Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Love Letter From a Football Fan

First things first. I love football. It's a theatrical game with four even quarters and an equal amount of players on each side of the ball. It's a classic tug of war. Pushing and resisting, up and down an evenly marked field. It's easily the most physical of the major sports (sorry hockey). Its players are some of the biggest, strongest, fastest humans alive, and they do things no "ordinary" human could do. It combines athleticism, skill and raw strength into a truly beautiful game. Also, it's fun. You get to scream and yell constantly (if you prefer). It has cultivated a general spirit called "Tailgating", in which one can eat, drink and play cornhole before the game even begins. It's just as celebrated in it's professional form as it is in it's collegiate and, to a slightly lesser extent (except in Texas), high school levels. Its fandom doesn't discriminate by age, and although it oozes machismo, women follow the sport as fervently as their male counterparts.

It's also a truly horrific game. One that, by its very nature, necessitates injury to its players' bodies and minds. The physical toll of playing the game (especially from a young age) has caused many to rethink the way they interact with football. From not letting their children play, to reassessing their fanaticism in general. I can say, personally, that while watching football is still a joy of my offseason, the way I feel while watching has changed. Whereas I used to cringe at the idea of a qb rushing a throw to avoid a big hit, I now think "yeah dude, I get it. Protect yourself." When our DB would lay out a wide receiver across the middle on 3rd and short, I'd yell and cheer. Now I have to look away when they show the replay. With all of the heavy hitting and injuries, the game has, for me, become less theatre and more coliseum fighting. It's hard not to think of it as grown men willingly causing harm to one another just to win a completely arbitrary game.

I'll say it again. I love football, and will, in all likelihood, continue to watch it. Continue to cheer on my teams and continue to get way too caught up in the W-L columns. But that's not why I'm writing you this letter. I'm writing to tell you something I've always known, but just recently rediscovered. I love you more, baseball.

You're a hard game. I don't hold it against you (most of the time), but there's no doubting that at times you seem almost unfair. One hitter versus 9 other players? An above average success rate for a hitter is 30%? 162 games over 6+ months? Games that regularly push the 4 hour mark? Sometimes you're downright brutal! But you're also an amazingly unique game. No game clock. No ties (and if so, it goes to the runner). No completely uniform playing fields (see HERE and HERE). The defense always has the ball. You're leisurely enough to watch while sitting, eating a hotdog and possibly snoozing off for an inning or so. Yet, you're so exciting at times that your stadiums literally shake under my feet (see Houston, October 2015). Your game itself is highly analytical and your rules, extremely thorough and extensive. At your most complex, you seem to have endless concentric circles of smaller games happening simultaneously. But at your simplest, you're an individual sport between a pitcher and batter. There's something in your game for fans with all levels of interest. If simply watching, drinking a beer and cheering is what you're after, what better place to do that than outside on a summer evening? If one wants to intellectually engage during a game, there's a system and a code for charting everything. Not only are you a game for fans, both men and women, you're a game for players of both sexes too. Your history is just as rooted in legend as it is in fact. Nobody knows exactly when you were born, or where, and your most famous player lives in American mythology as our version of Hercules. Most importantly, though, there is no "type" of baseball player. No form or mold that best fits what a ballplayer should be. If he or she can play your wonderfully timeless game, then they need only take the field.  

And so it is with me. You gave a guy like me a chance to play a professional sport. For that, I am forever grateful. As much as I wish that my athleticism could've made me a great football player, we both know I just don't have what it takes to hit the field with those behemoths. A 6" tall, semi-athletic kid from the suburban neighborhood park has a chance to play your game at its highest level. And not just me. I play with men of every shape and size. Tall. Short. Skinny. Fat. Fast. Slow. From all over the globe. What is still America's past time has turned into truly a global game.

It's mid march now and football is over. I know you must question my devotion over the winter, but the cold is melting away. Spring is just around the corner. And just like every year since I was old enough to throw a ball in the yard with my dad, my love for you continues to grow.