I have to admit that a couple of months ago I thought the Braves were through. Now, however, I must admit that this year’s Braves are a lot of fun to watch. I’ve enjoyed seeing the young rookie players come up and start rolling – there are currently ten rookies on the team, four of whom are from the Atlanta area. Andruw Jones is finally becoming the stud we’ve been led to believe he would be with his major-league leading 28 home runs. Watching Jeff Francouer (formerly of Parkview High) smack a 3-run shot to bust open a close game in his first game was fun. Watching him get a cream pie in the face in his postgame interview was probably more fun. Knowing that it all came as the Braves swept the Cubs in four games makes it that much better.
In a story that is at once bizarre and sad, we come upon a group of people paying their final respects to James Henry Smith in suburban Pittsburgh. The sight is not what one would expect to find. He is leaned back on recliner on a stage, a 6-pack of beer and pack of cigarettes nearby, with a high-definition TV playing a continuous loop of Pitssburgh Steeler highlights in front of him. Apparently his family requested this special setup to “celebrate [Smith’s] life.” While pictures of family and friends hung nearby in the makeshift living room, the focus was clearly on Smith’s passion for the NFL’s Steelers.
While I mean no disrespect to a reportedly nice guy who passed away early, it does raise some issues. Smith is certainly not alone in having his passionate devotion to a team be his identity, what people remember about him. (A friend said of Smith: “People will see him just the way he was. This is such a celebration.”) But is that really how a person would want to be remembered… as a great (fill-in-the blank with your favorite team) fan? This story only seems odd because most people don’t showcase their passion for a team in this manner (though a Georgia company that sells sports-themed caskets reportedly does a booming business). But it is not odd that in our day someone’s life might be centered on the Steelers (or Vols, or Red Sox, etc.). It just seems to paint the silliness and triviality of it all in stark light.
Of course we could remind ourselves that everybody is religious; everybody worships something. We are hard-wired for it. We all want to believe in something and identify with something that is bigger than ourselves, to find community with like-minded people, and celebrate that devotion. Maybe sports is a religion after all…. at least for some.
If you watched ESPN for five minutes the last couple of days you probably saw 40 year old Texas Rangers pitcher Kenny Rogers act like a spoiled 4 year old brat. Earlier this week he assaulted a water cooler after being removed from a game (and broke a bone in his hand in the process). Then in the wake of negative press he went after two cameramen during practice the other day, one of whom has filed assault charges. The question is not if, but how long he will be suspended. Way to go, Kenny, your teammates appreciate it.
In an unrelated incident, I saw thirty-something Gary Sheffield of the Yankees (formerly the Braves among others – there’s a reason a player so good has played for so many different teams), throw a ridiculous temper tantrum of his own when he was called out in a close play at first base.
Hockey player Jeremy Roenick came under fire over the weekend for comments about the NHL lockout in which he said that fans that didn’t understand his “sacrifices” in trying to get the game on the ice again (instead of the labor boardroom) could kiss his… well you know. He said it several times to make sure the message got out, and told such fans he didn’t want them to come to the arena. Pretty sure they won’t, Jeremy. (He talked about his sacrifice at a charity golf tournament – definitely living a tough life).
It’s amazing that professional athletes wonder why fans are hard on them, why people don’t understand them. There are unquestionably good guys in professional sports, but they have plenty of peers who apparently believe that because they get paid zillions of dollars to play a boy’s game they can act like little boys. I can’t recall seeing some guy in an office throwing his stuff around and yelling and crying at his boss when something didn’t go his way. If someone acted like that in such a real world setting, however, he’d most likely find himself looking for another job. These athletes, however, are coddled their whole lives and can’t seem to grow up, and it makes rooting for them very difficult.
I remain somewhat amused by all of the hoopla surrounding the Kentucky Derby – it builds for a couple of months, and is crazy for a couple of weeks. Nonetheless, I think the race really lives up to its moniker of being the “most exciting two minutes in sports.” There’s hardly anything like it. Today’s race was particularly good, with a full field and a bunch of underdogs beating the big guys. Great to see Steinbrenner lose, and while my namesake horse (Afleet Alex) didn’t win, he was close and finished in the money. The winner ran on 50-1 odds, the second place horse was 71-1. If you saw that coming, you could have made a TON of cash.