I don’t know if you heard, but on Monday, the San Francisco Giants won the World Series. I know what you’re thinking. “Holy Schmikes, he’s going to post about baseball. Again. What is his deal?” Or, if you’re from Utah, “What is his dill.”
But. Okay. Here’s the thing. I know that it’s ridiculous, to spend so much time and energy cheering for a professional sports team. Like they care, these preposterously well-compensated, hopelessly overprivileged mesomorphs whose main skill in life involves being able to toss a ball in a hoop, run really fast with an oddly shaped inflated pigskin, or hit a small ball with a stick.To what end, this emotional investment, this misplaced passion, this obsession with arcane statistics and obscure strategies? Dude, grow up.
I get all that. And I’m a fan of the San Francisco Giants, called that because, in 1910, while in their New York iteration, they happened to have a few guys a little taller than normal. Someone said, “wow, they’re all a bunch of giants.” The nickname stuck. They moved to San Francisco in 1958, a town I have never lived in. I’m from Indiana, some 2200 miles from the city by the bay. But they’ve been my team since I was 10, when my friends made fun of me because I didn’t root for the Reds like a normal person.
There’s a reason why I’m a Giants fan–I’m saving it for the end. And yes, I know fandom is arbitrary. I know players come and go, are primarily loyal to paychecks. I know, rooting for the Giants, I’m cheering for a uniform. I’m essentially rooting for laundry.
But isn’t passion good? Doesn’t passion feed passion, isn’t the ability to care deeply for something a learned skill, and transferable? My wife doesn’t really care about baseball, but she cares about me, and she watched a little with me. And then asked if I wanted to watch Castle. And we did, and I thought it an emotionally enhanced televisual experience.
So I get that that hasn’t been your experience, some of you. So try this–baseball is, sure, a game, but also this huge overarching narrative, encompassing American history and race relations and unionization and heroics and villains and big finance and the corrupting influence thereof. So baseball’s not the Civil Rights Movement, but Jackie Robinson mattered, and played for the Dodgers seven years before Brown v. Board–didn’t he, in some ways, prepare the way?
Plus this. I became a Giants fan in the ’60′s. From 1961-1969, the Giants won more games than anyone. They finished second every year, and it was always close, and it was always painful. They had 5 Hall of Famers on that team for most of those years, including Willie Mays, probably the greatest player who ever lived. But they also had Hal Lanier, probably the worst major league baseball player the Good Lord ever fitted for a jock strap.
I think that’s when you fall in love with a team, when they’re super good every year, and never quite good enough. If your team just stinks every year, it’s hard to sustain fandom. You start to feel like a masochist. It’s when they’re really really good, and fall just . . . this much . .. short. Not to go all Father Lehi on you, but isn’t that what he’s talking about, opposition in all things, knowing pain so we can know joy?
But mostly I think we love baseball for the narratives. We love good baseball stories, because we love good stories. And baseball, I think precisely because the best players fail 66% of the time, lends itself to great story telling. Like this: the Giants Juan Uribe, a mediocre journeyman most of his career, hit a late inning home run early this season. When he hit it, he did this jazz hands gesture. Someone pointed it out to him–he hadn’t known he’d done it. But he watched film of it, and decided that making jazz hands indicated a good follow-through on his swing. So he kept doing the jazz hands, and had his finest season.
I love the stories about this team, the 2010 Giants, a team of cast-offs and vagabonds, a roster full of guys no one else wanted. I love the rookie pitcher, Madison Bumgarner, who got married last summer and whose prospective mother-in-law had ‘em play ‘Take Me Out To the Ballgame’ instead of the wedding march. I love skinny Tim Lincecum, the team superstar pitcher, whose Dad, a mechanical engineer, invented a new way to pitch that maximized effectiveness and minimized injuries, because his kid wanted to play Little League and Dad didn’t want him to get hurt. I love Aubrey Huff, whose wife gave him a red thong for a gag birthday gift, which he kept wearing because he thought it brought good luck, and so ‘the rally thong’ was born. (I have a friend from the Bay Area who reports that a plumber she hired was wearing one.) I love Edgar Renteria, who’s going to retire at the end of the season, who, with his last swing as a major league baseball player, hit the game winning home run in the World Series. I love Pat Burrell, our team leader. In the playoffs, we beat the Braves, largely because of three errors by a rookie named Brooks Conrad, who had to play second base for the first time all season because of injuries to teammates. After the game, Burrell went over to Conrad, told him how much he respected him, told him to keep his head up, that baseball humbles us all. And then, in the World Series, Burrell didn’t get a hit, and suffered that indignity with his usual class and calm.
I think sometimes we want our stories to all work out neatly. Baseball tells us it doesn’t always. Fiction’s about truth, too, not just Truth.
This is my team, though it doesn’t make sense for them to be, But I chose them, I chose, growing up in Indiana, to root for a team from San Francisco. Agency: we don’t just choose whether or not we’ll sin, we also get to choose who we’ll give our hearts to. And I gave my heart to San Francisco.
Sometimes love’s unrequited. Man, it feels good when it all works out. That’s also part of the gospel, I think.