I am not a soccer fan. I did not watch any of the World Cup except the final which I mildly enjoyed.
It’s not that I have anything against soccer. It is obviously the most popular game in the world – did you know that if attendance is the criterion that Cricket is the second most popular?
I just find it very dull to watch.
Soccer is great game for kids. I loved it. The equipment is cheap and the rules are simple. Injuries are usually of a minor variety. The game is fun to play because everybody gets a chance to kick at the ball somewhere along the line.
But I am a baseball fan.
Now for soccer fans that would render me a suspect person. I can hear the question now – how can you say that soccer is dull and baseball is not?
Well, baseball is an anticipation game. It must be understood, and one must realize that it is waiting breathlessly for the action that makes the game so exciting.
A home run to win the game in the bottom of the ninth is exciting – but nowhere near as exciting as the run-up to it as the last batter Is taking his pitches from a pitcher who is bearing down so hard that you can feel it.
I have taken to watching baseball a good deal more now that I have been confined to barracks. Having been away for so long I don’t know the players well and in fact have to remind myself who all the teams are. Having said that and having watched a baseball game on the same day as the World Cup Final, I enjoyed the baseball game much more.
It is remarkable what attracts us to particular games. One of both the attractions and downsides of baseball is that there is no time limit. The downside, of course, is that a game can be very long. The upside is that they game is never over until it’s over.
A couple of weeks ago I turned on a game between Toronto and Cincinnati and Cincinnati was leading 7 to 1 in the third inning. As it happened, Wendy and I had to go to a social function so I could not watch all of the game. You can imagine my surprise when I looked at the line score in the paper the next day and found that Toronto had won 14 to 9! It is this uncertainty as to the result which keeps us ball fans going. It really is never over, until it’s over.
I used to be a football fan in my earlier days but I’m now off the game completely. It is a game where injuries are too severe and seem to get worse the better the equipment gets. Moreover nobody really seems to care. I saw a football highlight on TV the other night where a lineman deliberately battered the quarterbacks head with his helmet. The quarterback was taken out with a concussion and we were told he would be out for some time. Why would anyone want to watch a game like this?
I was, as most of us were, a boxing fan. Many of the great heavyweights like Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano and Sugar Ray Robinson were our great heroes.
I have told the story in the past of the second fight between Floyd Patterson and Ingemar Johansson where Johansson lay on the floor with his foot twitching for five minutes after he had been knocked out. That stayed with me for a long time and when I became, as some many others have, very concerned about concussions I kept remembering that incident and lost my interest in boxing.
Now, for God’s sake, we have extreme fighting where it’s quite permissible to bash the opponent’s head against the floor. In other words, the infliction of a concussion is the object of the game! How dare we shed so many crocodile tears about concussions in hockey games when we license so – called sports where the entire object is to concuss the opponent?
I played rugby as a youngster and it’s a very good game. For a rough game it has remarkably few very serious injuries and one does not hear too much of concussions. While rugby certainly has its devotees, one does not hear of fighting in the crowds much less riots after games.
Rugby players use very little protective equipment. My fear is, the more and better equipment a player wears, the more likely he is to be injured and injured badly. I think that Canadian and American football bear this out.
I was a hockey fan big time in the days that the Montreal Canadiens were flying so high. Again, the unnecessary roughness of the game bothered me year after year. Where as a kid I used to get excited at the fights, I now felt slightly ill when I saw them happen. I have not watched a hockey game for some years.
I do enjoy watching golf on television because I was once a low handicapper and I must confess that Tiger Woods brought me back to the game big time. Again, like baseball, it is an anticipation game as much as it is an action game.
As you can see, I have been thinking about this quite a bit. During the World Cup run- up which seemed to last forever, I kept asking myself why everyone else was so excited and I wasn’t?
I began to realize that the thing I like about baseball was that while the fans in each city could become devout and noisy, they wore almost always peaceful. There is something about the game, perhaps because there always seems to be another one the next day, that brings a sort of serenity to its followers so that a lost game or even a lost World Series is not the end of the world.
I remember being at a game in Philadelphia many years ago when my beloved Dodgers were playing. It was a lovely sunny day and I was all alone sitting in the third base bleachers sipping a beer and eating a hot dog. I remember saying to myself “it can’t possibly get any better than this.” The Dodgers lost, and I was disappointed, but it didn’t in any way take from the huge enjoyment I had had in an afternoon watching my favourite game.
It is no accident that a legitimate and large literature has grown up around the game of baseball with some of the very best writers in the world involved.
I contrast all this with people who go to soccer games and football games and the like. It seems to me that there is an internal fury involved that leads to unpleasantness when the wrong team wins. I remember one of the last Lion’s games I went to with my then very young grandson – he is now 34 which gives you some idea of how long ago that was! The Lions lost. While we were were walking along the concourse on our way out, we were met by six or seven very rowdy young men, all drunk, all prepared to give us a hard time and a hassle. My grandson was terrified. I have never seen that kind of a situation arise in the baseball game.
Soccer games, on the other hand, create international incidents as fans get into terrible fights and riots. El Salvador and Honduras even went to war over a soccer game in 1969!
I am not so naïve as to suppose that fans never get upset at baseball. Of course they do. But I would argue that this happens so seldom it is almost unnoticed and simply is unusual whereas with soccer and football, high emotions leading to violence is, if the news can be believed, common. I watched the fans at the World Cup final and was astonished to see so many them in floods of tears. The reactions displayed by Brazilian fans after they were thumped by Germany 7-1 was an extraordinary thing to see. One would have thought they had all lost members of their family in a tragedy! Indeed, it was taken as a national disgrace!
It is not my purpose, nor my place, to criticize the emotions of people who go to sports games.
That is entirely their affair.
My only point is that for me I don’t want that. Been there, done that. I remember very well as a young man getting very emotionally upset when the Lions lost a game. When the Canadiens lost to the Leafs, it was like the world had come to an end.
I don’t know whether I outgrew this or somewhere along the line I had an epiphany. Whatever happened, I changed gradually to one who wanted relative peace with my sports.
Those who lived and died with the World Cup seemed in a long term, highly charged state of mind. At the end of the day I suppose they enjoyed themselves. At least they say they did.
Vin Scully is still around, believe it or not, broadcasting games at the age of 86! So give me a night watching a Los Angeles Dodgers broadcast by Scully, and you can have all your other games for yourselves. Better still, let me sit in the third base bleachers on a Sunday afternoon at any ballgame, preferably with a youngster or two with me, and a beer in my hand with hotdogs for the kids.
As for me, take me out to the ball game!