My (Reluctant) Recognition of Sporting Excellence

Damn you, Derek Jeter.  I watched and watched and waited for you to fail. Publicly, personally, and most certainly professionally.  I waited you out during my twenties.  A man under the unnerving pressure of being the captain of arguably the most recognized sports franchise in the world plying his trade in the capital of the world, should fall. Mightily.  Damn you, Jeter ’cause I’m older now and I have significant responsibilities of my own. I know what pressure feels like, though clearly not on the same level.  My edge has been shaved with regards to you and your life and to a certain extent your professional achievements.  I now reluctantly recognize that you exist in a subtext to my own maturation. You also exist and revel in a spotlight the likes of which would cause most men to wilt nearly instantaneously.  I’ve changed, you’ve stayed the same.  So it is without any sense of grandiose movement that I offer you a calm tip of my hat for your achievements.  Way to go, asshole.

Jeter’s not alone.  I’m easing my way into a previously impossible enjoyment of watching Kobe Bryant in his twilight still hunting down opponents’ weaknesses until the 4th quarter when he exploits all that he’s discovered.  You’d think it would drive me insane to credit him given his winter move, but I still can’t believe Albert Pujols’ swing plane and his trigger mechanisms and his twitch-twitch-explode from the right side of the plate.  I want his team to lose, but I kind of want him to play forever.  David Ortiz plays for a team I’ve never had much love for, but at 36, the big fella lost 25 pounds during the off season and currently has 28 f-ing hits in 16 games and an OPS of 1.200. Hat tip for you, big dude. Sprinting through the finish line.

Much has been written about “fandom” around these parts this week.  I’m nearly positive anyone reading this is aware of the imbroglio over April scoreboard watching and the unceremonious dropping of a french adjective.  I saw all the tweets, live, and frankly didn’t think much of them.  I know most of the folks involved, at least a little bit, and I like them all.  I can’t really explain my lack of a response other than to say that I’ve just (completely inadvertently, mind you), begun to drift aimlessly toward an appreciation for excellence on the field while experiencing a nearly tangible dissipation of my passion for the name on the front of the jersey.  I found a couple of great articles, one by Joey Matschulat of BBTIA, and the other, the thoughful, measured response from Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus and Texas Farm Review, articulating how as they’ve delved further into the game and its machinations, they too have felt their “fandom” lessening. The experience for me, while similar, has had some inversely proproportional side effects. As I’ve drifted from disliking player X or Team Y, my appreciation for those who excel has grown.

I’m enjoying the game(s) more than ever now.  I can’t really articulate it any better than to say that my appreciation for what I’m seeing is palpable. As most of you know, I’m an entrepreneur and a business owner.  I’m in a segment that faces intense, daily scrutiny and criticism.  I’ve got my name on my business which is why my name isn’t on my blog. (contractual stuff with the partners et. all).  I often refer to my state of mind as that of a reluctant optimist.  It’s contrary to my punk nature to look on the bright side, but you have to learn to take it a little bit when reading the unsolicited opinions of all of your hard work on Yelp! (side note: fuckin’ Yelp)

Maybe that’s what it is, there’s so much other crap to deal with that baseball, and sports in general, have become what they should be for me, a healthy distraction. Sometimes when I’m making small talk about baseball with parents of little leaguers or folks wearing Rangers gear, they’re surprised by the games I suggest they attend.  I always tell ’em to go see the Mariners, or the Yankees, or the Angels in the AL and the Phillies or the Braves in the NL.  I don’t make this suggestion because of the teams or the rivalries or any kind of geographical allegiance.  I make the suggestion because of a few of the players they’re likely to see. There have been roughly 19,000 players in MLB history and there are 242 in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  You can argue for years about some of the merits of the members, but the bottom line on all of them is that they were good.  Really good.  Go out to the ballpark to see Ichiro, Jeter, Rivera, Pujols, Halladay, or Jones, and the chances are strong you’re seeing an athlete who is so good at his sport that someday his name is going to join those 242 others.

I’m not intimating that I don’t root for teams anymore, I do. Its just that somehow I have an easier time these days accepting the excellence of the opponent.  Blame it on maturation, blame it on my continuing knowledge of the games, blame it on my job, or mortgage, or whatever.  But I’m happy it’s happening.  So tonight if the Bombers have a two-run lead and the 9th comes around, me and you may be rooting for a rally, but I’ll also be oddly content if the game ends with my last personal visual of the last #42 inducing a sawed off, soft grounder to first.  Nice pitch, asshole.