Monday, November 1, 2010

A Contemplation on Giants or How an American League Girl came to love the National League

There are two things I've come to understand about sports loyalties in my 27.5 years on this planet:  1) You're usually born into them, predestined, if you will, by your location, location, location and 2) They're usually stronger than most other ties that bind.  Devotion to a team is perhaps the only true love some people will ever know, and it's almost always unrequited, except in those rare moments of victory when the success of the team is only triumphed by the sense of accomplishment of its fans.
I've been a Yankees fan my entire life, and it's not something I ever remember choosing, it just was part of my existence.  You can't be born in Evansville, Indiana in 1983, move to Connecticut in 1985, and not root for Don Mattingly.  You can't.  I understand, in the cerebral sense, why people hate the Yankees.  I mean we've all heard the same arguments, the most predominant of which is the seemingly endless supply of cash and the ability to sway all of the name brand players under the influence of the interlocking NY.  Some people hate Alex Rodriguez because he's an easy target the way Barry Bonds was an easy target to hate, but more on that later.  Some people can't get past the Steinbrenner persona, and some people were, unfortunately for them, born in Massachusetts.  I don't blame these people.  Their discipleship was probably just as much thrust upon them as it was on me.  Sports loyalties are the last vestige of prejudice to be endorsed, both morally and corporately, and they're a habit that can rarely be broken, despite the best efforts of sometimes idiotic athletes.
That being said, being a fan of a specific team often means that you are, inherently, a fan of that specific sport as well.  It's all linked.  So when the Yanks bit the dust in the League series this year, I still wasn't ready to give up.  Holding on to baseball, even as the temperature plunges and frost warnings are given, is the one thing that makes the impending winter more bearable.  If I didn't have baseball into November, I might as well sink into my hot chocolate-induced coma and pray for spring at the end of September.  In all reality, the reason the winter is so bleak and dark to me isn't simply because I can't ski or because daylight savings time has decided to betray those of us who prefer waking up in the sunlight.  No, the reason winter is bleak is because, to me, winter sports are crap.  There's no point in trying to offer reasons why I should love hockey, basketball and football.  I like all of them just fine.  I will watch football when there's nothing else on, but hockey and basketball rarely hold my interest for more than 5 minutes at a time.  Interestingly enough, I love MOVIES about these sports, but that's mostly because they pack more inspirational montages into 2 hours than an actual game or match.
So here is where I was left in the middle of October.  The New York Yankees were facing the Texas Rangers and the Philadelphia Phillies were facing the San Francisco Giants.  If I'm being honest, I was surprised the Yanks even made it past the Division series.  They were looking terrible and had been for the past two months.  I was unsurprised as I sat in a bar watching the last moments of the Yankees 2010 season.  What I was surprised at was the sentence that was uttered by another Yankees fan at the other table.  I heard him say the least logical sentence I've heard in recent memory.  I hesitate to say "ever" because I've heard many illogical sentences in the past.  Some uttered by my parents, most of them espoused by politicians, but nonetheless, this is what the guy said:
"I hope the Giants beat the Phillies.  I couldn't stand to watch the Phillies get in" (so far this is understandable)"but it doesn't matter really who plays the Rangers because I only root for the American League.  I hate the National League".
I had never in my entire life heard this even as some remote offshoot of fanaticism.  I'd never heard anyone claim to dislike a team simply because of the league they were in.  If this is something that I've been missing out on for a while, I'd welcome any comments talking about how common a practice this is.  It was in this moment though, that it was solidified that I would be a Giants fan in the series, if in fact they were to go on. 
I'm a contrarian by nature.  For some reason, despite the fact that this man was wearing a Yankees jersey, the ridiculousness of this comment made me want to hide my Stadium decal on my car.  I simply don't identify with people whose primary language is nonsense.
I was also against the Phillies, mostly because I find them annoying.  I'm sure the way I feel about the Phillies is the same way most people feel about the Yankees.  I didn't used to find them so annoying.  I very clearly remember watching John Kruk in the 1993 post-season and really liking him.  Even last season, when it was the Phillies and the Yankees, I didn't dislike them as much, but somehow this season, the combination being the clear favorites of the Fox sportscasters (who I do genuinely dislike with something close to hatred), Jayson Werth, Chase Utley's hair, and the fact that they were so heavily favored against the Giants made me instantly root for the underdogs.
I had felt this coming on for a while.  Ever since I had seen that Tim Lincecum commerical for MLB 2K9, I had been intrigued.  Even before that, San Francisco and I had a kind of history, mostly because as a kid, the only football team I ever cared about were the 49ers (because Steve Young was very handsome and Jerry Rice was awesome) and because "Candlestick Park" sounded like a some sort of magical land where amazing things happened.  I always wanted to go to Candlestick Park, probably even more than I wanted to go to Disney, but Disney is closer and cheaper to fly to.
