"The Bay Has Much Love For You Barry" read the sign held up by a fan in the left-field bleachers at Renamed Communications Park in San Francisco Thursday. Much love, but no punctuation.
After three days of being booed and heckled and targeted by syringe tossers in that notoriously tough, intense town down the coast, San Diego, embattled slugger Barry Bonds was the star of a lovefest Thursday at the Giants' home opener.
Giants fans showed a remarkable moral flexibility in showering Bonds with love because he plays for the home team. "Barry 25 Hometown Hero" read another banner.
I suppose it's possible Bay Area fans would have much love for Barry if he'd never left the Pittsburgh Pirates, in the sense that it's possible you could be nominated for an Oscar next year, but it's safe to assume that Bonds is a hero because he's hometown, not a hero who happens to be hometown.
This is a familiar dynamic to sports fans, of course, and predates BALCO, steroids and the Great Expanding Cranium by the Bay by at least a hundred years. Many a player has been the object of derision and scorn in many a ballpark -- until the day he gets traded to that park's home team, at which point he becomes a hometown hero.
Just the other day Salon executive editor Gary Kamiya was telling me about experiencing this phenomenon when Deion Sanders signed with the San Francisco 49ers. Kamiya hated Sanders, but when the former Atlanta Falcon donned a Niners jersey, all of a sudden obnoxiousness looked like charisma, prima donna attitude looked like the justifiable eccentricity of genius.
Until Sanders headed to the Dallas Cowboys the next year, at which point he magically transformed back to his old hated self.
But that's different. It's fun and games. Silliness. With Bonds we're talking about a guy who's a pariah all over the country, right up to the halls of Congress. He's at the center of a serious national issue, one that involves the health of our kids, and he's the most prominent athlete whose unspoken message to those kids, many parents and educators say, is: If you don't juice, you don't have a chance.
It's one thing to forgive and forget the wearing of a visiting uniform and embrace the new guy on the home team, or to turn on a hometown star when he comes back in road duds. Harmless high jinks. It's another to put aside your values, your sense of right and wrong, when they get in the way of root, root, rooting for the home team.
And let's face it, that's what this is. Certainly San Francisco shimmies to a different tambourine player in a lot of ways, but the crowd at Your Call Cannot Be Completed as Dialed Park looks a lot more like the crowd at any other baseball park than it looks like the crowd at some painfully hip warehouse party in the Mission.
San Franciscans don't lack a moral compass. They just root for the guys in black and orange no matter what. Well, no matter what except when the guys don't hit. Marvin Benard, who's also been accused of using steroids, got booed plenty when he played for the Giants, but it wasn't about right and wrong. It was about a .197 batting average.
I'm not judging here. I'm a Giants fan too, and while I root, root, root for Bonds to do well because he wears black and orange, my feelings about him are way too fraught and complicated to let me stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the "Much Love For You Barry" sign holders or the booing syringe throwers.
He's the greatest hitter I've ever seen, but I think it's been shown clearly that he cheated to become such a great hitter, but he's being made a scapegoat for a much larger problem, but he deserves to be made a scapegoat because he brought it on himself, but it's undeniable that part of what's made him such an easy scapegoat is the color of his skin, but that fact doesn't give him a pass for his bad behavior, but I'm tired of thinking about this and I wish he would just go away, even if that means the Giants finish in last place, where I think they've got a chance to finish anyway.
Then again, on the other hand ...
Oh, never mind.
I just wonder why we do this. What is it about sports that's sometimes more powerful than our sense of justice or right and wrong?
People involved in youth sports are always talking about how sports help kids learn important values, but what can make us abandon our values faster than devotion to the home team?
When Giants fans shower Barry Bonds with extra love because of the accusations of drug use, or Yankees fans do the same with Jason Giambi, or Lakers fans with accused rapist Kobe Bryant, what, exactly, is going on there?
I wish I had the answer. I wish I could explain what it is about sports that's so powerful that we're willing to change our worldview to accommodate them.
I suspect understanding that issue would go a long way toward shedding light on the sense of privilege and entitlement enjoyed by people like the Duke lacrosse team. The accusation of gang rape at a team party last month brought their once-charmed existence to the attention of people outside Durham, N.C., but it existed long before that, and it exists for thousands of sports teams at all levels. It's a life of privilege and entitlement unthinkable for most nonathletes. Why do they get that?
Absent that understanding, I can only root, root, root for my teams and hope for the best. And speaking of that, I notice Giants catcher Mike Matheny, who by all accounts I've ever heard is as good a guy as there is in baseball, is 1-for-10 with three strikeouts.
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Thumbs up and down for fantasy sports [PERMALINK]
Pretty good conversation in this column's letters section Thursday -- far better than the column that inspired it.
Readers responded to my aimless musings about the effect of fantasy sports play on real-life fandom with their own takes on fantasyland. The views range from spike24's "I HATE fantasy sports! All it rewards is people who obsess over injury lists and pick up stars' backups first. And it is such a complete waste of time!" to bwunderlick's "I can't believe it, but I love fantasy."
But mostly in between, with readers describing the twisted emotions that go along with watching one of your fantasy players against your real-life favorite team, or, in baseball, a pitcher and batter on your fantasy team facing each other.
I can relate. I'm not looking forward to the inevitable Runelvys Hernandez-Toby Hall showdown this year. Actually, maybe I am. One of them has to succeed, right?
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Army coach dies at 28 [PERMALINK]
What horrible, shocking news Thursday that Army women's basketball coach Maggie Dixon died after collapsing at a friend's home Wednesday. She was 28.
Dixon and her team were one of the better stories of this year's women's NCAA Tournament, the scene of fatigues-clad male cadets rushing the court to celebrate Army's victory over Holy Cross in the Patriot League tournament title game one of the great images of the basketball season.
Hired just a week and a half before the start of practice, the first-time head coach led Army to its first-ever Tournament berth.
Dixon's older brother is Jamie Dixon, the men's coach at Pittsburgh. On the women's Tournament selection show, ESPN interviewed Maggie Dixon, who was with her team, and her brother, who if I recall correctly was on the phone.
The host kept asking Maggie questions, and Jamie kept jumping in and answering. Each time, Maggie would sort of smirk, as if to say, "That's my big brother," and exchange knowing glances with her smiling players, who as female cadets at West Point probably knew a thing or two about guys trying to push in front of them.
Previous column: Fantasy fandom
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