making the team
I have never been what you would call an athlete. My high school sports career consisted of one practice with the junior varsity basketball team. It’s not like I didn’t learn the value of teamwork, though. I was a key member of the Quartz Hill High School Math Team—talk about dealing with the pressures of competition, try being the guy on the team everyone turns to when the team has a differential equation to solve! But, I just tried to stay inside myself, bring my ‘A’ game, and give a hundred percent (it was the math team, after all—we knew that you can’t give ‘a hundred and ten percent’).
I was at a lot of games in high school, because I was in the pep band, and I’d like to think I brought quite a lot of pep to my school. The problem was the music. It was the mid-seventies, and band directors across the nation began to toss out John Phillip Sousa in favor of watered-down Sousa-like arrangements of hip tunes the kids might like. Our band actually marched to an arrangement of the theme from ‘Shaft.’ Which would be like your grandpa performing “Me So Horny.”
The last year I was in band, the school began issuing letter jackets. To the band. And the choir. That’s right, you could letter in band. I chose not to get one, realizing I was enough of a target carrying a briefcase and a clarinet. I didn’t need the jocks, who were already inclined to shove me in a locker, to think I was mocking them by wearing a jacket that looked just like theirs, but with an embroidered music lyre on the sleeve.
I love watching sports, but I follow baseball more than the others. The NBA has become a little…thuggish for my tastes. With the chest thumping, tattoos, trash talking and women dancing on the sidelines, I’m never sure if I’m watching a sports event or a rap video. Football’s exciting, but it’s hard for me to root for guys who are just grownup versions of the guys who…shoved me into lockers.
Baseball is my sports passion. My favorite thing about it? It’s the only professional sport that the average guy can watch and say things like “Hell, I could have made that catch.” Now, granted, the average guy probably couldn’t in fact “make that catch,” but we all think we could, because, hey—it’s just catching a ball. No different than having a catch with dad, except that dad wasn’t juiced on ‘roids. As far as I know. Point being, nobody watches a Vikings game and thinks “Damn, I could have tackled that two-hundred fifty pound guy who runs the forty in under five seconds!”
The pro sport I can’t get into is hockey, which is followed with religious fervor here in Minnesota. The high school tournament is actually televised here, which creates scenes of middle-aged men in bars swearing at sixteen year-olds playing a game. Plus, the puck is too small. Make that thing the size of a discus so I can figure out where the hell I should be looking. Also, in the NHL, too many teams make the playoffs. I’m pretty sure if I could get five of my friends together with some sticks in late January, we would be given a playoff berth.
I’ve moved around so much, my team loyalties are literally all over the map. Wherever I am, I follow the home teams, because if they win a championship, I can help overturn cars and set shit on fire downtown, because that’s how we celebrate athletic excellence in this country.
I spent some time in Chicago, and I think my favorite moment as a spectator came at Wrigley Field. Game against the Phillies. I was in the bleachers for batting practice, and a misguided woman was trying to get the attention of one of the Phillies outfielders, screaming that she loved him. Suddenly, with no prompting, HUNDREDS of Cubs fans began chanting “SHUT UP BITCH”, in unison, until she, in fact, shut up. Very fun, in a scary, villagers-with-torches sorta way.
Sometimes, a team’s name is what seals it for me. I’ve been a Vikings fan since I was a kid in Southern California. Sports is combat, and your name is what you carry into battle. Historically, if Vikings defeated you, they pulled your lungs and still-beating heart out of your body, and that’s what I want my team to do. Metaphorically, of course.
The other Minnesota team names are less intimidating. ‘Timberwolves,’ I suppose, are scary enough, but ‘Twins’? “Hey, honey—I think the twins are coming for the weekend, would you make up the guest room?” The U of M Golden Gophers? Please. Is that the meanest animal you could think of? “Watch out—the Gophers are in town—they’ll…annoy you by burrowing in your yard!” And don’t get me started on the missing-an-‘s’-so-it’s-not-really-a-team-name Minnesota ‘Wild.’
Hockey also has the ‘Avalanche’ and the ‘Lightning.’ Look–a team’s name should be either something iconic, specific to that city (‘Pistons,’ for example) or the name of an animal that might kill you. And it should be plural. I think the reason the WNBA hasn’t drawn more fans is that half of their team names are…just concepts. The ‘Dream.’ The ‘Sky.’ The ‘Liberty.” These would be great names–for a team entering a poetry slam. It’s a slippery slope—what’s next–an expansion team called the Anchorage Angst?
Now. If you happen to own a team, and you’re not able to extort a gazillion dollars from the city you’re in for a fancy new stadium, so that city calls your bluff and you move your team—pick a new name. Utah Jazz is an oxymoron. Call yourself the Utah Missionaries, or the Salt Lake Polygamists, but leave the Jazz in New Orleans. L.A. doesn’t have Lakes—you don’t get to be the ‘Lakers.’ You can be the Los Angeles…Tourists. And while British Columbia may have grizzly bears, so there could be Vancouver Grizzlies, ‘Memphis Grizzlies’ just sounds stupid. How ’bout the Memphis Presleys?
I think all real sports fans look forward to the Olympics, and next year the Winter Games will be in Vancouver. The one event I never understood in the Winter Olympics is the biathlon, which is essentially trudging through snow, while stopping occasionally to shoot a rifle. I get cross-country skiing, and I get shooting things. Do one or the other.
I mean, while we’re combining random things, let’s have an event in the Summer Games that combines the 100-meter butterfly with…archery. The next Summer Olympics will include two new sports—rugby and golf. Now THERE are two activities that should be combined. Golf would be much more interesting if you could tackle your opponent as he lined up his tee shot, and all the golfers got into a big scrum at each hole.
To any actual athletes reading this (‘Athletes Who Read’–on the next Tyra!), understand that I harbor no ill will toward those of you who might have picked on me. And really, it worked out for the best. Sure, because of your freakish physical talents and genetic luck, you have the opportunity to earn millions of dollars while I have the opportunity to…i dunno, have dozens of people read my stuff. But it’s been years since I’ve been shoved into a locker, and besides, I’ll always have the clarinet to fall back on.