Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Beautiful Formula Inside The Lines

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

This was cued up to be a screed about a sports fan’s mid-life crisis.  While watching MLB’s playoffs this year, he found himself alternating between mumbling under his breath and barking loudly at the television - odd behavior given he had no rooting interest or particular disdain for the participants. 

He loves baseball, a game that is as much thought as played.  Between pitches, stuff happens – lots of stuff.  Pitches are called, defensive alignments are set, runners are checked and batters look for clues about the pitcher’s next offering.  When the ball is in play, the game is a masterpiece of moving parts.  Properly choreographed defensive play is elegant.  Something as simple as running the bases – the angles, the feel for time and distance, knowing an opponent’s arm strength and sound sliding techniques – is an undervalued, highly trained skill.

Many of those fundamentals are eroding in this obsessed-with-the-long-ball era.  That bothers him, but what really sticks in his crawl is the lack of an assumed fundamental – hustle.  It’s not just Manny Machado; at least he admits to dogging it.  Few players really bust it down the line, and on batted balls to the outfield, many don’t run hard until they’re half way down the first base line.  And this is in the playoffs.  If you can’t hustle then, then when?

But his…my…mid-life crisis as a sports fan seems trivial now.  Frankly, it doesn’t matter at all, not given recent events.

A white man killed two African Americans in a grocery store after trying to enter a largely African American church.  Another man allegedly sent a series of bombs to former democratic presidents and political opponents of the current president.  Then an anti-Semite entered a Pittsburgh synagogue and murdered 11 people in their place of worship.

This horror happened over three days in the United States of America.  The violence, depth of hate and loss of innocent lives is difficult to process. 

Sports seem insignificant in times like these.  But there is still something important in these games - and it has nothing to do with effort or even the score. 

Over the years, this column has been nothing if not an on-going commentary about how sports inform, challenge and inspire our everyday lives.  While watching the World Series in the aftermath of the recent acts of domestic terrorism, I sought comfort in that basic attraction of team athletics and what it indicates about our capabilities human beings.    

And so, in these very disturbing times, here’s where I am as a sports fan.  I don’t care about Machado’s too-cool-for-school play anymore.  It doesn’t bother me that players stroll down the first base line admiring a would-be homerun only to see it clang off the wall leaving them scurrying to leg out a double.  Or that David Freese couldn’t catch a pop up.  Or that Jasiel Puig air mailed a ball to home plate as if the cutoff man didn’t exist.  Nope, none of it matters.  Not a bit.  Not at this moment.  My mid-life crisis as a sports fan is on pause.

What matters, from this now concluded baseball season, is that Machado, a Dominican-American from Florida, Puig, a Cuban, Hyun-jin Ryu, a South Korean, Justin Turner, a white dude from California, and all of their other Dodger teammates, tried to win the World Series.  The Red Sox, with guys like Mookie Betts, an African American from Tennessee, Xander Bogaerts, an Aruban, and Andrew Benintendi, a white guy from Arkansas, won Boston’s fourth championship since 2004.  And that they all competed last weekend, in front of Dodgers great Sandy Koufax, a Jewish American, makes the power of the moment all the more poignant. 

These men, from all over the globe, working together, trusting and respecting each other, leveraging complimentary talents and chasing a common goal – that’s the formula.  If this great country has any chance of reaching its grand documented idea, that is the formula its residents must pursue.  Those competing between the lines, across all major sports, have figure it out; those of us living outside the lines still have a long way to go.

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