October 8, 2006

Why we watch sports...

i always get the sense that sports non-fans have trouble understanding why we sports fans care so much. in fact, sometimes i even forget why we care so much. but occasionally, a sports moment is so special that you immediately remember what it is that we love so much about sports. i was at old pro (we're gonna start calling it OP from now) this afternoon, watching the end of the detroit and new york american league division series (that's baseball for any of you non-fans). now certainly everyone knows who new york's american league team is (the yankees), but you'll certainly be excused if you don't actually know that detroit's team is called the 'tigers.' that's because, for the past twenty years or so, the tigers have been crap. at times, much worse than crap. in fact, for the past ten years, seeing one of your fantasy baseball pitchers ready to face detroit has meant comfort and relief. the tigers have been so bad that they turned a once-proud baseball town into a baseball graveyard. that's until this year, when jim leyland (baseball's grandfatherly tough nice guy, one of the most respected managers in the game) came to town, just as the tigers' 20-year rebuilding process was ready to come to fruition. mix in a few nice free agent pickups, and voila! playoff and (now) ALCS appearance. and they're not done yet. but why is this worth writing about? because anyone who watched the postgame celebration by the tigers couldn't help but feel great for them. i've had about ten skin-tingling sports moments in my life (the first definitely being john taylor's super bowl winning catch and the latest being tiger woods' sobbing british open victory this year) and today, sitting at the OP, watching the postgame (with no audio, mind you) was the latest. first came the eruption of elation by the entire bar as the yankees were knocked out (that's standard in any sports bar outside of new york city). but it was much more than the usual "goodbye yankees" cheers. the group of true tigers fans in the bar screamed and hugged each other as if they had just been released from prison. and on the screen? a postgame scene unlike any other for an anti-climactic 3-1 division series victory. every fan stayed standing at his seat, deliriously cheering, screaming, and singing even as the tigers players ran into the lockerroom to spray champagne on one another. but the fans were not disappointed, because soon the entire team had returned to the field, champagne bottles in hand, to spray on the fans themselves. kenny rogers, he of the embarrassing camera incident a few years ago, snuck out of the dugout with three bottles, passing them out to fans and dumping the third on a uniformed security guard. groups of detroit players literally skipped down along the field walls, slapping hands with the fans and sharing a special sports moment. i cheered for the tigers this series precisely because i knew detroit would enjoy it more, but even i was surprised by the celebration. it was great and i loved it. and off on the side, the camera caught an emotional moment. pudge rodriguez stood celebrating with another player, as leyland came up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder. they exchanged a quick nod and a genuine smile, and hugged each other. no words, just the respectful and fatherly acknowledgement of a great manager with a great player. that is why we watch sports, for moments like today. congratulations to detroit the city, detroit the fans, and detroit the team. i hope you lose in seven :).



At 10/09/2006 02:16:00 PM, Blogger smallchou said...

from buster olney:

"The Tigers ran off the field Saturday night after beating the Yankees, and through the magic of television you could see all of them descend on a clubhouse table covered with cocked champagne bottles -- the tops unwrapped, the contents ready to be fired.

"The players grabbed one bottle, two bottles, three, and after about 30 seconds of hugging and yelping, most of them turned their backs on the plastic covering in their clubhouse -- and headed back out onto the field. And we will remember forever what happened next, in perhaps the greatest team celebration you will ever see.

"When Cal Ripken broke the consecutive-games record on Sept. 6, 1995, I covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun, and those were incredible moments. Cal stood in front of the dugouts, weathering a sustained standing ovation, and after many minutes he tried to go back down the steps to end it all. But teammates Rafael Palmeiro and Bobby Bonilla pushed him out, and Cal began circling the field at Camden Yards, shaking hands, giving high-fives, making eye contact and exchanging words with fans, once stopping to flip a cap that had fallen onto the field back into the stands, stopping in front of the Angels' dugout to accept the congratulations of opposing players. That was a cool moment.

"If the Tigers' players had stayed in their clubhouse, the fans at Comerica Park probably would've lingered for a few minutes, clapping and enjoying their own revelry, reacting to a handful of players conducting postgame interviews on the field. And then the fans would've gone home.

"But the Tigers' players came out and shared -- they shared the moment, shared the success, shared the champagne. Kenny Rogers came out onto the field, a bottle of champagne in each hand, climbed onto the visitors' dugout and sprayed fans. Then he paused behind a police officer who was standing in front of him, and he asked the fans, with his expression, whether he should pour champagne on the cop's head, and of course they said yes. And the cop laughed. Rogers laughed. You couldn't see the faces of the fans because of the camera angle, but I'm guessing they laughed, too.

"What fun. What great fun."


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