The Ecstasy and Agony of Being a Fan

fan

I have always been a sports fan, dating back to the Impossible Dream season of 1967 when I was eight years old. I was also an athlete, having played every sport I could growing up, all the way through college where I played varsity baseball. Golf was also a favorite pastime, although some will argue that isn’t a sport.

My ability to golf or participate in any sport obviously came to a crashing halt once MS reared it’s ugly head, but the fan in me remains strong. My passion is baseball, and my addiction is the Red Sox, but I am also heavily invested in the NFL (Packers since the Lombardi days) and UConn college basketball. You can add the Boston Celtics to that list, although until recently I had given up watching any NBA games, and the Boston Bruins, although the Whalers were my team of choice until they left Hartford.

Sports has always been an escape. Some people like dramatic television or movies, but those are scripted and in many ways predictable. What I love about sports is that it is completely unscripted, can be as dramatic as anything you see and read, and it is something I can relate to having played teams sports for such a long time.

The state of my teams is as good as it could possibly be.  The Red Sox are having a historic year, the  Packers have the best quarterback in the game and an improved defense that could serve them very well on their march to the Super Bowl. The Celtics are relevant again and should challenge for the NBA crown. The UConn men have a new head coach and should return to their winning ways soon, and the women’s team is a dynasty. The Bruins….well, I’m more of a hockey fan than a Bruins fan in all honesty, and I don’t really start paying attention to the sport until the Stanley Cup playoffs are near.

I should be thrilled right now, particularly about the Red Sox, but I’m not, and that is because I take the state of my teams way too personally, and this is where the agony come in.

Here’s the thing. This edition of the Red Sox will be the greatest in their long history as far as the regular season is concerned, but that won’t mean shit if they don’t win it all, and they aren’t playing well right now.

They entered a three games series with the Yankees on Tuesday, and the Yankees were reeling. All they needed to do to clinch the division was win one game, but I wanted more than that. I wanted them to stomp the snot out of New York, win all three games and leave no question about who was the top dog.

Instead, they just lost the first two games and have not looked good doing it. Even worse, they may have given hope and confidence to a Yankee team that has not been playing well the last two months, and that is about the worst thing that could possbly happen from my perspective. You want teams to crest as the playoffs arrive, and that ain’t happening for my Sox right now. Given the nature of this rivalry, this season has provided me with ample opportunity talk smack with Yankee fans, but guess who the Sox will probably play in the first round of the playoffs? And guess who is just itching to give back what they have been receiving in spades all season long?

The Red Sox have flamed out of the first round of the playoffs each of the last two years, and if that happens again this year, especially if the Yankees are the team that does it, not only is this team going to be known as a fraud, I am going to have to take so much shit from Yankee fans that it will be coming out of my eyes, ears, nose, and every other orifice I can think of.  This often feels like a fate worse than death, especially when you consider the history of those two teams playing head to head.

Up until 2004, I knew nothing but heartache, which was made infinitely worse because most of the Yankee fans I have known are true assholes when it comes to rubbing it in. But they have the history behind them, and if you get in this arena you have to expect it and take it. That is why coming back from a three game to none deficit to those dreaded Yankees to win the American League pennant was so orgasmic in 2004. No team in baseball history had done it before, and it was almost as if the Gods had conspired to have the Sox exorcise their demons in the most glorious way possible, while the Yanks lost in the most humiliating way possible. Justice was sweet!

If the Red Sox lose a game they should have won, or look bad during a particular stretch of games, my mood is beyond foul. As you can probably tell, I’m pretty pissed about things right now, and that will exponentially escalate if they don’t win tonight’s game. That will have meant they squandered a chance to clinch the division against their most bitter foe, spit up a hairball by losing all thee games, and gave a floundering team confidence in the process. Keep the shape objects away please.

Although nothing can touch the passion I have about baseball and the Red Sox, football comes close. The fallout from games is worse in some ways because they only play once a week, and I have seven days to stew over a loss. The game is so visceral that it is hard not to get completely engrossed in the emotion of it, and because they don’t play every day, the high from wins are higher and the lows from the losses are lower. I’m still mad as hell that Minnesota tied the Packers last Sunday, primarily due to an awful call by the refs towards the end of the game. This will stick in my craw until they play Washington on Sunday. A win will make the world right again while a loss will make me rue the day I became a sports fan for about the millionth time.

I know it’s silly to let a game where the players make more money than I will see in my lifetime and who, as K likes to say, spit and touch their crotch way too much, dictate my outlook on life. But I can’t help it, and I know there are a lot of people like me out there.

Having a team in the playoffs is thrilling, but it also takes the joy out of watching the games. When these games involve teams I don’t love or hate, I can watch them for the pure enjoyment and spectacle of the sport. It is a completely stress-free experience.

That all changes when my teams are involved because now I have some skin in the game, and it feels like a life or death struggle. The tension becomes unbearable at times, but the joy that results from going all the way is supreme, makes the journey worthwhile, and provides a warm glow that lasts well into the next season.

