Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Shot right through with a bolt of blue

I seem to have developed a relationship with this year's baseball semifinal. Whatever you call it.

I'm not, as anyone can tell, a sports person. Like a lot of spazzy, myopic kids, my number-one strategy for avoiding ball-coming-at-me situations - which without exception elicit from me flop sweat, prayer, flailing, grimacing, and shame - has been to profess an active disdain for organized physical activity. Hey, I never liked organized religious activity either. Same reactions.

However, as my memories of cringing at home plate feebly waggling a bat at a softball I can barely see fade to dim specters in the dust-moted golden haze of The Land Before 1983, I have less reason to sneer at sports. Now, from time to time, I can enjoy watching professional basketball players actually fly: I can gasp at the artistry of women's soccer players (look at that shit! she kicked the ball around the defender, passing it to herself!). In New York, we even went to baseball games. Those were really fun.

But I'm still not a fan. I still don't know the rules, and I still think football in particular is both bureaucratically boring and viscerally ugly - a rare combination, wouldn't you say? I don't follow a team, or any particular players.

My husband is something of a fan. He knows a staggering amount of information about athletes, up to and including where some of them went to high school. He grew up in Cleveland, which is by god a sports town in a football state. He and his long arms played high school basketball and college rugby. He would watch a couple of games a week if he had the leisure to do it (to his immense credit, he doesn't, so he doesn't).

The fact that Bob grew up in Cleveland is significant. Cleveland teams have brilliant seasons, but do not tend to win championships. Was it a big deal when the Red Sox won the whatever a few years ago? Hah. NO Cleveland team has won ANY championship in ANY sport since some year that my husband and every member of his family would know.

Wait I'll look it up. 1964, the year Bob was born, the Browns won the Superbowl.

[Bob corrects me: the Super Bowl hadn't been invented in 1964. The Browns won the NFL Championship.]

And it's not that Cleveland teams simply suck: this much I know. I went to college out there, and in the '80's in Cleveland, even at the geek school, much of our social life involved getting together to watch the Big Game: playoff series after playoff series - and even a Super Bowl, I think - when through some sudden fluke, defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory. Last-minute fumbles, insane athletic feats by the other guy, chokeage. Apparently, God Hates Cleveland Sports.

Game 1:
This weekend we were out in the old town for a family wedding. Niece Kate marrying Nice John. (Good luck, you kids!) Game one was the night before the wedding, and we missed it - well, Bob missed it. I didn't know one way or the other. We were attending Cousin Stretch's baptism that evening, and as the priest expelled her demons and incorporated her into the church, everybody but me knew that the Indians were playing the Red Sox. Boston won.

Game 2:
Katie and John, the bride and groom, are, like most Clevelanders, sports fans. Big sports fans. Let's put it this way - when their wedding invitation arrived, and it was cream-colored with a brown border, I didn't think for a minute that the brown was there to signify that it was an autumn wedding. I had my fingers crossed about the bridesmaids - I knew there was an outside chance they'd be wearing orange dresses with numbers on the back.

They weren't, of course - hey come on, I'm teasing... but the wedding party did enter the reception at a run, each wearing a team jersey over their tux or gown. That was pretty cute.

That night, back at the hotel, after our kids fell asleep, a batch of family crept into our hotel room to debrief, drink more, and - you guessed it - watch the game. That game went to 23 innings, tied until the Indians scored an unprecedented 47 runs in the top of the last inning and then retired the Red Sox side. Those numbers may not be exact, I did eventually fall asleep once the Indians were ahead by like 4. Still, pretty compelling, for baseball.

The next evening we found ourselves downtown when dinnertime rolled around. Googling "best sushi Cleveland" and plugging the addresses that came up into Google Maps, we came up with some joint in the Warehouse District. The football game was just over when we parked, and my god. Apparently the Warehouse District in Cleveland is considered a good place to watch the game, get unbelievably wasted, and then stagger around trying to use your cell phone in between little vomiting episodes.

I kept a tight hold on the kids, and we made it to the sushi place without either of them being propositioned or puked on. The sushi place was not what we expected - lots of purple and glass, it looked like a club, kind of. But it was fine, you know, fish is fish. We always end up eating sushi when we travel. At any other restaurant the kid options are as follows:
  1. hotdog
  2. grilled cheese
  3. chicken turds
  4. cheeseburger
  5. maybe spaghetti
... and several days of a diet like that is just ugly. At sushi places they eat edamame and tofu and miso soup and fish.

When I took the kids to the bathroom to wash hands I noticed that the big guy at the table next to us was kind of... paved... in diamonds. Big studs in the ears and two wide bracelets on one arm. "Musician?" I thought to myself. "Gangster? Bet he's a ballplayer." He was a black guy with a shaped short beard and he spoke
staccato Dominican Spanish into a cell phone. He acquired at least three hangers-on while he ate his sushi and watched the irritating Tom Brady get sacked on the overhead TV.

So the next day I looked through the Indians and Red Sox rosters, and found that we were sitting next to David Ortiz, designated hitter for the Boston Red Sox! Big Papi, they call him. Beloved, in Boston anyway.

Game 3:
The next night we were up in Bob's sister T's swanky new apartment facing the lake. Big beautiful views, including the stadiums and the blimp. Of course, we turned the game on, and once again, Cleveland won.

Game 4:
Last night we were back home here. We watched the game. Cleveland won. I am more than mildly not-disappointed. I am, in fact, looking forward to Thursday's game. I am thinking to myself, "Wouldn't that be something, if for the first time in 43 years, Cleveland won a championship? This is kind of exciting. But, uh, HOW many games are we talking about?"

I spent the first seventeen years of my life actively avoiding sports. I spent the next seventeen years peripherally aware of sporting events and teams, and the last five gradually getting used to the fact that athletic prowess can be kind of compelling.

Things have changed since I was the most uncoordinated kid in the Baltimore metropolitan area. For one thing, nobody expects me to do sports now - I have a knowledgeable, physically competent husband to teach my boys how to throw and catch, kick and hit, and to explain to them how the Earned Run Average is calculated.

For another, the Baltimore teams of my youth have undergone a molecular shift. The high-achieving Orioles that everyone used to brag about are treated with contempt even at home, and the Baltimore Colts, well, the Colts live in Indianapolis.

It's kind of a funny thing: my first year in Cleveland was 1984, the year that the Colts ran off in the middle of the night. I had heard something about it, but in Cleveland, my god, it was all anyone wanted to talk about. People teased me about it! I was dumbfounded and amused. I didn't even pretend to understand, but I did kind of enjoy it years later when the Browns quit Cleveland to come be Baltimore Ravens.

"Ravens" is not a bad name for a Baltimore sports team, but I cannot bring myself to like them (I'm not alone, either!). I sort of can't remember why, though. Maybe that's just how it works.