"Oh man ... you're voting for Manny????" writes Red Sox fan Jason Owens about my choice of Boston left fielder Manny Ramirez for Most Valuable Player. He then excoriates me for 440 glorious, venom-filled, David Ortiz-is-a-demigod words before changing the subject.
"In other news, there's nothing quite like the power of sports to uplift," he writes. "For all the cynicism I sometimes have about the games we watch, there's something pure about a great game that never goes away. My dad is having major surgery today and I was really in the dumps last night [Tuesday]. And the Sox weren't helping. But then Todd Walker stepped to the plate down three with two outs in the ninth and put a smile on my face that only got wider when Ortiz ended things next inning. It turned my whole mind-set around. After a win like that, nothing can go wrong. As a Sox fan I can't help but believe a little bit in karma ... and today it feels like the good kind."
The overarching theme of this column is what it's like, what it means, what it feels like to be a sports fan. There, now you know. Sometimes it feels like swimming upstream through a flaming river of snot. With outrageous prices, ridiculous fees, bad athlete behavior, taxpayer rip-offs and the general tenor of the industry to cater not to its best customers but to those least interested in the product, it's almost as though the people who run sports are daring you to be a fan.
And then some days the home team comes from behind in a late-season game and the sick are healed and the blind can see.
Turning to more pedestrian topics, it appears the answer to the question I posed in Tuesday's column -- "Do you ever feel a disconnect between your own experiences and what sportscasters and writers say?" -- is a resounding yes.
Here's a sample of reader responses to that question.
Nick Sullivan: "My favorite is 'how can people be leaving this game?' Of course, it's Tuesday, 11:30 p.m., and actual people want to avoid an hour in the parking lot traffic jam, get up for work, kids have to go to school the next day, etc., etc. Too bad everyone can't show up at a ballpark at 4 p.m., get paid to watch a game, eat free food and leave the (empty) lot at their leisure."
Randall Sean Pearson: "At the Titans-Saints game Sunday [in Nashville] some commentator kept going on about the 'high humidity' that was bound to take its 'toll on players.' I live about a half mile from the stadium and after working on my carport that morning and afternoon, I can say with some authority there was no humidity that day. It was refreshingly cool. Didn't the commentator have to get out of his limo to go to the skybox?"
Dan Reinecke: "I live in a city, Indianapolis, that has had the audacity and ill manners to not sell out the Colts game TWO weeks in a row. And now we are the subjects of a relentless attack by the print and TV media for our extreme disloyalty that is threatening the very existence of the Indianapolis Colts. By Thursday we reach the crescendo of the daily pleas to get on down there and buy some tickets. We don't want the game to be blacked out, do we? We don't want the Colts to leave, do we? Not one article, not one sportscaster has expressed the viewpoint that maybe $50-$60 per ticket (cheap seats) plus extras might be a little steep in a state that has lost tens of thousands of jobs in the last few years. Or mentioned the possibility that it is [Colts owner Jim] Irsay who has irked us a bit by suggesting a new stadium should be in order or he will call the moving vans (perhaps he has the boxes still in storage)."
Mark Yolton: "As an Oakland Raiders fan who lives near enough to go to every home game, we constantly hear about low attendance at the AFC champs' games. But consider this: Ticket prices to see the Raiders -- like most NFL teams -- are astronomical. I just checked: The cheapest tickets to the next home game are $117 each, high up in the nosebleed section, of course, where the players look like ants chasing after crumbs. So, with transportation, parking, food and the rest of the experience, the minimum cost would be $300 for a couple to attend, near $600 for a family of four. The best tickets to that same game are $420 apiece, approaching $900 for two people to attend, or more than $1,700 for a family/group of four."
Charisse Waugh: "You really want to know what's brutal? Try being a Venus or Serena Williams fan and sitting through any match they play against anyone. You'll be forced to listen to the constant racist innuendo and ceaseless negative chatter about them by the commentators -- save Mary Jo Fernandez or, occasionally, John McEnroe. The commentators don't even know they're doing it, so deep and rabid is the resentment in the tennis establishment of these beautiful, super-rich champions."
On the other hand, there's this from John Mize: "While there would be no sports without sports fans, I can understand why many athletes have contempt for their fans. Many of us sports fans are idiots who know nothing about any game, although we think that we know everything. Listening to some fat guy who was a third-string center in high school in 1970 criticize a college receiver for dropping a pass always activates my gag reflex. Fanboy hasn't seen his feet since 1980, and he can't carry a drink to his seat without spilling it on others, but he wouldn't have dropped that pass. Personally, I'd rather hear an athlete honestly attack the fans than listen to treacly public relations lies about how wonderful the fans are ... Isn't that the American way? Doesn't everyone hate their boss and their customers?"
John Wilhelm is one of many Cubs fans who objects to Monday's column, in which I said that at this time of year everyone's talking about football, not baseball, and that baseball isn't helping matters by having diluted its pennant races with expanded playoffs.
"Who's not talking baseball?" he writes. "If the Cubs should win the division this week, no matter how many victories they have at the end, many of us will remember the 2003 season vividly -- from the 15-2 thrashing of the Mets on Opening Day through the dozens of ups and downs to the four-out-of-five, should have been five-out-of-five, series against the Cardinals to whatever happens in the playoffs."
Of course Cubs fans are excited about a playoff run. They root for the Cubs. It's a special case. If baseball let 10 of the 16 National League teams into the playoffs, and the Cubs were 10 games under .500 and fighting for 10th place, their fans would be excited.
But precisely the reason Cubs fans are so excited by this playoff run -- because postseason appearances are so rare for the Cubs -- is undermined by the expanded playoff format. Through Tuesday's games the Cubs were playing .541 ball, on pace to win 88 games. If the expanded playoffs had always existed and you could always get in with a .541 winning percentage, the Cubs would have had 33 postseason appearances since 1900, rather than 13. Most of those added appearances would have been pre-war, it's true, but given how anything can happen in a short series, odds are pretty good they would have won a World Series more recently than 1908, removing the very thing that defines Cubs fandom.
Twins fan Charles Tritten takes me to task for dissing the A.L. Central race won by his boys. "I think you missed some exciting September ball with the way the Twins lost the first two of four against the White Sox in Chicago and then won the last two games of that series and then followed that up with a three-game sweep at home," he writes. "It's been fun and exciting to watch the Twins continue to play the best baseball since the break, not let up, and win in some difficult situations."
John Levin is with me, though. "There are plenty of us out here who feel your pain; well, actually, we feel your apathy," he writes. "What the wild card has done is increase the number of games that have some significance while decreasing the number of games that have great significance. Pennant races rely on games of great significance to be memorable."
And finally, Rich Allen writes, "Every time I read your column I think, 'Oh, he's had a haircut.' Your cartoon self always seems to change. I'm sure it doesn't, but wouldn't that be a neat trick?"
It would be a neat trick. I used to look at static images and they would appear to change, but I was a teenager then, and I now live a much more sedate lifestyle.
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