The St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series last night.
I’d say there’s a good chance that some of you reading that factoid don’t give a lick. I did, though. I watched it with Dennis, after an impromptu appearance on Mom and Dad’s curling team, while consuming unhealthy food at close to 10 pm. He’d taped what would be the final game of the series, and waited for me to watch it with him, even though I’d been called away and we had to start later.
I love sports. I love playing sports, though I indulge that less now than I would have when I was younger. It’s limited to frisbee in the spring/summer, curling in the fall/winter, and occasional forays into other ones when the mood strikes, or someone has the time to gather a large group of adults (which is, as Wash from Moneyball would say, “incredibly hard”). But I also enjoy watching sports. Professional sports, mostly; the quality of other levels is fun if I’m watching live, but I’ve little time to indulge that beyond passing knowledge. I could engage someone in conversation about baseball, football, hockey, and basketball, and discuss it in some depth, depending on their interest.
I don’t have a lot of friends who are as into following sports as I am, which has earned the occasional friendly prod on the subject. It’s a huge part of why I’ve taken to Twitter- when games are on, it’s like a giant sports bar (without the high-priced beer), and I love being able to find people who are as interested in my teams as I am, and bantering with them as things are happening. I’ve gotten a lot smarter about how I view sports because of it, and met a lot of amazing people as well.
So how does someone like me, who fits the geek profile to a T, get interested in sports?
The answer isn’t simple. There’s appeal in how they’re played, certainly. I like the grace and athleticism of basketball, and it’s free-flowing nature. I like the blend of power and speed that hockey has, and maintain that playoff hockey is the best of any sport. I like the strategy of football, and the admittedly visceral appeal of a well-executed tackle, when one guy beats the stuffing out of another. I like the tension and skill of baseball; as one smart person said, “Baseball is boring, until it isn’t.”
I can certainly credit my dad with instilling the love of sports in me. He watched and played baseball while I was growing up, and I fondly remember moments where Dennis and I were playing catch with him, or watching his softball games, and wondering why the ball for THAT was bigger than baseball. I remember those absurd socks we had to wear for little league baseball, and wanting to pitch but being too scared to raise my hand when the coach asked. Even now, I enjoy talking sports with him, telling him how my football picks are going (not good of late), or riffing on something the Jays did recently. One of my secret joys when we lived with Alex was when I was watching sports, and having him ask questions about rules or strategy, and me trying to explain how a particular part of it worked. I liked passing that on, and watching him understand (sometimes), as we were connected in that shared understanding.
There’s other reasons for other sports: Dennis and I developing an interest in basketball during our teen years and playing in rec leagues, drifting more into football and hockey later on, Twitter focusing my love for the Jays and giving it room to breathe, appreciating the strategy of curling after joining a team and learning the game, and how being in Calgary for the Flames Stanley Cup finals run on ’04 was an amazing experience as a fan, and one I’ll never forget.
But some of the reason I love sports- that ANYONE loves sports- is that anything can happen.
Let’s bring it back to the Cardinals, who won the World Series. That’s the championship of Major League Baseball, for those unaware. They’re a great underdog story.
On August 24th, with barely over a month to go in the season, they were 10.5 games out of a PLAYOFF spot, of even contending for a championship, based on their record so far in the season. Most people had written them off, knowing they’d need to go on an incredible run to even have a chance, and they had struggled quite a bit of late. So they won a few games, made up some ground.
On September 13th, with two weeks to go in the season, they were still 4.5 games out, and still written off by most analysts as not having much of a chance of making it. And rightfully so, given how much time was left, and how much ground they had to make up. Them (and the Rays, in the American League) were almost making it almost interesting, but not quite there. The Red Sox and the Braves could, as the narrative went, start preparing for playoff games.
I’ve gotten a lot smarter as a fan in the last few years. Mostly with baseball, but I’m learning in all sports as well. The evolution of statistical analysis has changed how people watch different games, and how teams evaluate players. In almost any situation, in any sport, you can find a breakdown telling you exactly what you should do, and what’s mostly likely to happen given the players involved. In having this analysis, you can better position your team to win. It’s been a positive evolution, in my mind.
But even in that, there’s still room for the unexpected, for it to amaze us. And that is some of why we watch.
September 28th, 2011, was the last day of the baseball season. The Cardinals had managed to tie the Braves for the final playoff spot in the National League, and the Rays with the Red Sox in the AL. They weren’t playing each other, but they might the next day, if everything fell right. I was at home, watching it all, delighted with the chaos that was ensuing. The Braves and Sox were collapsing. The Rays and Cardinals were surging. They’d made a show of it, despite the predictions of most involved.
It was an amazing night of baseball. Three of the four teams had games that went down to the wire. Sportsnet was smart, adjusting their programming so they could show highlights from all the games, flipping back and forth as they ended, and showing the incredible moments as they happened, with leads flipping back and forth late, as some of the games went into extra innings, and the tension mounted. It was, oddly enough, the future-champion Cardinals who were boring, shutting out the Houston Astros 5-0 to guarantee at least a tiebreaker game with the Braves for the last spot.
The Rays got bounced quickly, but the Cardinals kept on. Beat the heavily favoured Phillies in the first round. Beat the less-heavily favoured Brewers in the second. And beat the mostly favoured Rangers in the World Series to capture the crown.
So many things had to go right for them to get there, let alone to win it all. They beat Phillies’ all-everything ace Roy Halladay 1-0 in the deciding game of the first round. Milwaukee’s pitchers self-immolated at the wrong time. They came back on Texas TWICE in game 6, and triumphed in extra innings. After that, game 7 seemed like a foregone conclusion.
There’s other reasons I watch different sports, obviously: I’m attached to particular teams/players, I enjoy talking about strategy or predicting what’s going to happen, or I like watching incredible feats of athleticism/skill. But even as much as I am a stats hound, and like seeing smart teams do things in smart ways, I know I enjoy the idea that in any sport, on any day, you never know what’s going to happen. And that can be fun, can’t it?