Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sport and Spectators

Responding to Dave Pollard, who writes,
From now on, every time I am tempted to watch a "spectator sport", or a mass media information or entertainment production, I am going to stop myself and ask: What could I be doing instead that is more collaborative, and more participative, and take myself off the sidelines and out of the chair and into action, doing something, cooperatively, with others.
Um. No.

Two short stories.

1. I was in Memphis about a month ago. The Redbirds (local triple-A baseball team) were playing in their nice new downtown stadium. I went three nights in a row.

It was perfection. I had a seat on the first base side, even with home plate, about 6 rows in. The games proceeded at their pace, the crowd came in and cheered and chatted, the vendors sold me some hot nuts and a beer or Coke, and I simply appreciated the act, the art, of the sort. Watching Stansberry stroke a double down the left field line is a thing of beauty.

2. It's late at night. I'm listening to the Blue Jays game on the radio. They're playing in Detroit and there's a rain delay. The announcers come on, they update the other scores around the rest of the league, talk a bit about the current game, and then engage in a conversation on the game itself, some proposed rule changes, whether they should be undertaken, who they would favour, that sort of thing. Arcania.

And at the end of the conversation, a good ten of fifteen minutes later, they wrapped up, and the announcer said, "I hope you enjoyed that." And I realized, I had enjoyed that, not because of the topic, necessarily, but because it was simply high quality conversation - two knowledgable people having a friendly discussion about something that interested them.

So I don't think *my* enjoyment of sports, at least, has anything to do with the expertise or the affinity (and certainly very little to do with the competition).

I think, for me, sport is like art. I appreciate the beauty, the artistry, the spectacle, the grace. And whether this is expressed in the game itself, the setting, or the coverage, it's all the same to me - and actually, the totality of this is what really brings it together.

When I am sitting on a perfect summer evening watching a game and that little voice says, "What could I be doing instead that is more collaborative, and more participative," I have learned to say, "nothing."

Because, you know, it (life, and all that) is not about being "more collaborative, and more participative." It's about those moments of beauty, when the lead-off hitter strokes a double down the left field line, the runner scores from first in a cloud of dust, and this event, unknown to all of us in the second inning, will be what decides the issue in a 1-0 game.

The spectator is what makes any of this worth doing at all.

Not seeing that is, in an important way, not to see.

7 comments:

  1. This quote is on the wall of my den.

    "What other people find in poetry or art museums, I find in the flight of a good drive : the white ball sailing up into the blue sky, reaching its apex, falling and finally dropping to the turf, just the way I planned it." Arnold Palmer.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/shareski/2167173321/

    Sports definitely has an artistry and beauty to it the is often overlooked.

    Nice piece of writing Stephen.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Agreed. Beautifully written and a solid observation that hit a chord with me too. And I really like idea that you picked baseball for your example. It is, by its very nature, a sport that transcends the competition and mechanics of what is happening on the field. If you've never heard.

    If you've never seen George Carlin's comparison of baseball and football, it's well worth the time. One of my favourites of all time.

    ReplyDelete
  3. It was Betrand Russell, I think, who said that the time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.

    I think Russell was in sync with you, Stephen. Dave Pollard may have a point about not simply vegetating -- though sometimes vegetating is just what you want to do, and perhaps what you need to do.

    I'm not much of a sports fan (when you say baseball, I think "Al Kaline," which is a pretty good thought but not all that current), but I agree completely that two skilled commentators like those you listened to can create an ambiance, can apply their expertise subtly and gracefully, in a situation where they're talking to people who may find that application interesting.

    (To go along with Kaline as a player, there were George Kell and Ernie Harwell as commentators.)

    And then there's, say, Joe Garagiola, who as a commentator demonstrated the difference between "subject-matter expert" and "exemplary performer." Not in a good way.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Not only is he a prominent crossword puzzle answer, he is probably the most remembered ballpolayer of all because of a Mad Magazine parody of palmistry some time in the 70s...


    Heart Line
    Life Line
    Love Line
    Al Kaline

    funny. I still see the little cartoon figure of the batter on the little cartoon hand.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Anybody who remembers baseball parodies from Mad can't be all bad.

    Tigers, Tigers, burning bright
    In the ballparks of the night:
    Your pitching's good, your field's adroit
    How come no pennant for Detroit?

    You traipse around the big league parks
    With bats that fairly give off sparks
    But when they total up the score
    You've blown three games in Baltimore...

    ReplyDelete
  6. "...life, and all that) is not about being "more collaborative, and more participative." It's about those moments of beauty, when the lead-off hitter strokes a double down the left field line, the runner scores from first in a cloud of dust, and this event, unknown to all of us in the second inning, will be what decides the issue in a 1-0 game."

    Magnificent.

    It's not about the names or the stats, although those things are important. Sport, and baseball more than any other, is about the overall experience, the essence of the game.

    Your post may be the best baseball related prose I've read since Roger Angell's essay on Game Six of the 1975 World Series.

    ReplyDelete

I welcome your comments - I'm really sorry about the moderation, but Google's filters are basically ineffective.