As I've said before, I'm not a true sports fan. I like watching sports okay, I just don't really follow any.
But sports fan or no, the last game at Yankee Stadium ought to bring a tear to the eye and a lump in the throat for any American. Babe Ruth hit the first home run in the storied ballpark on its opening day in 1923.
The photo is from the 25th anniversary celebration of Yankee Stadium in 1948, where a frail Babe Ruth greeted the crowd for the last time (you can find out more about the photo here).
I really must try and see a game at Wrigley Field, before they sell the naming rights and it becomes something awful like "Citigroup Stadium" or "Time/Warner Field"...
(left - U.S. Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson - ABC News photo)
I'm not much of a sports fan. Not that I have anything against sport, it's just that my own participation as a fan of organized sports has been very sporadic. My own Dad was not so much a sports fan as a sportsman, a hunter and fisherman, and it was likely from him that I inherited my own love of the outdoors. I never did get into hunting, though, since by the time I was of an age for hunting, Dad was in ill health and wasn't able to pass on the tradition. I'm a hiker.
I do remember him field dressing a moose, and I remember struggling to carry a hindquarter back to our waiting truck. The butchering process was completed in the shop building in back of our house and lasted until the wee hours of the next day (a moose is like the size of a cow, only taller. Butchering one is a big job, and you can't simply quit in the middle of the process).
I say all that only by way of acknowledging my own lack of real Sport Fan street cred. I have never had season tickets to anything, have attended exactly one pro sports game (NFL - Denver at Kansas City), one college game (Arkansas basketball) and a handful of semi-pro baseball games. I don't follow any teams, don't do fantasy drafts or anything like that. I'm basically ignorant, but I really enjoy the odd game on television. The last Super Bowl was terrific to watch.
The Olympics don't have, for me, the patina of class that they once did, but I have been truly enjoying some of the coverage. I do notice a dearth of Track & Field at this point, but maybe that will change. I can't get too worked up over which country has the most medals. I'm in it for the stories, for what Jim McKay called "The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat". I miss Jim McKay, and I really miss Pierre Salinger, who had what looked to me like the best job in the world. He was always reporting from local pubs in strange lands, and was therefore half bombed and reliably buoyant and cheerful in all his reports.
I rolled my eyes when I tuned in to Olympic coverage a few days ago and all I could find was beach volleyball. Our team had been crushing all opponents, which doesn't make for especially dramatic television. Then the U.S. women's team almost lost their first match (in over a hundred) to a surprisingly plucky Belgian team. We trailed the entire match, but the Belgians couldn't manage to put us away. The winning point see-sawed a number of times and the set ended as another "W" for the U.S. team. That is the sort of thing that at least gets my interest.
Michael Phelps is a great object lesson in discipline. To say he is uncannily focused would be a bit of an understatement. He pretty much eats and sleeps and swims. I can't say that I had a great deal emotionally invested in his eight gold medals, but it was gratifying to see him win the 100 meter butterfly by one hundredth of a second, and it was deeply satisfying to see him and his teammates shut up a loudmouthed French swimmer in the relay. Pride goes before a fall, as the Good Book says.
I always find the women's gymnastics fascinating. Same for figure skating. I try to catch all of the coverage that I can, though I wasn't gay the last time I checked (I'm simply not a snappy dresser, and don't care enough to try). As I've said before, I think the female form is just about God's best work, and combined with the discipline and the artistry of these athletes, what they do amounts to a very powerful visual poetry. One has to be amazed at how they can throw their bodies through space and land with such precision and balance. The strength required to do that sort of thing must be incredible, but the women gymnasts in particular have their strength hidden in grace (as female strength is often hidden). One is reminded of their strength, though, when the camera zooms in on the gymnast's feet or hands, taped and wrapped something like a boxer or a football player.
Skill like that may be built on natural gifts, but it requires sacrifice - great sacrifice - to reach the level of mastery that is regularly displayed at the Olympics, and so these athletes - in as much as they make great sacrifices to reach their goal - stand as worthy examples for all of us. They have this in common with any saint. I would venture to guess that athletes at that level must carry some kind of genuine love for their sport, something that drives them toward perfection regardless of acclaim or official recognition. There's no progress without sacrifice, and no sacrifice without love.
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily
entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." - Hebrew 12:1 (NIV)
Since my last post mentioned ritualized warfare, I thought THIS STORY, from the was a pretty obvious tie-in, touching as it does on sport and the war dance.
The Jefferson, Oregon football team has adopted the Haka, a war dance that originated with the Maori people of New Zealand.
Wikepedia notes that the Haka includes;
"...facial contortions such as showing the whites of the eyes and the
poking out of the tongue, and a wide variety of vigorous body actions
such as slapping the hands against the body and stamping of the feet.
As well as chanted words, a variety of cries and grunts are used."
Of course, I've known about the Haka for a long time, as my wife's family lived in New Zealand for several years. The N-Zed national rugby team, the All Blacks, has employed the Haka in a way similar to the Jefferson High School team. I used to wear an All-Blacks rugby jersey.
The Jefferson footballers perform the intimidating ritual on the field before each game, and this has drawn complaints from opposing teams (not the Silly Nannies, by any chance?) which has led to the Jefferson team being penalized 15 yards at the start of every game.
I'm not going to rant about them being treated unfairly. The refs have determined that the Haka is a form of taunting, which seems like a no-brainer in the affirmative. The penalty is reasonable enough - no one has threatened to ban the Jefferson team from playing or to put them on Double Secret Probation or anything. They decided as a team to take the penalty in each game, and it's something of a motivating and team-building experience for them. Shockingly, it seems like reasonable behavior all around. I admire the Jefferson team for taking it on the chin and not whining. Looks like they channel their frustration well... they're 9 and 1.