Reflections on the importance of sports

From Bear Down and Get Some Runs

October 27, 2005

Following his team’s defeat in the 2005 World Series, Craig Biggio demonstrated “what sports are all about.”

It’s 5:36 AM, Wednesday night/Thursday morning.

The White Sox are the 2005 World Series Champions.

Still.

Orlando Palmeiro bounced out to Juan Uribe five hours and thirty five minutes ago to end the game, and it still counts. It’s all Official. Chicagosports.com has it. ESPN.com has it. Whitesox.com has it. Luke, Sven, Don, and my parents have all confirmed what I witnessed.

It actually happened.

The White Sox are champs.

What do you do the day after your team wins the World Series?

I ask this not for myself but for my friends, as it was quite clear all the way through that the 2005 White Sox were never, at any point, close to becoming my team. Still, it was quite an exhilarating experience, watching this team play, watching them battle through each playoff game, watching them win Game 4. I was overjoyed for Luke and Sven and all the other Sox fans, happy for the city, excited to be watching such a historic moment in Chicago sports. Nothing has changed for me personally, and yet I can feel the weight of what this means for so many people. Seeing replay after replay of that final out…Jenks leaping into the air…Jermaine dashing in from right…Everett hoisting Willie Harris onto his shoulders in celebration…all amazing sights.

But for every hero there’s a goat, and for every winner there’s a loser. There were the Houston fans, sitting in their own park, watching another team celebrate a championship while their team sat dejectedly in the locker room. They had waited 44 years for a World Series appearance, and after that they still had to sit through two more games until they could watch one in their own hometown. Those first two games took place in Chicago, the Sox winning both. Now their Astros were returning home, and the fans were there to greet them. When Houston fans got to Minute Maid Park Tuesday night, their ace Roy Oswalt was on the mound. Most people assumed Oswalt would lead Houston to the win that would get them back into the series, a pivotal Game 4 at home on the way. Instead, Oswalt lost a 4-0 lead and the Astros went to their pen. Houston fans, those who had waited 44 years for this World Series game waited another 14 innings for its conclusion, a conclusion they were sure would be victory.

But no: 44 years, two games, and 14 innings brought not victory but rather defeat, defeat at the bat of White Sox’ pinch hitter Geoff Blum, himself a former Astro.

Houston fans left Minute Maid Park early Wednesday morning, their team trailing three games to none, each one knowing that only one team in the history of baseball had ever overcome a 3-0 deficit in a best of seven, and being that it was the 2004 Red Sox, the self-proclaimed “idiots” who overcame that deficit along with the Yankees and 86 years of frustrating history, it must have seemed unlikely that their Houston Astros, the team they loved so dear, would do the same. It must have seemed unlikely…yet there they were, those Astros fans, screaming and shouting all through Game 4, cheering on their team, trying to will them to victory. Even with each opportunity squandered by the Astros, the fans did not give up or give in, not even with two outs in the ninth inning. And then came the ground ball, the Uribe scoop and throw, the close play, the out recorded, the game, the series, the season, over…

This is what the White Sox celebration would have looked like for Astros fans.

But Houston’s fans stayed on, and after the game the longest Astro of them all, Craig Biggio, sat for a post game interview. Biggio has spent 17 years in the majors, every one with Houston. He came up as a catcher, a 22-year-old in 1988. He was an All-Star at that position in 1991, only to move to second a year later. There he flourished, going to six more All-Star games and winning four Gold Gloves. Then, in 2003, the Astros had a chance to acquire All-Star second baseman Jeff Kent. Not a problem, said Biggio, who knew that Kent would be a good addition to the team, and so he, Biggio, he trotted out to play center field. Then, in the middle of 2004, the Astros had a chance to acquire All-Star center fielder Carlos Beltran. Not a problem, said Biggio, and he trotted over to play left field.