On the other hand, getting eliminated, particularly if my team blows the game, is unequaled in its agony and the despair that follows. These two sides of the pillow represent the Ying and the Yang of being a fanatic. There are times where I honestly wish I could jump off the bandwagon and swear off being a fan of any team, but unless I come down with a permanent form of amnesia, that isn’t going to happen. It’s in my DNA, and is my one true addiction. Otherwise, why would I put myself through so much torment?

So, when the baseball playoffs start, I will strap on the seatbelts and watch the games, hoping for the best and expecting the worst. I will live and die with each inning, each win and each loss until the season comes to an end. Maybe I should dull the senses and anesthetize myself with alcoholic beverages or the MMJ while watching the games. Maybe I should DVR the games and watch them if the Red Sox win but delete them if they lose. Maybe I should find a lucky talisman and keep it around. Any other suggestions you might have will be entertained.

I am supremely confident that if the Red Sox get to the World Series they will bring home their fourth crown in fourteen years,  but the AL is stacked with good teams and those fucking Yankees are going to be an obstacle. If the season does end prematurely, my only hope is isn’t against those guys. And if they do lose, maybe the Packers will take some of the sting out of it by winning the Super Bowl.

If the Sox and Packers both disappoint, I will survive. But it will be a very long, sad winter.

 

 

Our Era of Intolerance

intolerance

I follow some of the social networking groups for people with MS, and a lot of what I read is sad, but not in the way you might think. Yes, it’s hard to read the about the plight of others who deal with physical pain, but it’s reading about those with emotional pain and scars that is especially rough.

I’m referring to the torment men and women feel about not being the kind of spouse or parent they think they should be. Then there are the single people who are alone and lonely, lamenting the bleak prospect that their disability might make them a social pariah for eternity. I’m also talking about people who lose the ability to sustain a job because their physical limitations prevent it, or their employers put so much pressure on them regarding unscheduled absences and lack of dependability that it isn’t worth the relentless emotional strain.

What I find incredibly sad, however, is reading posts from people whose friends and family question their integrity by suggesting or implying that they aren’t really sick, and that their symptoms are psychological.

Is this kind of callousness the exception or the rule? I’d like to think it is the former, but am afraid it is becoming or has become the latter.

For some of us, our disability is obvious. All you have to do is see the way we walk, or how we navigate our walkers or wheelchairs to recognize we are dealing with something that prevents us from being whole. Your senses provide proof that something is wrong, which makes our condition understandable and acceptable.

But for many, the symptoms are less obvious. You can’t see pain. You can’t see crushing fatigue. You can’t see cognitive fog. You can’t see depression or the general malaise that can emerge from constantly fighting a losing battle. These are not tangible things, so it’s easy and convenient for able-bodied people to be derisive and dismissive.

While I think it’s bullshit, I understand how people who are unrelated and unconnected to us can make those kinds of judgements. After all, we live in an intolerant age, at least in this country, where the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue practices and promotes this kind of thinking. What I can never understand or accept is how family and supposed friends can be so unsupportive and cruel.

Perhaps these attitudes have always existed, and I was blind to them until MS opened my eyes to the plight of others. After all, people who have been living with mental illness or who are not neuro-typical have been dealing with this kind of prejudice for ages.

Still, why is it so hard for people to accept what their eyes can’t see? What makes individuals so dismissive about anyone who is less than whole, who may be odd or quirky, or who simply beats to their own drum? Why is someone who struggles with a physical or mental/emotional illness considered flawed, damaged, and therefore less of a person. Don’t we all deserve a little respect?

Is it insecurity? Do individuals feel uncomfortable or threatened by what they don’t understand? Or do people have the need to prop themselves up by tearing others down?

It’s sad to think that people are more supportive if you are stricken with something like cancer than dealing with a condition that isn’t as obvious, as easily understood, or curable. I hope I’m wrong about this, and am allowing the grim scenarios some of these posts describe to color my judgement about the world we live in. That would be ironic, because I don’t watch news programming of any kind for that very reason. The news is so negative, and paints such a bleak picture of society today, how could anyone who constantly exposes themselves to that message not be pessimistic about the future?

Maybe I should take a respite from these sites.

I was a child during the turbulent 1960’s, so I didn’t understand or feel the civil unrest that existed during that decade. After watching a recent documentary on the year of 1968, I concluded that I would have thought society was coming apart at the seams had I been an adult back then. I also would have feared for my child’s future.

I don’t think we have bottomed out to that degree yet, but it does feel like we are experiencing a renaissance of the 1960’s and heading in that direction. Our current level of social discord permeates everything, and perhaps feeds the point of views that allow people to conclude that our symptoms are all in our head, and all we have to do is stop feeling sorry for ourselves, suck it up, and get with the program. Kindness and empathy still exist, perhaps more than we think, but it is drowned out by all the other noise, and seems harder to find.

