Thursday, July 02, 2009

On The Sidelines


I grew up in Pittsburgh. And the first things that come to mind when most people think of Pittsburgh are steel mills and professional sports. For most people, the Steel City conjures images of the grimy, smoky city of the Deer Hunter era - a place where beer drinking steelworkers cheered "Mean "Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw, and Willie Stargell on to make sports history.

And, when I was a kid, Pittsburgh wasn't far from the imagined. The steel industry was already on the decline, but football and baseball held the city together. Even for a kid, like me, who couldn't be less interested in team sports, there wasn't a day without terrible towels, "We Are Family," and the distinctly Pittsburgh voice of Myron Cope. I go back to visit once or twice a year, and I can assure anyone that, while the steel mills have been replaced with tree-lined, mixed-use shopping districts and "green" technology start-ups, Pittsburgh is still very much a sports town. So, it always comes as a real surprise to others when I mention that I have never attended a professional sports game. Yep. I'm from Pittsburgh, and I have never - not once - attended a Steelers game. Or a Pirates game. Or even a Penguins match. Never. I suppose it's like someone from Italy who's never had pasta.

So, on Sunday, I became a professional sports spectator for the first time. One of Tony's colleagues had a couple of extra tickets to the Atlanta Braves vs. Boston Red Sox game, and he was kind enough to invite us. It was a great introduction, despite the scorching 98 degree heat. We were seated at first base, in the third row, and we had a great view of everything.

Having now had the inside spectator experience, I can now say, with full authority, "I just don't get team sports." I'm actually fascinated by how much I don't "get it." I'll concede that, had I had a more clear understanding of all the rules and such, it might've been a little different. But, I'm sure that my not "getting it" is much more fundamental than that.

For one, I just don't get what makes people so passionately devoted to a team. So, most of the people sitting around us were from Atlanta. And, they were passionate Atlanta Braves fans. They jumped up and down with joy when the Atlanta team scored a homerun or a stole a base. And they heckled and booed the Boston players every chance they had - and at times were really fucking obnoxious about it. Here's what I don't get...few, if any, of the Braves players are from Atlanta, or have even ever lived in Atlanta. The Atlanta Braves are a marketed franchise, like Subway or McDonald's. The franchise buys players from all over the world. But, these people from Atlanta put their hearts and souls into being Braves fans. I just don't understand why folks feel so passionate about an Atlanta team that in no way at all represents anything about the City of Atlanta.

Second. I don't get the behavior of heckling and booing the other team. I just don't understand what joy people get out of screaming "you suck!" and "papi, you're a big loser!" And, I don't get how that's acceptable and expected behavior, just because of the game setting. People actually pay money, so that they can sit in stadium seats and hurl insults at other people. Weird.

Lastly, I just don't get why the masses are so attracted to team sports, as opposed to individual athletic achievement. I actually love watching many of the Olympics events. And, I'm not sure what that big difference is for me. I'm sure that the big spectacle of team sports stimulates some genetic militaristic tendency that I just don't have, but the sociology of team sports is just so intriguing to me.

Any thoughts?

2 comments:

tn said...

Glad I could be there for your first time but I feel like it was my fault it wasn't better for you. Maybe if I had taken it slower and if it hadn't been over so quickly before the big finish...

Lauren J said...

Glad you got to check it out. I'm not a big sports fan by any stretch of the imagination. As you might expect, I'm more interested in the tailgating, the food concessions and the shopping opportunities. But I do find stadiums a good place to man watch, which is a definite plus.