As I fly out of New York City on the day after game six of the 2009 World Series that saw the New York Yankees win their 27th World Series Championship, I am amazed at how much the game of baseball reflects on the game of life. Many are amazed at peoples’ preoccupation with professional sports, and I understand why, but I think that in the era of Reality TV, the ultimate Reality show is that of professional sports.
Think of all the plots and subplots that were on stage in this year’s World Series. Start with the Yankees buying up two or three of the best players in the game again this of season, which their fans love, and most fans hate. ESPN did a poll today asking if you loved the Yankees or hated them and only three northeast states voted to love them. I have been a loyal Oakland A’s fan since 1967 (dating myself again) and when the Yankees pay more for one CC Sabathia than our entire payroll, it gets frustrating. Sabathia signed a seven-year, $161 million contract with the New York Yankees. It is the largest contract for a pitcher in MLB history. And this is just one small story line.
Then spring training begins and A Rod (Alex Rodriguez) is exposed as a player who took steroids earlier in his illustrious career. Then in a less than forthcoming press conference, that left people much, more sour on him than if he had just flat out admitted his use of the substances in question. Then he gets off to a sluggish start to the season, which really upsets the very demanding Yankee fans since he normally thrives in the regular season before he shrinks in the post season. Then he moves from his recent divorce and well publicized (now defunct) relationship with Madonna to his newest tryst with actress Kate Hudson. If that is not enough, he actually plays his best post-season ever leading up to the World Series (which he played OK in) actually endearing many of his past critics to him.
Then there is George Steinbrenner who is the Yankees long time aging owner who has passed on managing control of the team to his sons (Hank and Hal). The Steinbrenner’s are some of the most colorful and frequently quoted people in all of sports. He moved the team from their decades of history and traditional Yankee Stadium to the New and drastically improved Yankee Stadium right across the street. The prices on the seats at the new stadium and all the incidentals that go with attending a game dwarfed all the pricing of other major league teams including their cross town rival New York Mets who also moved into an amazing new stadium in 2009. The outrageous prices were another of the seasons long hot topics.
Then there was high priced free agents CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira who were trying to hold up to the pressures of playing in New York. Then there were the four elder statesmen of the Yankees, Derek Jeter (my hands down favorite player), Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte. They were all Yankees back when they won their last championship in 2000. And Johnny Damon became only the second player to win the championship with the Yankees and the Red Sox.
Then there were the Phillies trying to be the first team from the National League to repeat as champions since the Cincinnati Reds of the 1970’s. Their fiery leader Jimmy Rollins had made a bold prediction before the series that the Phillies would win it in six games, which set off quite a media frenzy.
Then there was all time great Pedro Martinez getting a chance to come back and spoil the Yankees title hopes as a new member of the Phillies. There was their best player, Ryan Howard having a terrible slump in the series. Then there was Chase Utley hitting 5 homeruns in the series and tying the mark for homeruns that the great Reggie Jackson set in his remarkable 1977 performance.
And on and on and on…..So you see, there is more drama in this show than is Survivor and The Apprentice and all the other Reality Shows combined….and while many of those shows are staged, pro sports is not. As the Wide World of Sports used to say in their opening for their long running show, “It’s the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.”
When I was a child, I had an unusual zeal for baseball. Playing it nonstop every moment that I could…Throwing a ball against our house to practice fielding ground balls (which I realized later was not too good for property values)…Watching every pitch of game after game from pro to high school to Little League…Collecting baseball cards….Playing the Strat-O-Matic baseball board game….Being a volunteer bat boy for the local semi-pro team….I just could not get enough.
I was also the kid who memorized every players number and statistics. Not just the great ones, pretty much all of them. I had a true love of the game. While my devotion to sports was unusual, the bottom line is despite fans being pretty much disgusted with the commercialization of pro sports, we still watch it. I have long since lost my zealous devotion to America’s past time, but the real human drama of it and all pro sports is what keep me tuning in. It’s all there. The privileged vs. the underdog; people excelling or crumbling under intense pressure; People’s passion pushing them beyond their ability; Personality conflicts….There are so many life lessons to learn from all sports. So maybe you now know why you keep tuning in….or better yet why you should keep tuning in. Baseball and pro sports, like many other things we enjoy, are not perfect, but they sure are a great part of life in these United States.