Thursday, December 22, 2016

A Season for a Sport

I live in a place that does not really have seasons. Born and raised in the Bay Area, our Mediterranean-like climate is mild and pleasant most of the year. Given that I grew up in the East Bay, I am no stranger to the heat (LOVE it), but now that I live in San Francisco, I find myself unfamiliar with what so many Americans love: winter, spring, summer or fall. Most folks in SF would say our four seasons are clear and sunny, foggy, Indian and rainy. That fourth season was on a stay-cation elsewhere for the past four years. He or she rested well...and is back with a vengeance.
As a sports fan, gaining a sense or understanding of an alleged season is equally challenging. I almost did a double take when I read that the final football game of the 2016 high school season took place this past weekend. High school sports, however, are not the grand perpetrators. I give that honor to hockey and basketball. Don't get me wrong, baseball now runs into near snow during the October/potentially November classic, but honestly, nothing goes longer than those two indoor sports. It seems that I just finished watching the Cavs take the title from the Warriors, only to anticipate the latest rematch on Christmas Day.

So, the purpose of this blog posting is to give each season it's appropriate sport. Love it during its scheduled time frame and then make room for the beauty of the next quarter
I'm so happy I saw Cousins play....

Winter: The short days and long nights are made for indoor sport. Although it would be hard to bet against athletes who play on ice—literally...not metaphorically—I'll take basketball for $500, please. Both boys and girls play (yes, girls play hockey, but not at higher levels) and the sport is tremendously spectator friendly and aesthetically pleasing: basketball players fly. They dunk, nearly leaping over tall buildings. I love the rhythm of the game, the sound of a swish, and what happens when I team swings, defends, and carries out a masterful play.

Recommendation: if and as possible, attend your local NBA team's final home game before Christmas. I have done this twice now, and it's hard not to delight in the holiday spirit. This year I went to Golden 1 Arena, home of the Sacramento Kings who beat the Portland Trailblazers 119-113. A myriad of fans dawned their yuletide gear for the Ugly Sweater night party. Santa hats abounded. The team's dance crew who always look, well, really good wore Ms. Santa goes sporty and sexy. The captain of the Kings' wished all fans a "Happy Holidays" and you could tell that all in attendance were ready for the break. 
As a sports fan, I believe the atmosphere is secondary to the contest, so it was a real treat that both were tremendous. This matchup, even with nearly 60 fouls was exciting and came down to the final minute. DeMarcus Cousins dropping 55 points on the night was the gift that every Kings fan was happy to receive. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good game!

Spring: I waffled back and forth on the better of two spring sports. My final decision? Golf.
My favorite contest to watch in all of sports is The Masters; the first of the four golf majors take place in early April—the heart of spring. And, Augusta National is bursting with the sights and glory of the season: blooming azaleas and lush green grass. Those spring days grow longer by the minute. With each day of the tourney, we see ever more of a sky that must have prompted Crayola to christen a new color in its honor: sky blue. At the Masters, you might see all 64 of those colors in action.

The US Open, my second favorite tourney (I'm not a purist in preferring The Open above all) takes place at the tail end of spring. With its Father's Day finish, it can't take credit as a summer sporting event. I love that the US Open highlights different courses, both public and private throughout the country. I also love that my own club has hosted it five times and will host the Women's Open in 2021.
Recommendation: People always ask me how one can/should watch golf in person. It's not a spectator friendly sport. I wish it were, and even though I know a whole lot more about golf than when I first attended my first major (2007 US Open at Winged Foot), it's still difficult to feel a part of the action. Therefore, it is best to go with low expectations. Who you attend the event with is particularly important; it helps to enjoy their company. If you are able to watch with another patron who is familiar with the course do it. Have a beer or three, bask in the sun and the surrounding natural beauty. Sit for extended periods of time on a hole of your choice and watch the players come through. You will see great putts, players getting out of trouble they have no business either being in or getting out of effectively (and they do) and if you're lucky: a hole in one. 

Summer: Players may refer to the dog-days of summer, but as a fan...and a school teacher this season afforded me time to enjoy America's past time for what it is. Baseball is a sport without a clock, it's a truly American game. It's 162 games a year and one of the few still affordable professional sporting events. Yes, spring training has an attractive energy about it. I attribute that to the virtue of hope: the dawning of a new year, a fresh start and doing so in the season of spring is hard to deny, but the days of summer is the longest....and the hottest. I think back to this summer when I attended a Washington Nationals game at night with my brother. I started to sweat; I was thrilled. Warm summer nights are the best.

Sportscaster Bryant Gumbel has said Other sports are just sports. Baseball is a love. And it's not a stretch to equate summer with love. I vote to include baseball into that equation.

Recommendation: Watch playoff baseball. It's just so good. In no other sport is the gap between the regular and post-season competition so pronounced. And, because there are fewer teams in the playoffs (although many more than in the past), it's exciting to get a taste of each.

Fall: Fall is for football; a point that is not even open for debate. I know several people who identify autumn as their favorite season...and that's because of the pigskin. Many Americans associate football with their high school or college experience. As a Notre Dame alum, I didn't realize until after graduation that we do not have a homecoming game; each of the six home games serves as a homecoming for Irish alum who live throughout the country.

When this long season finally draws to a close and I get a glimpse at a team's highlight real, I am amazed at the dramatic changes that take place not on the gridiron... or in the locker room, but in the background. The first games are in the blazing sun. Players and fans are wearing but a single and thin layer. Quickly, however, the sun loses its grip. It makes its appearances as a pleasant the way, helping folks before the shadows take over. Midseason, football confronts its first of any given weather pattern e.g. a hurricane. By the end, you find games in sleet and snow in one part of the country and frozen tundra in others. I don't know how the coaches and referees do it. 
Recommendation: At some point, you have to experience an extreme weather game. Though it's not entirely possible to plan for any such contest, my recommendation is this: You hear it's going to rain? pack the right gear. There's a threat of a wind chill factor below zero? pack hand-warmers and the best gloves you can find. Long underwear is a must and so is a flask. There is something to be said about surrendering to Mother Nature. Let her have her way; it's not worth the fight. Instead, think like a Marine: Semper Apparatus and enjoy.

In Closing: I was hoping that the players and owners in MLB would vote to contract the season to 154 games. Being that professional sports is a business—and a lucrative one at that—to play fewer games means fewer dollars from television rights, and sales of tickets. We don't live in a time or place where "less is more." But, I believe these seasons that extend for nearly six to eight months of the year can't help but detract, rather than add to our love for the game. Maybe I'm wrong...but those people who live in places with four seasons of the year have a distinct appreciation for each one. They anticipate the new and say farewell to the old with ambiguous feelings....much like we do with sports.

Enjoy your given sport during its assigned season. I will allow for the playoffs to commence at the END of your given season, but they cannot hijack or extend to the length of the next one.

Photo Credits
Four Seasons
Kings' Ugly Sweaterness

Augusta National

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