Saturday, April 30, 2011

Montaigne, Real Salt Lake, and This Fan's Life

In the introduction to his multi-volume collection of essays, Michel de Montaigne humbly wrote that he was the subject of his own book.

In a similar way, I am the subject of this blog post. And to quote Montaigne, you probably shouldn't waste your time reading about such a "frivolous and vain subject." But whether you continue reading or not, I will write this little confession anyway; I need to confront my demons so that I can move past the pain.

As a young boy, I was a rabid football fall. I am now embarrassed to say that I loved the Cowboys and I loved BYU's football team. Even though there were some painful losses (I remember hurting for weeks after Dallas lost to Philadelphia in the NFC championship game in 1981), Dallas won the Superbowl in '78 and BYU won the national championship in 1984. I was under the youthful illusion that championships would be a regular thing. The oft-repeated "Wait 'til next year" filled me with hope instead of dread.

Then I began cheering for the Mariners.

After decades of losing, they finally made the playoffs. The greatest day in my life as a fan was when the Mariners beat the Yankees in extra innings of the final game of a playoff series in 1995. It helped that my favorite player, Edgar Martinez, had the game winning double. But of course the Mariners went on to lose in the next round. They would lose the ALCS again in 2000 and yet again in 2001, despite winning a record 116 games that year during the regular season. In my heady graduate-school-years I had given up on football and was not very interested in watching basketball, so I had nothing to fall back but my own sorrow.

So amid the pain, I started researching and writing about sports. I think I began writing on sports as a way to distance myself from the pain of watching my teams lose (again), as a mechanism to allow me to cope with the hopelessness the Mariners continue to inspire. I could follow the games from the detachment of the ivory tower. I could look at the suffering fans as objects of study, as poor schmucks whose love for their team was deterministically dictated by their social class and cultural habitus. I was insulated from suffering by Bourdieu and Elias; protected by Huizinga and Corbin.

But then I unwittingly let myself love again.

In October 2008 I was asked to give a presentation on sports as part of our university's outreach program. To entice public school teachers to attend lectures by university professors, the organizers offered complimentary tickets to the first soccer game at the freshly minted Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. They had several extra tickets, so I went and watched a 1-1 draw against New York. Maybe it was the red card against New York (and it is fun to hate teams from New York), maybe the ambiance, maybe the fact that my children and wife enjoyed the games, maybe the way soccer in America made me feel subversive... but I was hooked and attended the team's playoff games that fall. I went to several games in 2009, including their improbable 1-0 win over Columbus in the playoffs and then went to the party to celebrate their surprising MLS Cup win. In 2010 I went to most of their home games. And this year I haven't missed a game.

I am now unable to detach myself from this team and maintain any critical distance. I have a cap signed by midfielder Will Johnson. I bought a jacket and a flag. I somehow let myself become a mindless fan. And I enjoyed every second of it until Wednesday night.

Against my expectations (and those of the 20,000 others present at the game) Real Salt Lake lost the Concacaf Champions League final to Monterrey, Mexico at home 0-1. My heart was ripped out. I feel gutted. My sleep is haunted by nightmares of the loss.

Why did I let myself be tricked into re-entering the world of fandom? Why did I abandon my comfortable perch in the detachment of academia? In short, Wo is me.

But even now, in the haze of melancholy brought on by the team's loss at the brink of a championship, I still like this team. Their payroll is six times less than the team from Mexico that beat them. They are composed of players rejected by other teams and other leagues. They play with creativity and a bit of anger. Their players have interesting life stories. And.... I'm sounding like a fan again...

I am at the moment of decision. Do I return to the indifference of scholarship, or embrace a team that will inevitably break my heart? I am experienced enough to know that a team from Salt Lake cannot continue making it to championship games, old enough to know that in sports hope is usually dashed. Am I willing to take the emotional beating Real Salt Lake will give me?

RSL plays Portland tonight at 8:30. Where is my flag?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A letter to Commissioner Selig

Allow me to share a letter I just mailed to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, as it addresses my feelings on the entire McCourt/Dodgers debacle:

27 April 2011

Office of the Commissioner of Baseball
Allan H. Selig, Commissioner
245 Park Ave., 31st Floor
New York, New York 10167

Dear Commissioner Selig:

With great admiration for the grace and dignity with which you have ushered our beloved American game through the Steroid Era and as an unwavering fan of Major League Baseball, I write to commend what—for me personally and for hundreds of thousands of the Los Angeles Dodgers faithful—will stand as the defining moment of your tenure at the helm of this great organization. Your seizure of financial control of our storied franchise from the detrimentally failed and flawed stewardship of Frank McCourt was nothing short of a veritable liberation for those of us who have endured the demonstration of his proprietary incompetence paired with the media fiasco that was the McCourt divorce. I support and salute you in your efforts to enable the Dodgers franchise to return to the position of prestige it has occupied for so many decades.

In so doing, sir, I also wish to admonish you to exercise the fullest measure of power vested in the office of the commissioner to prevent either Frank or Jamie McCourt from ever reassuming any form of ownership of our franchise. We are not an investment, a property, an asset—the Los Angeles Dodgers organization represents much more than mere numbers. Rather, we are a loyal collectivity of dedicated fans for whom the Dodgers are a cultural identifier and a communal symbol of pride and hope. For us, the Dodgers transcend the McCourt’s bottom line and Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. To see us reduced to such by a wolf who came to us in sheep’s clothing, selling lies to buy our affection as he aimed to assume the paternal place of the O’Malleys, has been as insulting as it has disheartening. Please, Mr. Commissioner, force the McCourts out of baseball. Force them to sell the club, our club. Supplement any ascertainable forestallment on “their investment” and see them out. Cut short this tragedy and banish the McCourts.

Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Fernando Valenzuela, Orel Hershiser, Tommy Lasorda, Vin Scully, Walter O’Malley: Are the Los Angeles Dodgers really nothing more than the investment of a carpet-bagging real estate developer? For myself—who fell in love with the Dodgers and baseball as an eight-year-old watching Steve Sax and Gibby win the 1988 World Series—and for countless others who found elation in the Westward Expansion, Sandy’s Shabbat, The Penguin’s earth-shaker, Fernandomania, Game Over Gagné, even Mannywood, the Dodgers represent the true American Dream. Let McCourt define America in dollars and cents to his own demise. America is a diverse collectivity of individuals drawn together by similar objectives and aspirations. Baseball is America’s pastime. The Dodgers are one of its few truly American teams.

Sincerest thanks,
Robert J. Hudson, PhD

*Many thanks to the "Frank McCourt: Sell the Dodgers! Leave LA!" facebook group page from which I borrowed the image above.