Tuesday, June 12, 2012


I've decided the DSM-IV should have a section on sports addiction for someone like me who suddenly finds herself inside on gorgeous SF days because the UEFA match between Ireland and Croatia just can't be missed.

Do you know what I know about soccer? Nothing. Okay, this is me. That's not exactly fair. I could rattle off a couple fun facts on just about any major sport. But do you know how much I care about soccer? Not at all...until it's on and the Twitter hivemind is into it and I want to have clever things to say. Which I don't. I hate to be so typically American but: STOP FREAKING FLOPPING! Every tiny bump leads to opera level theatrics from the "injured" player and the refs go along with it. Considering I watch entirely too much hockey, where bleeding is barely a cause for stoppage in play, my brain is not doing well with the dramatics of soccer players with non-injuries. I will, of course, be giving it more of a shot and do like the the nationalistic pride that the Euro Cup brings out and there's a sort of...ballet like quality to soccer? Also: ugh, sorry but: hot guys.

I was in Europe for the last Euro Cup and I remember the Spaniards in Paris jumping in the fountain at St. Michel and how awesome that was. I also believe soccer would be an amazing live experience; the next time I am in Europe (whenever the hell that may be) I will definitely be partaking. Okay, fine, my interest is a little bit more than "not at all". Still: STOP FREAKING FLOPPING!

Thinking about sports fandom and how we come into it, I recently read this. First of all, I have all the jealousy in the world of Ellen Etchingham's writing. She wrote a thousand times better on loving hockey than my attempt at the same. Comments like, "Difficult to follow, long on tension and short on cathartic release, it’s not kind to the casual fan. It’s not easy to love the competition aspects of hockey" make me nod in quiet appreciation.

Secondly, it's nice to feel like part of the tribe of late blooming hockey fans. That she's also female is nice but it's hardly the point. If I watch hockey long enough, get to know it more intimately, maybe I'll be able to construct passages like "To love hockey deep and long, as a spectator, you have to care more about processes than results. You have to be in it for the details, the geometric dominance of a well-constructed power play unit, the crackling sychronicity of a clicking forward line. The gymnastic artistry of a goalie building a shut-out, the desperate forward lunges of a trailing team." Total writing fan crush on Ellen. (Also: I lied about more hockey talk. Sorry! But, really, you should have known that was gonna happen.)

She points out in her article about appreciating and understanding that which a fan raised on it takes for granted. I find this to be incredibly true. I was, in my sports addiction, watching college baseball playoffs on Saturday. After watching LSU, the night game featured Oregon and Kent State. A guy I was friends with back in my college days is the assistant coach at Kent State (ugh so old) so I had a rooting interest. I also strongly dislike Oregon and all their Nike money, as well as some jerk cousins who went there. I was tweeting about the game because it was a fun game with a lot going on and the underdog Golden Flashes were up on the Ducks. I convinced a friend, with my masterful command of social media, into watching it as well and we began gchatting during the game. He's fairly new to figuring out the more intricate aspects of baseball and his perspective was enlightening.

What caught me was that the things about baseball that I utterly take for granted, because I've been going to Giants games since before I had any cognitive awareness of going to Giants games, were noticed and appreciated by him. I don't think twice about working a pitcher for a full count and then fouling off 8 balls in a row to get his pitch count up. It doesn't really occur to me in a conscious way. I know it happens and that the likelihood of a hit or walk goes up if you can stay at the plate but I'm not always aware that it's happening. Baseball is a nice way to spend an afternoon but I'm not all consuming absorbed by it the way I am when parsing out the more detailed aspects of hockey. His questions and observations gave me pause. I've so neglected baseball that my expertise of it has faded and I second guess what I do know. But it's there. Stored in my brain. Infield fly rules and lefty-lefty pitching match-ups. Having a fresh perspective on the sport from someone just getting into it served as a reawakening to my own long dormant love of baseball. When I watched the next LSU game and then the next Kent State/Oregon game, I was much more engaged, rediscovering what's great about baseball.

And about that: LSU got bounced from the college baseball playoffs by upstart Stony Brook. At home, in front of almost 11k fans. There are a lot of jokes to be made about that result. That aren't at all funny if you are an LSU fan. I noticed on ESPN, when I happened on that channel, that they're already making the "Stony Brook is Hoosiers" storyline happen. And I wanted to be pissed. I mean, of course I was. We know I love Tiger anything. (Hey, did you know we won the women's national track title? We did! For like the eleventybillionth time.)

But even early on in the series when Stony Brook was keeping up with us, I thought they were fun to watch and fun to see play. People knocked on their mascot, the Seawolves, asking what it was. I looked it up. It's a mythical creature from a Native American tribe thought to bring good luck to those who see it. Considering it's only been their mascot since the school became Division I in 1994, I appreciate the creativity in not being yet another bulldog or wildcat. More schools should change to clever mascots. (BTW: for problematic mascots: the name of my Tigers comes not from the animal but from the name of a confederate infantry company. *cue 'the more you know' music*)

I was excited for the Stony Brook players who said that they would have only ten fans in the stands for their games, literally, and were now in front of some of the most amazing fans in all of college baseball. LSU pulled in some 34k fans over the course of the three game series with the Seawolves. And the Stony Brook guys were talking about how awesome it was, how it was great to play in front of such passionate fans. Alex Box Stadium is a pretty special place and they were soaking it up.

I, however, wanted them vanquished back to Long Island. But my Tigers just didn't have it. Stony Brook came to ball and we didn't have an answer. After I got done being pissed, five minutes after the loss, I was stoked for Stony Brook. These kids are gonna have the adventure of a lifetime in Omaha. LSU fans understood that, too. They high-fived the Stony Brook kids as they lapped the stadium. People made a big deal about how "classy" that was. I'd like to think that would have happened anywhere. People who understand sports, which LSU people certainly do, know how special the experience the Seawolves were having was and understand that losing doesn't mean you get to be mean to the team that beat you fair and square. You have to be gracious in defeat.

Even though the underdog narrative can often feel forced, in this instance it seems appropriate. The Stony Brook head coach, who was coaching at the school when it wasn't even a full time job (compared to the 6 figure salary (or more?) of our head baseball coach) was in as much shock as his players. Skip Bertman, our legendary former head coach, congratulated the SB coach. "To have Skip Bertman congratulate me..." There's a lot of genuine awe with that team that you don't generally see in sports.

Additionally, LSU hadn't earned it. And good lord are we spoiled fans. We have 6 national titles in baseball alone. We are de facto to go to Omaha and pissed when we don't. We show up in the BCS title game on the reg. We expect these things. Which, we have the facilities and pay the coaches so that they aren't that unexpected. We also have the best fans anywhere. As illustrated by our reaction to knowing that we didn't deserve to win and being happy for the kids that did. But with that sort of spoiled entitlement, there's a diminishing appreciation for how special the experiences are. "Oh, a 4 seed in the Super Regionals? Yeah, we got this." Which is exactly when the underdog narrative kicks in and the school that wants it more, because they've never had the shiny toy that you put aside, takes it. Even with my school on the losing side of this equation: isn't sports grand?

So I salute you, Stony Brook Seawolves. Geaux kick some Omaha ass.

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