Do you mind if I talk baseball? Just for a second.
This is an American League Central-centric college basketball website. I've loved the Minnesota Twins
since I discovered baseball back in 1983. My Twins chased down Detroit in the standings, erasing a three-game lead in the final four games. Then, they won the AL Central on an exciting extra-inning division tiebreaker
. Thrills! Chills! Zach Miner!
But something didn't feel right.
The three-game ALDS loss to the Yankees was a fully expected result, so it wasn't that. It wasn't the guilty feeling that comes when you know you've expended all your sports karma points for the year (or, quite possibly, for the next decade). Back in July, there was a rough stretch of games that included a blown 10-run lead in a 14-13 late-night loss at Oakland
, and that's when I gave up on the Twins' 2009 season. I withdrew my commitment to save myself a summer full of heartbreak, just like I'd done every year from 1993 to 2000. I spent my evenings writing books instead.
I know that it's self-centered and wrong-headed to give up on your ballteam like that. It's opportunistic and inconsiderate to only show up for the good parts, to be part of the September crowd of 50,000 and not one of the 18,000 scattered across the lower bowl in April. There's no such thing as a marriage made of honeymoons and vacations, and no human life is one long 80-year highlight reel. Front-running, bandwagoneering and lead-dogging are all empty and unrealistic sports fan experiences.
And I paid my price. On that cold Tuesday night in October, when Carlos Gomez dashed home with the winning run, I jumped up and down on my couch at home. I whooped and hollered for a minute or two. This being 2009 and not 1983, I texted and tweeted.
Then I called my 71-year-old dad. He listened to all 163 of the Twins' 2009 games, up in the woods of New Hampshire, on the XM radio I bought him for his birthday last year. He never let his exasperation eclipse his optimism, even during the losing streaks, the season-ending injuries and the failed personnel experiments. The last time I'd seen him that happy was when his third divorce was finalized.
His happiness was truly genuine, and I couldn't keep up. I was just going through the emotional motions, and I knew it. When I hung up, I sat alone on the couch with an weird feeling in my gut and chest. I didn't ride the whole ride, so I didn't get the full high. I didn't deserve to celebrate at all.✶ ✶ ✶ ✶
The desire to hitch a wagon to a sports champion is fully understandable. It's a basic human need that many sports fans have -- to deny private feelings of inadequacy by dressing up like a winner. It's why a good percentage of Association Nation
traded in Bulls jerseys for Lakers shirts a decade ago, and why the speculative Cavaliers jersey market was so hot in recent years. Right now, it's wise to go long on the Boston Celtics.
People want to be in the right place, wearing the right costume at the right time. They want to have their happy-buttons pushed. If you're sitting in the Buffalo Wild Wings in your brand new off-the-rack No. 13 pinstripe jersey when the Yankees clinch the World Series title, your arms raised in glory, then you'll have put your chips on the right number. Well gambled, you chose correctly, and you have your own, small, insignificant share of that victory.
There's no reason to be anything but straight-up about this. Bandwagoning is the sports equivalent like rubbing one out in an airport bathroom stall. It doesn't compare to a hot, wet, sloppy lovemaking session with someone you've had your eye on for years. I've lived every minute and game of five world championship seasons in three major American sports, so let me tell you all about the difference.
In matters of life, love, or money, no yield is ever guaranteed. But with spectator sports, you get out what you put in, and that's bankable truth. The amount of time you spend on the thrillcoaster will parallel the size of your payoff. It'll determine the depth of your feeling. And isn't that why we do this, for the feeling?
Non-participant sports are unique in that they allow for complete surrender to an external locus of control, without a lot of the physical danger that capitulation usually involves. When you relinquish emotional control to a sports team, you let exterior forces have their way with you. To tie your emotional fortunes to a group of people who don't care about you is a true leap of faith indeed.
And because the sports industry has become so gigantic in the last three decades, there have been plenty of studies and bad science
about endorphins and adrenalin and seratonin as they relate to fandom. There are a lot of fluids sloshing and electrical reactions going off inside us while we're sitting around, looking at athletes do stuff. Watching games and following teams allow us to feel Big Feelings, unleashing passions that a routine-driven existence just can't offer. Spectator sports can jailbreak us from ourselves.
Championships, wins and great plays produce lots of euphoria and happy chemistry. A world title for your longtime beloved team is right up there with first kisses and new children. If you've waited long enough for a title, it's even better than those! On the other hand, losses, deep deficits and ends of seasons bring darkness and desolation, especially if you had false hopes. The grief can be unbearable; sometimes, the only frames of reference for team elimination are ends of relationships and deaths in the family.
