Weekly Five Spot: Formative Moments in the Life of a Sports Fan
That's the bottom line —round these parts: you can't be anything other than what you've been. You can fake it, of course, and maybe even convince the world that the faking is all there is to know...but then there's still that part of you, right Meat?—that deep dark place where it's just you and yourself, and the one truth you can't ever hope to escape:
If you've ever been a sports fan, you'll always be a sports fan.
Even if you outgrew the face paint, even if you had the cable company block ESPN: Always. Like, always always. There's something about growing up in and around sports that leaves an indelible cognitive stamp on the human psyche, something about being raised in the ways of peanuts-and-crackerjack zealotry that just plain changes a guy—for better or for worse, for now and forever. It's in a spirit of self-exegesis, then, that we run down the five most formative episodes in the life a fan, a suite of make-or-break moments that very often have permanent pathological implications for the folks who experience them. Which isn't to say that the crew at the Spot has ever gone in for fin-de-si'cle fatalism, necessarily, but the rules of the game are the rules of the game, and if you've gotten this far without figuring out how to read the scoreboard, well—
Frankly Meat, you probably haven't been playing very close attention.
Number Five: First Time Meeting an Idol in Person
Things ain't easy for a kid trying to get his metaphysical bearings in this age of media saturation and satellite broadcasting. There's the world out the window and the world on the screen, and the connection between the two tends to be tenuous at best...unless of course little Johnny meets one of his sports heroes in person "my God, he's actually real" in which case some seriously impactful psychological imprinting goes down. If the encounter is a positive one—if the hero signs an autograph, or poses for a picture—Johnny develops a positive attitude towards the world-at-large, a sociable disposition that would seem to portend professional and personal success further on up the road. If not—if the big shot gives little Johnny the brush-off, thereby making little Johnny wish that the big shot would've just stayed inside the TV where he belonged—well...there's worse things to be than a dysfunctional, ESPN-addicted shut-in, aren't there Meat?
Number Four: First Time Your Team Wins the Big One
The question here: How long did you have to wait? Broadly speaking, early success breeds a sort of expectant arrogance; if your team wins in the first years of your personal fandom, you're liable to take championships—and triumphs of all kinds—for granted...and to react rather poorly when you find out that things aren't always bound to go your way. A reasonably protracted period of waiting, on the other hand, tends to build what the old folks like to call character—and leaves the waiter himself far more attuned to the subtle joys of life's little victories. Of course, all this assumes that your team actually does win the big one at some point in your life, lest you trudge out your days as a Bartman-baiting, billy-goat-hating victim of circumstance. Stay miserable, Chicago. You look so pretty in blue...
Number Three: First Time Your Team Loses the Big One
Lo the agony of defeat. The first time your team goes down in a big game feels something like the death of your first pet: both losses have a sort of arresting permanence to them, an utter finality that smacks of nothing less than your own personal mortality. Without getting too morbid about it, we'll say only that the shock value of the defeat is pivotal in this one. If you saw it coming—if your boys were heavy underdogs, and you never really expected them to win—you've got a good chance of coming through the thing spiritually unscathed. If it's one of those oh-my-God losses, though: well Meat, then you might be in trouble, because he who's learned to doubt a sure thing is he who's glimpsed the truth of his own exceedingly fragile existence, and he who's glimpsed the truth is he who can't ever get the vision all the way out of his head. Unless of course his team turns around and wins it all the following year, in which case, you know, Jesus saves, Allah conquers, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Number Two: First Time Spectating with a Significant Other
You're a sports kid, from a sports family. You grow up with a clearly articulated raison dtre, a rock-hard anchor at the center of your universe: the local team. Doesn't matter what city, doesn't matter what sport; your life begins and ends with the hometown heroes. And then you grow up, and your biochemistry starts to change, and before you know it those heroes are competing for psychic elbow room with—with—with girls, Meat, and all the gooey electric nausea they've suddenly developed the power to engender. Which is of course bad enough in itself, without one of those girls wanting to watch a game with you, and you not having the wherewithal to say no, and the both of you being callously and unceremoniously thrust into a universe where worlds are colliding, and things won't ever be the same. Even worse: when that doe-eyed harlot turns around and dumps you a week later, making you wish you'd never left the sunny-bright comfort of the cheap seats. Better to have loved and lost? Not from where we're sitting, Meat. Not from where we're sitting.
Number One: First Game
You never forget your first time: the roar of the crowd, the smell of the hot dogs, the squeak of rubber-souled shoes on a hardwood floor. The same goes for your first live sporting event, where getting your cherry popped is the next best thing to, well, getting your cherry popped. Popular wisdom holds that no two virgin runs are ever the same, and the last thing we want is to project our own cherished memories onto yours...but suffice it to say that there's always something magical about the experience, a sort of glittering cosmicity that comes without warning and leaves without fanfare and makes you wonder, in the end, whether it was ever even there at all. It all goes by too fast, is the point, and so if you find yourself thinking that the whole thing was too short, and wishing that you'd had time to enjoy it before it was done—
Don't sweat it, Meat; we used to have the same problem. The key to lasting longer? All you gotta do is think about baseball...
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