Whatever it is that is driving this mean-spiritedness, I hope it dissolves in the not so distant furture, and we all emerge relatively unscathed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Confession

confession

“Bless me father, for I have sinned. It’s been, uh, geez! It’s been so long I don’t remember.”

“I believe the last time I saw you here was when Shodan was confirmed.”

“It’s only been five years? It feels a lot longer than that. Okay, so it’s been a little over five years since my last confession. These are my sins. Truthfully Father, there isn’t a lot. I’ve missed church a lot, as I’m sure you know, and I’ve used the Big Guy’s name in vain a lot. Othan that, there hasn’t been anything major. But that isn’t why I’m here.”

“Oh? So why are you here then?”

“I’m mad as hell at God.”

“About what?”

“Listen, Father. I’m not perfect, but I’m a good guy. I take care of my family, treat people with kindness, or at least the way I’d want them to treat me. I’m not an a-hole by any stretch of the imagination. My glass is always half-full, and even when we were going through all that stuff, not once did I become bitter. We’ve had more than our fair share of crap to deal with. Why did MS have to be the cherry on top?”

“You’re mad at God for having MS?”

“I’m not devoutly religious, Father, but I do believe there is a greater power out there, and if I choose to believe that power has the ability to influence what happens to us in the mortal world, then yes, I’m mad that they let this happen to me. What did I do to deserve this?”

“Maybe deserving has nothing to do with it?”

“You mean it’s all random, and I got the shit end of the stick out of pure, bad luck?”

“No, I mean maybe you got it for a reason that isn’t as apparant as you think.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“Have you heard the expression that God never gives you anything you can’t handle?”

“Sure, but that doesn’t tell me anything. I mean, I’m not looking for a reward for being a good husband, father, friend, or any of that stuff. That’s just the way I’m wired. But still, shouldn’t that count for something? Otherwise, what’s the point of all this? Just as all that crap was winding down and things were becoming more settled, my symptoms statred to escalate. Fast forward to today, and I’m a shell of my former self, physically. Talk about feeling abandoned!”

“Have you ever considered that maybe you have MS because it was the lesser of two evils?”

“You mean something like cancer?”

“Not specifically, but something that would have impacted you or your family much worse than what you’re dealing with now.”

“No.”

“Have you considered that maybe this was a way of teaching Shodan something about perseverance, about never giving up when life throws obstacles in your way.”

“He’s already experienced a lot of that himself, Father.”

“But you’ve refused to let this consume you. You easily could have become angry and bitter. You haven’t. You’ve plowed through this to the best of your ability, and have never complained.”

“I’m complaining now.”

“You know what I mean, Steve. You haven’t changed a thing in regards to supporting him or your family when others might have thrown in the towel. You still work and put yourself through a lot of medical stuff, if I’m not mistaken. If that isn’t a lesson of demonstrating God’s love, I don’t know what is.”

“So you’re telling me I should look at this as a blessing?”

“No, but you mentioned on more than one occasion that your condition has changed your perspective about a lot of things. That having MS has shown you what is truly important in life, and that you don’t fret over as many things as you might have before you were stricken. Isn’t that correct?”

“Yeah, but I’d trade having more things to fuss and fret over for two good legs and my sense of balance in a heartbeat.”

“Of course you would. All I’m saying is that don’t think of this as punishment. Don’t think of yourself as being abandoned. Things can always be worse, and maybe that could have been in the cards for you but God’s mercy gave you this instead. Maybe He in His wisdom thought your life needed clarity and this forced you to find it. Maybe this isn’t as bad as you make it to be.”

“Do you want to trade places?”

“No thank you. I’m happy with my calling.”

“That’s good, because I wouldn’t want to trade places with you either, Father. I couldn’t live your kind of life.”

“So you’re feeling better about this?”

“Of course not! Dealing with this really sucks, Father. Nothing is going to change that fact. Sometimes I feel so worn out I want to scream. Sometimes I am so tired of not giving in I just want to throw in the towel and say to hell with it. I know I will eventually lose this battle, so what’s the point?”

“Do you truly feel that way?”

“Not very often, but sometimes, yeah. I mean, it’s hard to pretend this isn’t a big deal, and I have my moments of weakness. Having said that, you’ve given me something to think about and getting this off my chest helps a lot. I don’t like to dump this shit on my family or friends. They have enough on their plates. But I think an element of anger about having to live with this will always be there, and it’s good to unload it.”

“You’ve also said that many people with MS have it worse than you, if I’m not mistaken.”

“Yes they do Father, but I still have it worse than most. Plus, I doubt I’m going to stay this fortunate forever. If I ever get to the point where I become a financial and emotional burden to K and Shodan, then I will be angry and bitter. I’ll probably want to shoot myself when that day comes.”

“That would be a mortal sin that I can’t absolve for you, Steve. For now, say two Our Father’s, Two Hail Mary’s and one Act of Contrition and we’ll call it a day. Meanwhile I will continue to pray for you and your family. And don’t hesitate to come in again if you feel the need to howl.”

“Thank you, Father. Hopefully that won’t be for a while.”