However, up until the last couple of years, the Giants had completely dropped off my radar because of my extreme disinterest in Barry Bonds.  Here was a player whose ego was so inflated and whose questionable "contributions" to baseball made him so unlikeable that he took over the larger aspect of the team.  And that's what I mean when I compare Bonds and Rodriguez.  It's not simply that they both have steroids to tarnish their reputation, or that they both could have been great players without the enhancements, what it is is that, somehow, in the midst of the team nature of the sport, these two were able to gain the entire spotlight for a while, making it almost impossible to be a fan of the overall team.  Bonds is why I never paid attention to the Giants. Well that, and the fact that their West Coast games were rarely played on WPIX or your chosen local sports station on the East Coast.  Being a conspiracy theorist by nature, I might even argue, that this separation of teams, this inability to show all important games is part of the corporate control of prejudice, but that's probably another post.
It's this lack of history with the franchise that makes me feel like a bandwagoner in this World Series, but it doesn't take away from the fact that the Giants have managed to do what few teams could have made me do, which is essentially jump ship, if you're in agreement with the Yankees Fan at the Bar (YFB).  I'm not saying that I no longer root for the Yanks, I will always be a Yankees fan.  But unlike YFB, I simply can't resist the charm of these San Francisco Giants.
Having a loyalty to a sports team is great and, more often than not, necessary.  Everything, every matchup, every contest, every choice  in life comes down to the same hard truth: there's always a choice to make.  It's hard to say whether or not it's always good versus evil, but it's almost always like versus dislike.
Having a pre-determined loyalty to a franchise means you don't have to make a choice on a series-to-series basis.  It means you chose long ago.  But when faced with the necessity to make that decision again, sometimes the choices are not so clear.  In these instances, I've given myself a rule: always go for the underdog.  The notion of the underdog is confusing mostly because, as Americans we almost always choose the underdog, and therefore they're not really underdogs at all, but only the media's perception of underachieving (i.e. the team who statistically doesn't match up with the bigger guys on the playground) and so it could be stated that I didn't really choose the Giants, the media chose the Giants for me.  Perhaps this is true.  Perhaps if the Rangers had been portrayed as the underdogs, I would have been swayed.  I prefer to think not and here's why.
The Giants, to me, are the grown up, real life version of the movie The Sandlot with a little bit of the Rebel Alliance thrown in.  To see The Sandlot is to love The Sandlot.  I have a propensity to like the term "rag-tag" and this phrase describes both the movie and this team.  Random elements thrown together whose combined talents make something even greater than they could have imagined.  Clearly, there's a little more engineering going on with the Giants since they're an MLB team and not a group of kids who live in the same neighborhood, but you get the feeling that they could have been kids who lived in the same neighborhood.  There appear to be no egos, no baggage, just an easy, effortless love of the game.  They play the game the way most people wish the game could be played.
Lincecum's hair, Brian Wilson's beard, Buster Posey's, well, Buster-iness, these are a few of the rogue elements that make them intriguing, but it's the talent, the youth and the talent that make them so likable.  If it's true that today's culture is based on Star Wars morality, these guys had to win the World Series, all along.  It's not necessarily that the Texas Rangers were the Empire, although trotting out the Bush boys, George W. and George H.W. did not help me sympathize with them, it's just that the Rangers were the ones people went on assuming as being the power.  Cliff Lee, Josh Hamilton, these were the names people could hang a hat on.  No one outside of the 94108 zip code, including me, had heard the name "Buster" outside of a certain Bluth who also resided in California.  And now a much larger majority knows.
The same thing that happens when a band goes mainstream will now happen with the Giants, seeing as they have officially now clinched the World Series as I write this.  Fans from the beginning will have an over-inflated sense of self-righteousness, newer fans who just happen to live in San Francisco will also feel slightly outraged at people taking up the mantle of "their" team and bandwagoners like me will be frowned upon until the franchise gets even bigger name players, as is bound to happen, if not next year, then a few years down the road.  In five years, Brian Cashman will go after Tim Lincecum and everyone will be angry about it, and right now, in this moment, I hope that Lincecum never becomes a Yankee, not because I wouldn't love to root for him, I would, but it would change him.  New York is an unforgiving stage; it berates the opposition and it hounds its own.  That's just the way the east coast is.  We're not hypocritical so much as simply critical.  I wouldn't have the heart to boo any of these Giants.  Perhaps it's the fact that they haven't won since 1954 or maybe it's their baby faces, but there's an innocence about this win that I haven't really felt before, and I fear what the city would do to any of them.
As for all the Cliff Lee talk, he may dominate the Yanks, but as far as I'm concerned Texas can keep him.  His wife was just interviewed saying things like the Yankees fans didn't do "good things to her heart".  The Yanks don't need another diva, or another pair of divas as it sounds like it would be getting. The Yanks need their very own version of 21-year-old Madison Bumgarner who was probably not so much "poised" as he was "fearless" in the way that you are when you're 21.  He'll look back in 6 years and say "I can't believe I did that" but that's what the Yankees need more than anything.  An injection of youth and fearlessness and a team chemistry that makes it seem like they're Little Leaguers, playing for the love of the game, not simply playing like Little Leaguers like they did the last two months.  Or maybe this is all just a long diatribe that's really only saying I think the Giants are adorable and that I plan on rooting for them in the future because, in a dreary year, their teddy bear 3rd Baseman (Uribe), they're rare veterans mostly claimed on waivers (Ross, Huff and Renteria) and their unbelievable pitching staff, along with the rest of their fantastic utility players, all of them, they reminded me just how much fun baseball should always be.

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