How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Joe Mauer

26 05 2009

I’m a bit of a self-hating sports fan.  I hate the fact that my emotions are dependent on the performance of sports franchises over which I have no control.  I hate all the randomness involved, and the misguided attempts by analysts to explain it all away.  I despise the degree to which referees can influence the outcome of a game, particularly in basketball and football.  I hate the tribalism involved in sports, the arbitrary in-groups and out-groups based on geography.  To be honest, were it not for fantasy sports, I probably never would have made it as a sports fan.

I went to my first Sox game of the season last week.  Co-blogger Jordan’s wife had won a contest to sing the national anthem (she was terrific) so we went out to the game, a smattering of both Sox fans (me) and Twins fans (Jordan).  Before the game, I heard two predictions: The Hurricane, based on the pitching matchup, suggested it would be a high-scoring game, while my grandma, based on her intense sports pessimism, suggested the White Sox would lose.  Both were entirely correct, as the Twins hammered the Sox 20-1.  For me, the most interesting moment came when Joe Mauer stepped to the plate with the bases loaded, two outs, and the Twins up 12-0 in the 6th inning.  Mauer, my uber-keeper, had a chance to boost my fantasy team considerably, without doing any real damage to my actual team; the probability of winning when down 12-0 is essentially the same as when down 14-0 or 16-0: 0%.  There was no hedging going on; sitting in the White Sox’ home park, my grandparents’ seats just down the aisle, I genuinely wanted Mauer to get a hit.  I’d finally learned to love Joe Mauer.

My grandparents left the game early, once it got out of hand.  My brother says it’s the most upset he’s ever seen my grandpa.  I left the game feeling pretty good.  The national anthem was great.  It was a beautiful day.  I was with a good group of people.  And, as much as I’m supposed to care about the team that geography assigned me, I care more about the team I actually had a hand in selecting.  Kenny Williams, the White Sox GM, is the genius who decided to sign lead off hitter Scott Podsednik, who reached base twice and promptly made baserunning blunders both times.  I drafted Joe Mauer.  The White Sox are in fourth place in the woeful AL  Central; both my fantasy squads are in second, and I have a good chance to win both.

Fantasy sports put your team’s fate in your own hands.  They cut down on randomness, replacing the seven game series with either an entire season’s worth or at least ten or twelve sets of games played by multiple teams.  And geographical tribalism disappears completely; the only other person who influences my fantasy team lives in Japan.  So tell me, am I confusing fantasy for reality?  Am I mistaking what sports is really about?  Or is everybody else?

Update (Editor’s Note): Here’s the video of Marlene singing the National Anthem.

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