Appreciating Sports Isn’t a Waste of Time

I was watching Game 1 of the Atlanta Braves-Houston Astros series?the opening game of the 2001 Major League Baseball Playoffs?Tuesday afternoon when a news writer, whose knowledge of sports roughly equals my ability to tell whether the tan shoes she was wearing were technically classified as ecru-, khaki-, or “oatmeal”-colored, passed through the sports office, observed the 2-0 score in the top of the fifth, and felt it wise to put in her two cents.

“Can I just say that baseball is the most boring sport on the planet?”

A few hours later, the assistant photo editor came strolling by in time to see the Cleveland Indians put the finishing touches on their surprising 5-0 victory over the Seattle Mariners.

Now, that beautiful bald head of his contains about as much expertise of MLB as mine does of his Nikon F5, but that didn’t stop him from opining, “I like baseball when it’s really late at night, I’m tired and I just need some background noise to fall asleep? Baseball games and golf tournaments.”

If I were a pitcher, you could call me Sigh Young.

I will admit, unless you’re watching a game being played in Colorado or involving the pitching staff of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the fireworks generally won’t resemble the Fourth of July. The pace is often slower than your grandma’s retirement community knit-off, and a few of the teams are about as compelling as Keanu Reeves’ acting.

That being said, baseball is still sport, and these are still the Playoffs. So kindly reserve your sarcasm for the next time FOX promotes “Love Cruise” as reality television.

I find it interesting that I am still inevitably compelled to justify the legitimacy of sports to those who don’t bother to follow them.

Sure, their importance pales in comparison to terrorist attacks and military reciprocity, in comparison to economic trends and unemployment, in comparison to civil liberties and efforts to preserve them.

As a member of a newspaper staff, these are issues I am exposed to every day, and clearly sports cannot?and should not?rival them in terms of significance.

But then, sports don’t proclaim to or pretend to.

My job security was not dependent upon whether Barry Bonds would break Mark McGwire’s home run record. My personal safety is not tied to the Philadelphia Eagles’ ability to recover from a humiliating loss to the Arizona Cardinals. And my pursuit of a college degree will not be affected by the Lakers’ shot at three peating next June.

I will sure as hell scream my head off if the Lakers lose a game to the Jazz this season, but otherwise, it will have little long-term effect on me.

In that respect, people who open a newspaper, try to compare the sports section to the news or editorial pages and consequently can’t help but view my job as superfluous or extraneous are missing the point. Sports aren’t supposed to be on equal footing with “legitimate” journalism issues.

Sports are entertainment (except for golf?the photo guy got that right, at least). But then, you don’t see anyone telling Roger Ebert to find a real job, or writing in to Rolling Stone and suggesting it dispense with its CD reviews. Actors and rock stars are just as obscenely overpaid as athletes, but no one questions the need to have them for entertainment value.

Al Gore aside, we can’t be serious all the time.

Sports are simply my escape.

I derive from them the same satisfaction that a moviegoer gets from an intriguing plot twist or a music aficionado gets from a clever hook or an intricate riff.

Consequently, I don’t require everyone I know who spends any amount of time with me to know what the infield fly rule is?

I just promise that the next time they tell me my interests are pointless, I’m going to laugh at them when they try to convince me they know sports, and praise “that football guy who kicked the touchdown” as proof.

Eric welcomes feedback at: [email protected].