It's a little embarrassing to admit this, but I will confess it anyway, because here at The Life of Kings, we are all about honesty. So here goes:
You can become jaded about sports when you write about them for a living.
This is likely not breaking news to you; every sportswriter I've ever known has received scores of e-mails, phone calls or handwritten letters over the years (some of which are penned in a beautiful crayon script) accusing them of being a bitter, jaded, no-good S.O.B who is only out to drum up controversy in order to sell newspapers. "Support the home team, you jerk!" we are often told, a statement that makes us wonder if most fans see our true role as little more than the literate, articulate cheerleader.
It's never that simple, of course. Sportswriting is not factory work, but it is a job, much as any other. We do our best to tell it like it is, even when that's unpopular, knowing that the most important thing to focus on when writing the first draft of history (other than double-checking the spelling of names) is to be honest.
Just like your job, there are ebbs and flows, good bosses and bad, memorable days and forgettable ones. And while some people choose to come home from a difficult day at the office (and I use the term "office" loosely) and use sports to escape or unwind, many of us do not have that luxury. We watch games with leads pounding through our heads. Stadiums, frequently, do not make us think about the collective joy that so many experience when they walk through the gates and see the lush green grass or hear the leather ball snapping through the nylon. They remind us of the hundreds of athletes we've had to beg over the years -- literally beg -- for two minutes of their time just to get a quote before our deadline hits. They make us recall nights and weekends spent away from our families, eating awful bar food and praying, before our head hits the pillow, that we will not wake up to learn we've been scooped by the competition.
There is a piece of writing, however, that I read often to help keep my life as a sportswriter and sports fan in perspective. I thought about it again last night as I sat across the street from Wrigley Field, on a rooftop deck with a Coors Light in my hand, and watched the Cubs defeat the Cincinnati Reds 7-4 despite Ken Griffey Jr.'s 595th home run. It was written by Roger Angell of
The New Yorker,
shortly after the 1975 World Series, in an attempt to explain why Carlton Fisk's home run off the foul pole in Game 6
I was reminded of this not because it's beautiful baseball writing, but because I did something tonight that I've always wanted to do before I die, or before writing about sports turns me cold and bitter: I sang along during the seventh inning stretch at Wrigley Field. And I sang loud, caring very little about how uncool or unprofessional I looked, and at the end, even though I have no allegiance to the Cubs, I hollered out "Let's get some runs!" in my best Bill Murray voice.
It wasn't perfect, of course. Cubs announcer Harry Caray (pictured above) has been dead more than 10 years, and so he wasn't there to lead the crowd in song like he did for countless Cubs games. (Olympic beach volleyball player Misty May-Treanor did the honors.) And I would have preferred to be in the bleachers instead of in a skybox across the street. But it was one more thing I was able to cross off my Sports Bucket List, the list of all the things I want to do before it's too late. Singing along to that song in that park represents a tradition and a passion that words really cannot do justice.
I think every sports fan -- even those of us who write about sports and have gone many places and seen many things -- has at least a rough mental checklist of the stuff they'd like to cross off, especially if time and money were not the deciding factor. And those checklists reflect our personal tastes and eccentricities. I've played baseball with a group of kids, using only a stick and a balled-up sock, in one of the poorest neighborhoods in San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic, and I've covered an NFL playoff game. Both were once on my list, but for different reasons. I'm going to throw out five more of my own for this week's edition of The Big Five, and then you feel free to list yours. There are no wrong answers, only events that, for whatever reason, inject you with enough excitement or curiosity that you feel free to experience the ignoble joy that is caring.
5. A Wimbledon final on Centre Court: I was a below average tennis player in high school without much of a backhand or a credible second serve, but Pete Sampras mesmerized me as a young man by winning seven Wimbledon titles. Centre Court was a cathedral to him, an I've always wanted to sit quietly and hear the thwack! of a running forehand.
4. Attend a bullfight in Spain: The folks at PETA may fire off a few angry emails if they see this one, and they probably should, because bullfighting is brutal. But for every fool like me who read "The Sun Also Rises" and fell hard for Hemingway's charms, the lure of red wine, cigars and matadors is too strong.
3. Take part in the pre-race prayer at the Daytona 500: I'm not much of a religious man, nor do I follow NASCAR. But after reading Sunday Money by Jeff MacGregor, truly one of the best sports books of the last 15 years, I started to understand why the Daytona 500 (and other NASCAR races like it) are such an important part of the complicated fabric that is American culture. Read the book, even if you don't have any interest in stock car racing. It's like listening to music.
2. Spend an afternoon at the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.: Supposedly, it's one of the most unique and fun atmospheres in sports. Someday I want to drink beer, eat a chicken sandwich that some friendly stranger has cooked in the parking lot, and root for a team I have no connection to whatsoever.
1. Eat pimento cheese sandwiches at Amen Corner: This last one is cliché, but it's cliché for a reason. Doesn't matter who's playing, as long as I got to hear one Augusta birdie roar.