October 24, 2008

Wait. Who’s Playing Again?

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The absurdity hit me for the first time when I saw a box score in the newspaper: “Phillies 7, Dodgers 5.” “Rays 9, Red Sox 1.”
Obviously these teams are all (except the BoSox) relatively new to the recent upper echelon of baseball — but that’s been discussed ad nauseum.
What’s yet to be pointed out is the lack of a single legitimate team name in the league championship series.
Think about it! What is a “Phillie?” Or is it “Philly?” We don’t even know… because it’s not a real thing!
A “Phillie” is presumably a person from Philadelphia. I had always been under the impression that a person from Philadelphia was a Philadelphian, and, if my spell-check is any indication, Microsoft Word agrees with me, but maybe a “Phillie” is an abbrev.
Naming a team after the citizens of the city is possibly the least creative solution to the mascot question. You get the feeling that the team owners forgot the need for a team name until five minutes before the first game, then looked around and decided to name the team after the first thing to come into sight. Montreal Canadiens and Houston Texans, I’m looking at you.
If you’re going to name the team after its fan base, at least make it a backhanded critical comment about the area’s citizens, a la the Ozark “Hillbillies.”
The Red Sox, as much as I despise the team, is (are?) not a terrible mascot, if a little old-fashioned. All the same, the shortened version of the “Red Stockings” is somewhat lacking in ferocity and intimidation.
A Dodger? One who dodges or avoids? How is “an avoider” a symbol to rally behind? The only things the boys in blue dodge are smart free-agent signings and playoff wins.
Then there are the Tampa Bay Rays. As recently as last season, they were known as the “Devil Rays,” an awesome mascot that creates brings to mind a ferocious sea creature spending its days victimizing the smaller fishes and Steve Irwins unlucky enough to cross its path.
Now they’re just the Rays. The Tampa Bay “Straight Lines Beginning at a Point and Extending Infinitely in One Direction.” Neat.
Marine-related mascots seem to be a hit — there’s an entire cavalcade of mascots modeling themselves after various forms of seamen. My own alma mater declared itself “Home of the Mariners,” — at assemblies the principal would dress up in a sailor costume and prance around the gym in hopes of stirring the students from the stoned apathy associated with “Culture Week” or whatever gimmick was used to occupy our attention while forcing a different cohort of uninterested students through high school exit exams.
The Buccaneers, Pirates and the Raiders are the bad boys to the vanilla, good-guy Mariners. They’re seafaring, just like Mariners, but with that rebellious, “Fight the Man” attitude that people love. But that makes it all the more embarrassing when the teams, like the Pittsburgh Pirates and Oakland Raiders, don’t do a lot of winning. It’s not easy to project that swashbuckling, Han Solo-esque image when you’re getting steamrolled, 34-3, by the New Orleans Saints.
There are upper ranks in the navy — the Admirals, Captains, Skippers and… Midshipmen? I don’t know if a team should rally behind an image of “a non-commissioned officer below the rank of Lieutenant. Usually regarded as being ‘in training’ to some degree.” Go Midshipmen!.
Occasionally, teams will reach past the inconvenient limits of reality to come up with a mascot that is both fearsome and truly awesome. There are the ho-hum fantasy creatures — St. Michael “Dragonslayers,” the Culver City “Centaurs,” and the Windsor “Wizards.”
But there are also the nonsensical creatures which, while hard to picture, leave no doubt that they could kick some ass and take some names — the Avon Old Farms “Winged Beavers,” Bend “Lava Bears” and the Lawrence “Chesty Lions.”
Of course, it’s plenty ironic that this criticism is coming from someone who spends an absurd amount of his time providing coverage of the “Big Red.” Is it a color? An abstract thought or ideal? Ezra’s secret socialist tendencies manifesting themselves in his university’s mascot?
We may never know, but, just like fans of the Phillies, Rays, Conway Wampus Cats, Mt. Clemens Battling Bathers or Moorhead Spuds, we’ll keep mindlessly cheering them on. And we’ll love every confusing, ambiguous minute of it.