.

I find Guillen’s clarification of his remarks quite convincing. This is because Guillen like many men, likes to express his maverick, contrarian self, his individuality, as it were, by expressing a kind of grudging admiration for other men found ‘too hard’ by the soft, weak, masses: ‘You all say he is an asshole, and I agree, but let me tell you, he’s one tough asshole, you gotta give him that! Don’t get me wrong; I don’t like the guy. But you gotta admit, he’s a tough dude.’ Or something like that.

Note: Two anecdotes: First, many years ago, a Cuban friend of mine bought a Yugo (don’t ask). His mother refused to ride with him in the car; not because she thought it was unsafe, but because it was manufactured in a communist country. Second, another Cuban friend of mine threw out her Billy Joel records–a good move in general, I’d say–after he toured the USSR. If it isn’t obvious, these stories date back to the 1980s, when anti-communist sentiment among Miami Cubans was–if it can be imagined–even more visceral than it is today.