Friday, April 22, 2011

Boys of Summer

I love my sports.  In fact, in the last decade I have become a legitimate fanatic on some sports.  I blame it on the Detroit Tigers, which from my earliest memories was on the radio and our television, seemingly every night during the long summers.  Somehow through osmosis or absorption of some kind, though I hated missing my favorite shows as a kid because of baseball, it just became a part of my subconscious and was always there lurking waiting for me to become just another "nutty" fan. 

As kids, during the seemingly then, endless summers, we had pickup baseball games virtually every day.  If none of the country neighborhood kids were available, my brother and I played with just the two of us.  We lived outside in those days of pre television on fifty gazillion channels, the computer, the internet and everything that could keep you inside in front of a fantasy life, instead of outside, using our imaginations and enthusiasm to make fun.  When winter came, which it did every year, and never seemed as long as it does now to me, we ice skated, and sledded and played board and card games during the long nights.  We never really lacked for things to do, and yet how limited we seemed by our kids and grandkids estimations.

So, I guess, sports love was always there.  We didn't have girl's organized team sports in high school then, it was club softball and 4-H, neither of which especially "floated my boat" as it were.  So when I married, after a college education that saw me going to home football games as much to drink "cider' as anything, I let Kurt be the sports addict for awhile.  But somewhere along the line of my sons entering little league baseball, I became the quintessential "hockey mom", or baseball as that's what we had here then.  From the time I learned Ryan actually would take to baseball, after the first year of bribing him just to swing a bat, and seeing Korey champing at the bit to get to play like his big brother, and finding Annie begging her dad to play catch with her at age 6, I just succumbed to what was already there, a very competitive spirit in the spectator arena, and an almost lioness type feeling watching my kids play. 

I went through little league thinking every level they moved up was so much better, and laughing at the parents and grandparents of first timers in T-ball with Annie, as I had already been there and done that, and it got much better later on.  It didn't really, it was just more competitive.  I followed the kids through baseball and summer softball.  Through Saturday basketball and then middle school sports of basketball and soccer.  High school had football, basketball and baseball/softball.  I became completely obsessed with whatever sport my kids were playing and never missed games.  When Ryan graduated and headed to college I grieved more for the loss of games to attend and the disintegration of the parent's groups who were faithful at every game, than I did his leaving the nest.  Annie's senior year in high school was faught with anxious moments that my life as I had known it for 6 years was ending.  Kurt and I consoled ourselves that she was going to play college softball so there at least was that. But it wasn't the same, and when the reality of what it was to play college sports at even the Division III level meant, and that Annie didn't want to do it, we somehow adjusted to post sports for a time.  We realized shortly after Annie graduated that going back to high school games wasn't the same when you didn't have a child playing.  I guess that made us fickle fans and I have the utmost respect for those who love high school sports just for what they represent to the community and continue to support and follow these things.  It just wasn't us.  I may regret that but I can't change it.

While Kurt had always loved virtually any kind of sport and could follow bullriding on his expanded sport's package with his satellite dish, I needed something to latch onto, and I didn't even know it until I found Nascar, after Kurt attended a race in 2003.  When we watched thereafter, he told me to pick a car and follow it all through the race.  I did it and bingo, a new passion was born.  I became addicted and obsessive and lived to read about my driver and the sport in general.  Of course, I had pretty much jumped on that bandwagon right when it was undergoing tremendous, even momentous change.  It was magical the first years, but 5 straight championships later, for one driver, and he ain't mine, the enthusiasm wanes.   I also rekindled a forgotten love of college football and added to my love of college basketball to the point, I began to think it was all that got me through the long winters here.  Somehow, my growing lack of enthusiasm for Michigan's long winters was directly in proportion to my added joy in watching hockey and college basketball and having at least a running knowledge of the NBA and the NFL, though I never really embraced either. 

Going to actual Nascar races and attending hockey games at the Joe, were the highlights of my winters and summers.  I fell in love with the Detroit Tigers again after so many years of feeling lukewarm about them when I attended Comerica Park and actually loved the new ballpark.  The magical summer of 2006 made believers of all weary Tiger fans once again, and it remained a bittersweet rememberance as it was the year, Dad died, and he and the Tigers are forever intertwined in my mind. 

Somehow in the years since, the sports I thought I would always love as passionately and obsessively, as I did at first, faded, tarnished by losses and the term, everyone loves a winner, seemed to sum up Michigan and its sports and its fans.  The state hit the recession/depression long before the rest of the Nation and we will likely be the last to climb out, lulled into believing that the auto industry would always take care of this state.  We hemmorage young people who find opportunities elsewhere and the rest of us wait it out and hope for better, if we just wait long enough.  We do the same with our sports, every season we hope for better.

Somewhere along the line, I lost the passion for those sports I thought sustained me.  I found myself caring less and less when it appeared dream seasons and championships would once again be denied us.  I lacked the enthusiasm that always said, next year.  Next year it will be different and we will win again. 

On a walk the other day, it hit me.  Sports were never meant to be an obsession.  They were never meant to fill a void that we found within ourselves.  They were meant to be a pass time.  That word says it all.  It was something my grandfather listened to on his old radio.  He loved his Tiger baseball, but not more than he loved his family, his church, his life and his work.  It was a diversion and something to be shared with family and friends and it made him smile.  Somewhere along the line, and maybe it was, its ready accessibility, we crossed the line of pass time into fanaticism.  It became our National product, and it became about money, salaries, ownership, fantasy leagues and television rights and sports talk.  We get umpteen sports channels on our cable packages and satellite dishes, and all in HD and streaming video.  We now have sold ourselves to living our lives out through the sports we once played, but now are just passive spectators, who like to think they own a piece of it just by watching.  We have overdone once again in the United States that which was supposed to make us happy and take our minds off things for a time. 

It isn't until I realized, my sport's loves weren't filling any voids and I wasn't really enjoying them as every game seemed to be life and death, that I realized how far I had gone away from what I thought I'd loved.  Every day life is pretty average, and doesn't have a whole lot of highs or lows.  We live life, far more average than we do on some kind of high or some kind of low.  We celebrate happiness for it is fleeting and we endure the grief of things lost or gone wrong.  Most of us live life, in our boats on a calm pond, wanting our sports to be the excitement our lives don't have. 

I guess now I just want the Boys of Summer back, and I want, once again to just enjoy those sports for what they are.  If it means missing more games on tv, turning it off, or just missing things because I am actually doing something more important, then so be it.  I want my love of sports to be an enhancement, not my obsession any longer. 

With that said, I still hope the Redwings bring home another Stanley Cup.....

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