October 5, 2004

A Tour of American Sports

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I was down in Texas awhile ago, and all I remember is that it’s hot as hell (but it’s a dry heat), and that you shouldn’t mess with the state, or some serious shit will go down. How one could possibly mess with an entire state is unknown. How the state would respond to such an act is also unknown. But that’s not the point.

Now when I was in Houston, I went to the downtown baseball stadium, which was then called Enron Field. They changed to name to Minute Maid Park after Enron happened to do some illegal messin’ — which, by the way, ended up costing me $80 because I owned two shares of Enron stock.

It was a nice stadium, designed in that postmodern, retro way. Almost every stadium in the country has that look now. There are so many of these ballparks that the whole point of them — to be old-school — is ruined. Everybody’s got one. It’s new-school now. Even Milwaukee has one, and Milwaukee barely has paved roads.

So I got to see Enron Field. However, I never got to see the Texas stadium I really wanted to visit – the Ballpark in Arlington.

George W. Bush owned the Rangers when the stadium was built, making the fact that the Ballpark has not fallen apart even more remarkable. However, his legacy of trading away Sammy Sosa remains.

When I was at Enron Field, I was amazed at how the vibe in the stands was just like every other ballpark I’ve been to. One of the great things about baseball is that you can go to any stadium around, and things are pretty much the same.

You’ve got fans cheering on their beloved team. Kids excited to see their steroid-enhanced role models in person. Players throwing chairs into the stands. It’s a unifier, baseball. From Seattle, to Atlanta — even at one time in Montreal — everyone really loves the great Latin American pastime.

I’m serious when I say sports are a unifying thing. Kids from all over the country watch ESPN on a nightly basis instead of doing their homework. People of all races, color and creeds sit down on Sunday to drink a lot of domestic beer, but also to watch football. Even the American soldiers in the Middle East make time for sports. It brings us together. It helps us understand how similar we are to each other.

But despite these similarities, each American sports town is a little different.

Take Boston. Boston is a great city for sports, and also for drinking. Boston fans are loyal to their Red Sox like no one else. Yankee fans are also loyal, but let’s face it: the Yanks have been pretty good these last 80 years, while the Sox … well the Sox have been less than great.

Yet, Boston fans have supported their team through everything. You have to give them credit for that. Now, does that excuse them for Ben Affleck? No. Nothing can. But it’s something. How about the South? I’ve been to Atlanta many times. I was there back in ’92, long before the town officially became known as “Hotlanta ATL.” By the way, I love how Atlanta rappers wear Hawks jerseys. I honestly think these guys are the only people in the world who own these uniforms. Really, how many fans do the Hawks have? Maybe eight, if you include the 12 guys on the team.

However, Atlanta is a cool sports town, despite its garbage basketball team. It’s even got a little Northern vibe to it, because there are a lot of people from New York down there. But in the real Deep South (cue ominous music — or banjos, your choice) things change.

You see, in the Deep South, they have a number of unique sporting traditions. Many of these traditions were deemed illegal by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But some remain.

College football is the big sport in the Southland. It’s a way of life. The history is truly impressive, and there are no bigger rivalries than the kind in the SEC. You’ve got the “Egg Bowl” (Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State), the “Iron Bowl” (‘Bama vs. Auburn), and of course, the “You Lost Bowl” (Union vs. Confederacy).

These rivalries are so important, that an entire day in Alabama and Tennessee is set aside for the big game they call the “The Third Saturday in October.” When an entire day is named for a game, you know that this is more than just a sport.

Many people in New England would find it hard to understand this obsession with college football. But they would easily understand someone dedicating his life to hockey.

And that’s what makes American sports great — some things may change from place to place, but the love of the game is everywhere.

Archived article by Ted Nyman