The opening day of the major league baseball season is when I start to live again until October when pro basketball and NFL football take over and the fan in me goes into a long winter sleep. I’m not a full-time fan of anything I haven’t tried to play. (Hence no ice hockey or lacrosse.) Traumatically, when it dawned on me as a kid that I wasn’t going to be the next Chicago Cubs pitching whiz — yes, the all-time loser Cubs! — I beamed myself down to being a mere avid spectator, first at live games at Wrigley, Ebbets and Chavez Ravine’s Dodger field, now couch-potatoing on TV.
Spectating has its own peculiar thrills. Even though I’m not a Dodger fan, just a follower, Clayton Kershaw’s opening day, extraordinary eighth inning home run to break a tie against arch-rival Giants was something, if only to watch him scamper around the bases as if he expected to be arrested at any moment. Everyone including ace Kershaw knows pitchers can’t hit, right? (It was his first and perhaps last career homer.)
Being a Chicago Cubs fanatic — they haven’t won a World Series in 104 years and their last pennant was in 1945 — means you learn valuable lessons early. Such as, the virtue of stoicism in the face of defeat, and the meaning of inevitable tragedy. It’s a loser’s world, and the sooner you learn this the better. And, if anyone has forgotten what playthings we are of Tyche, the Greek goddess of luck, there’s the notorious incident when a young over-enthusiastic Cub fan, Steve Bartman, reached down from the stands to brazenly interfere with left fielder Moises Alou’s catch of a foul ball thus ruining the club’s pennant hopes in 2003. (In Chicago Bartman and the umpire who made the bad call rank somewhere between Judas and Benedict Arnold; for a long time young Bartman had police protection, probably against fans like me.)
Even rabid fans know in their hearts that their games have been stolen from them by Borgia-like owners, agents, out-of-sight player salaries, all-round greed, and “performance enhancements” (dope) not to speak of the ever moveable strike zone. So we take refuge in backward looking nostalgia, by mentally downloading images of the Cardinals’ “Stan the Man” Musial’s amazing hitting history, Pittsburgh Steeler Lynn Swann’s ballet-like catches, and a far-gone time when Jews not African Americans dominated basketball, and Jackie Robinson’s super-aggressive base stealing. And also when the geographic frontier of major league baseball extended no further than Chicago and St Louis. To this day I can’t get it up for the expansion teams. The Toronto what?
Just as well baseball comes along this year to divert me from the unutterably boring political game where, unlike an election year, the important stuff gets done in incomprehensible language at committees behind closed doors. ”Chained CPI” anybody?
Last year it was temporarily exciting to watch Obama kick Romney’s ass at the polling booth; how deflating it is to see him, holding a strong poker hand, blow it with his parroting the Republican line about “entitlements.” To prepare us for the shock just before he unwraps his next budget, he’s sending up flaming trial balloons to see how much beating-up we will take, such as his crazy idea of cutting Social Security by $112 billion over the next decade. Being a Cubs fan armors me slightly against the Democrats betraying us yet again. Like the Cubs they do it to us year after year.
I tune into Rachel Maddow and she’s still at it, robot-like, gabble gabble, drawing our attention to the Republican corpse rather than to the crimes of cowardice of her darling, weak-kneed, insufferably corrupt Democrats who can do no wrong on MSNBC. Only ever-reliable Fox News refuses to concede, and that’s refreshing. The right-wingers have it right: never retreat, never apologize, keep banging on that old drum no matter. Maybe Roger Ailes and his gang are the true Cubs-in-spirit fans.
Yes, Obama is “good” about guns, promoting women, gay marriage — full marks to him. But on the only two inter-related issues that really matter, our economic impoverishment and funding unnecessary wars, he is the best Republican liberal we voted for. The fix is in. Obama is the most skillful three-card monte trickster in the Oval Office since Reagan, and without a real enemy, the GOP piñata, to hit and hit again, most of us have subsided like me into spectators rather than active fans.
Is it subversive to suggest that gun-control and gay marriage are… side issues, compared to Obama being our “food stamp president” with a record high of 47 million Americans now dependent on welfare; one in four children going hungry if not for (and perhaps even with) food stamps; the whittling away of Medicare and Social Security disability. In other words the Democrats and Obama are undermining our safety net while prattling on about the false issue of “deficit spending.” Washington’s policies are directly responsible for the crushing meth plague in rural America, triggered by farm disasters and small town factory closures.
I have great respect for the former labor secretary Robert Reich but is he even wrong when he protests, “Mr. President, the chained CPI is a cut to Social Securiy benefits that would hurt seniors — it’s an idea not befitting a Democratic president.”
Oh, Mr Reich, the point is, that’s what Democratic presidents do, enact Republican platforms while we remain in a state of liberal narcosis.
Meanwhile, Obama’s favorite executioner, former senator Alan Simpson, axe in hand, co-chair of the presidential “budget commission,” calls people like me, indeed all Americans who unlike him don’t have a 50-year career on the public dole, as “the greediest generation.”
Instead of focusing on what’s important we run around fixing this or protesting that — which is great, it keeps us alive as participating citizens. But the fact remains that it is in both parties’ interest to three-card shuffle us into a kind of distracted boredom which helps explain the astonishing popularity of professional sports today. We know every detail of Kevin Ware’s gruesome basketball injury and Tiger Woods dating Lindsay Vonn, and the Rutgers coach who pulverized his scholarship players, and the scandal-ridden National Collegiate Athletic Association’s ruthless exploitation of young athletes. And, if we’re truly alert fans, the high school, collegiate and professional athletes’ rape culture. But since pols like Alan Simpson don’t dunk in Nike trainers, we’re blind and deaf to his nastiness.
So I look forward to this baseball season even if I still don’t really understand “wild card” playoffs, the same way I’ve never got the offside rule in pro soccer. This season keep your eye on the Cubs’ Dominican-born shortstop Starlin Castro who will — I promise! — take us to the World Series not next but this year. And pray for a miracle that, in time to raise a rumpus, we take one tiny part of our sports-obsessed brain and refocus on how and why our money is being stolen not at the corporate sports stadium but at the corporate White House.
Clancy Sigal is a novelist and screenwriter in Los Angeles. His latest book, Hemingway Lives!, will be published this spring by OR Books. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His web site is clancysigal.com.