And then, after last season, Beltran signed with the Mets while Kent left for the Dodgers…and so Biggio went back to second base, and finally, with the help of longtime teammate Jeff Bagwell, led Houston to a World Series. After 17 seasons, Biggio was playing for a championship. Four games later, it was over. He had lost.

But the fans were out, and the press was curious, and so Biggio did what would make them both happy, and as he sat out there at Minute Maid Park answering questions while the White Sox deliriously sprayed champagne all over each other in celebration, the fans chanted his name—“B-G-O! B-G-O!”—over and over again.

White Sox fans have waited a long time for a title. They got one this year. Frank Thomas has waited a long time for his team to play in the World Series. He got there this year. Astros fans have waited a long time for an NL Pennant. They got one this year. Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell have waited a long time to display their skills on a national stage. They got to this year. Of those four, only the Sox fans got exactly what they wanted, but don’t discount Frank’s influence on this team, and don’t discount Houston’s joy of seeing their team in the Series or Biggio and Bagwell’s joy of getting there together. It was all there, for anyone to see, and even if this was the lowest-rated Series in baseball’s history, all that means is that a bunch of lazy and careless baseball “fans” missed out on seeing what sports is all about.

A few weeks ago, Meghan told me something while we were riding home from Ann Arbor. “It’s just a game,” she said.

Now, to be fair, she only said it because my actions during the Bears-Browns game freaked her out, and with good reason. I clearly lost control of myself. But her comment is one that I’ve heard many times, and it usually comes from people who don’t like sports, who think that we place too much emphasis on them, who think that they are a waste of time, who think that they are “just a game.”

Luke, (seen here), Sven, and my other Sox friends were thrilled to see their team win a title.

“It’s just a game,” they always tell me.

Well, the thing is, it is and it isn’t.

You see, sports are life.

I know that sounds cliché, and absurd, and totally improper, but many truths do, and so I will say it again: Sports are life.

Sports are life, and if you are dedicated to either, your truest emotions will be brought to light at one point or another. We are born, and we die, and in the middle we behave as if neither were true, as if we are the most important beings ever created. In turn our actions and our decisions become the most important that anyone will ever have to do or make. But all things must pass, and all that is new must grow old, and while the Earth remains, we do not. And we know this. We deny it, but we live each day knowing it to be true. So we find ways to immortalize ourselves, to make meaning out of our actions, to hold onto something that will outlast us. A football team, for example.

And yet, it is just a game, and for that we are grateful. We, the men of the world, American men who have been taught that crying is for women and children, that emotion is for cowards, that love is for romantics with nothing better to do…we have been given a world that grants us a license to be human. Because the outcomes of games “don’t really matter,” we can experience them fully as if they do. We can cry when the Cubs lose Game 7 while being strong for our family after a death. We can be overjoyed at the success of a home run or a touchdown while being casual about meeting society’s social and financial expectations. We can acknowledge that every at-bat must have a final pitch, that every game must have a final out, that every season must have an ending be it happy or sad, all while striving for goals that suggest we will live forever.

The White Sox and the Astros showed us that this year. They played honorably and passionately, for themselves and for their fans. They played with talent, energy, and agility. They played with emotion, camaraderie, and desire. They played with professionalism and with exuberance. They played with brains and brawn. By giving their all, leaving everything on the field, and doing whatever it takes to win, they made every sportswriting cliché a reality. They competed, pure and simple.

In the end, the White Sox were the better team. There are many moments we can point to in order to illustrate where exactly the Astros messed things up and where the White Sox took control, but that would be pointless. The game must have two teams, and one will win while the other will lose. That is simply the nature of sport, and in a way, those details are incidental. Out on the field, two teams competed, and 25 men on each side showed us how to play.

That’s why Craig Biggio could sit out on the field after the game and calmly answer questions. The game was over. He had played it as best he could. A noble and heroic performance, from start to finish, for him and everyone else involved.

Now try telling me that it’s just a game.

Copyright 2005, jm silverstein

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