Archive for Thursday, June 19, 2008

The eephus pitch

June 19, 2008

Sports, in the grand scheme of things - compared to family relationships, moral values, starvation and disease in countries around the globe - aren't very important.

It seems absurd, actually, given such suffering as citizens like the Sudanese endure that Alex Rodriguez signed a 10-year, $275 million contract to play a professional sport.

To me, that begs the question of what is the attraction to professional sports? Why is it such a lucrative business? What is the draw that makes fans willing to spend $890 on lower-level Chiefs season tickets in a rebuilding year?

Reflecting on a holiday like Father's Day offers one possible explanation.

My father passed away in 2003. I only reluctantly mention that fact because a story behind that may help more clearly illustrate my point.

One of our last family outings together involved two of my brothers, Dad and the Royals. Barry Bonds was in town, and it was the summer of 2003, when everything was going right for both the Royals and Barry Bonds. The steroid scandal was still unexposed, he was mashing the ball at a record pace, and the Royals had a legitimate shot at winning the AL Central.

I'll never forget that day, and I wonder what other outing could have been better. Trying to set nostalgia aside, the Royals did win the game in the last inning, and Bonds swung the bat three times on the day. One was an absolute laser - the hooked foul right in front of us. The other two were ropes off the wall that went for doubles.

It was the single greatest display of hitting that any of us had ever seen. Dad, being a baseball coach from a baseball family, appreciated that performance as much as the rest of us. None of us had ever seen the ball come off the bat, stay that low and reach the outfield wall with such quickness.

Maybe we could have gone fishing, but dad never fished. He'd sit and watch us fish or hunt, but he never got into the actual act of fishing or killing animals.

That outing is the perfect example, to me, of that draw of professional athletics. When you've grown up enjoying something together, practicing in the yard like many parents and children do, it is the most reasonable connection between you.

I was 20 at the time, and there is nothing that comes to mind that we could have enjoyed more together.

Dinner would have lasted an hour, tops, and we did that anyway. We could have gone to a movie, but that would have lasted a lesser duration of time and would have involved far less interaction with one another. A barbeque sounds ideal, but the collective interest of everyone involved wouldn't have been as uniform. It would be the same thing for a football game, soccer match, tennis match or you name it.

Sports are a link between generations.

Dad always talked about seeing Reggie Jackson and Rod Carew hit, but Jackson and Carew weren't anywhere close to being on the same level as Bonds was in 2003.

Similarly, a buddy of mine's 7-year-old son will never forget how happy he and his father were during KU's run through the NCAA tourney this year.

Sports create these memories and experiences that temporarily alleviate the drudgery of everyday living and the suffering that we see on the news.

That's why, at the end of a workday, it's a heck of a lot easier to watch clutch performances by Tiger Woods and the athleticism of Kobe Bryant than to watch images of soldiers and/or suffering on CNN. Sports serve as a grand diversion from these more significant matters and events, and it's memories like these that make sports a vehicle for enjoying our most important relationships.

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