Training Them Young and The Arbitrary Joy of Sports.


EDIT: Made one semantic change to satisfy a certain Cowboy-fanboy friend of mine. You asshole.

I began this post by thinking of how I’d convert my Chicago-born niece to the one true religion of Bay Area sports. I was thirty minutes into it until I realized one crucial factor:

There’s no guarantee that my niece will give a lick about sports, or even the sports I care about. And as a woman-to-be, there’s even less likelihood that she’ll dive into split stats and team histories the way her uncle does.

Sidenote: That’s not an indictment against female sports fans. While I hate to pull the “I HAVE TONS OF BLACK FRIENDS” kind of argument in my defense, I have had wondrously informative conversations with women about the intricacies of mid-90s early-00s 49er suckage or the apologetics in being a Duke fan. That said, I think it’s a strong assumption that many women do not follow sports with the amount of investment as many men do.

This conclusion troubled me, because as someone who dearly wishes to leave a positive impact on his niece, 90% of my lessons come wrapped in some form of sports analogy.

“Look Jisoo, I know he’s a cute guy and all, but don’t you dare let this kid on first base on the first date. And don’t even think about giving up home plate until you’re like….40 or something.”

“Jisoo, picking friends is like picking a squad. No matter who they end up being, you’ll always need a big girl to hold down the middle and get your back, and you’ll always need a good wingman to set picks and clear out obstacles to get you where you need to be.”

“You know, Jisoo, it’s ok if you don’t know what you want to do now. Anquan Boldin played quarterback in high school, but he became a tough possession receiver in the pros. You don’t know where life will take you, you’ll figure it out when you get older.”

But if I can’t be as esoteric as referring to Patrick Willis’ method of run stopping to refining one’s instincts, I can teach my niece about the arbitrary joy of sports – which bleeds into the arbitrary way we draw happiness in life.

Last Thursday, I was at my neighborhood dive to watch the Giants play their clinching Game 5 against the Cardinals.

Sidenote: Pardon me for a moment, but HAHAHAHA SUCK IT DODGERS.

I like this neighborhood dive because it attracts my type of people. The kind of people who like their drinks heavy, cheap, and straight/no-chaser. It was the second consecutive day I’ve been in that bar, and I’d gotten to know an older woman who talked with an eternal slur and kept leading the rest of the bar in “LET’S GO GIIIIIANTS” chants.

She was a San Francisco native, one of the rare ones left who hadn’t been priced out. I couldn’t gather what she did for a living, in fact, the only thing I remember about her was her perpetual inebriation and her almost myopic optimism. She struck me as the type of person who never mourned a loss, who always squeezed extra over a win, whose loyalty would never waver and whose ultimate reward was in the shakiest of guarantees that her team would give her a parade down Market.

We would talk about points, blunt and fine, over the Giants amazing troll job that is their postseason performance. Most teams would have their back broken over seeing a challenge fastball blasted back towards the San Francisco Bay. Not the Giants. We would laugh, whoop, and holler as they scored on errors and the sharpest smallball strategies. And when Travis Ishikawa (seriously, only the Giants) turned that inside fastball towards the arcade of AT&T Park, we were both standing on the crossbars of our stools, hands raised, waiting for the moment of joy to wash over us as we hear Joe Buck’s reluctantly excited call of “THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT.”

We then clinked glasses with the grace of handless prostitutes, her Johnny Black on ice spilling all over my jeans. I didn’t care, I was awash in the joy of seeing my hometown team make it to their 3rd series in the last 5 years.

Her? She just sat back down, huge smile with a surprising amount of teeth, and slurred to me:

“This is why you always have to keep the faith. For moments like these.”

It must be remembered that this woman lived in San Francisco for about four decades. She lived through the decades of fallow baseball, where even the best* hitter in baseball history couldn’t return a World Series ring to the city that deified him. Of anyone to enjoy the recent success of Giants baseball, her kind of blind faith is the one that should be most rewarded.

The line stuck with me when I saw my niece for the first time in months. I turned on the TV to the Raiders-Cardinals game, and mused at her upturned face sporting a condescending frown (along with a killer Greek yogurt mustache) towards the Raiders ineptitude on the field. It got me thinking about other babies watching the same game at the same time. How they make any combination of faces that adults like us would muse at. How they might or might not understand why it’s so funny to us. How it’s us that’s the variable, how the product on the TV is the constant. How much superstition and faith is worth in a game that derives its thrills off its random bounces. How much patience and dedication us fans must have to follow a team that will never give us sustained happiness, no matter how dominant they are in a game of glorified chance.

I looked at that hilarious face, and I thought of the perfect sports metaphor to tell her.

“Jisoo, life’s a lot like sports. You’ll think you understand it and you’ll think you’ll know what it’s about, but you won’t. It might suck to live under such uncertainty, but at the same time, it’s also what makes it fun. So don’t keep yourself down, keep on playing, even during the bad moments, because that’s what makes the good moments that much sweeter.

I like it. It’s got the broad appeal of a platitude but the fine moral that should make up a key pillar of her personality.

Of course, she could decide to completely ignore me like she could completely ignore sports. She could grow up to be an insufferable little turd. But that’s the territory of new additions to the family. Doesn’t matter how they turn out, doesn’t matter if they win or lose in your eyes. You gotta stick by ’em. Gotta stick with your team.


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