Winning is preferable, sure. That's why people buy North Carolina hats and Duke t-shirts at their local Sports Authority stores... even in Oregon. But what about losing?
Sports suffering can be a powerful motivator. Losses offer sharp focus that the endless .500 of 9-to-5 can never provide. A deficit measured in scores and statistics carves out a void that can be quantified and mapped; in the vague and indistinct deficiencies of daily existence, you never know how many points you're down by.
The Cub fan and the Clevelander and the Buffalo Bill know this. If you have a true understanding of loss, you're better equipped to recognize victory -- whether it comes or not.✶ ✶ ✶ ✶
Every March, there's always an increase in traffic. People just seem to show up. The Mid-Majority's server buckles under the severe strain, and I have to order more bandwidth from the web host. Incoming e-mail volume reaches ridiculous levels, and there's no way I could hope to answer even a small percentage of it.
I like to believe that it's because the quality of the work gets better then, that I'm really hitting my stride as a writer. I imagine that I'm rounding into true late-season form.
But that's my own kind of fantasy basketball. The truth is that The Mid-Majority becomes more relevant to more people in March, as casual sports fans prepare for the Big Dance.
The NCAA Tournament is a time when a lot of folks go "underdog shopping." They're looking for the next best out-of-nowhere story, the team most likely to spring the 15-over-2 upset. They want to know who the "next George Mason" is, and who has the weirdest and most lovable mascot. They want to cherry-pick their way into a big sports experience.
I fully accept that some folks treat us at TMM as one-dimensional extras in their consumer sports lives. I know they're looking for something to do before baseball season and will disappear as quickly as they arrived. And while I don't like being the friendly Green Grocer who helpfully recommends fresh Bulldog over out-of-season Wildcat, I've grown to tolerate it. I politely answer as many questions as I can, based on what I've seen in my extensive travels around Hoops Nation.
But I keep reminding myself of this: those who adopt-and-abandon will be left empty. Even if that cute underpuppy that they rented at the Mid-Majority 'Dog Pound wins a game or two, those come-latelies will never feel the same overwhelming emotions that students, alumni and true fans will. An afternoon of internet research in a cubicle can't possibly measure up to months and years of hoping and wishing; buying a last-minute t-shirt will never replace the investment of sitting through October exhibition games and hanging on every possession.
I mention all of this now, as the autumn leaves swirl in November, because this cycle will repeat itself all over again. It always does. Spring's flowers will bloom in March, and they'll be back.
But now, right here, this
is the time to get on the ride.
Because if you don't ride the whole ride, you won't get the full high.
You might be an alumnus of one of the 251 colleges and universities below the Red Line. You might even be attending one now, and living in that pleasant time-window before the student loan bills start coming. If you didn't go to a small college, or if you didn't go to college at all, it doesn't matter -- you can still join in. But this -- right now
-- is the time to jump on board, when the slate is clean and opportunities seem boundless. Even if you've never heard of these schools and don't know where they are, this is the time to adopt. Choose your allegiance now, and definitely not later.
But who's going to believe you five months from now? Don't worry. For the first time ever, TMM has a way for you to prove that you were here, at the beginning. It's fast, fun... and unlike most of the stuff on this site, free. You will be a confirmed and certified fan, with a document as real as anything Price Waterhouse has ever issued.
Use the form below. Enter your name and favorite team from The Other 24. When you press "Submit," print out the certificate that pops up! (Now 100% IE-friendly.)
This document is court-of-law solid. If you haven't yet, look over the schedule for your team, learn the players' names, buy a shirt, and do whatever you have to do to get connected. Live
the experience. During the season, your boys might pop up from time to time here on The Mid-Majority. You can also get all sorts of stat-stuffs at our sister site Basketball State
. If you can't make it to games, this is the internet age so there's probably a way for you to listen or watch games online.
When March arrives, and it will in four short months, your team's season might end in a conference tourney somewhere. You'll feel the kind of big, yummy heartache that will make you want to come back for more next year. Or maybe, just maybe, those players you've invested your energy and effort will cut down those nets and move on to the Big Dance.
When they do, and when they pull that giant 15-over-2 upset, I want you to hold up that certificate proudly in the Buffalo Wild Wings or the arena or your cubicle. I want you to show the world that you belong among the true believers, because you were there when it all started.
"I was there for the whole thing," you'll say. "My joy is real, and nobody can ever doubt it."
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