Being a transplant to the US, one of the things that has surprised me is how quickly I have taken to following US sports. As a long time cricket fan, baseball has immediately caught my attention, in no small part due to the similarities between the two sports. The more measured pace of the games compared to most other field sports, the fact they are played in summer (by extension allowing sitting outside in the sun with a beer in hand while watching), and the focus on statistics, provide a very familiar flavor to both sports. A little known fact is that much of the statistics that drive baseball were developed by a Brit by the name of Henry Chadwick in the 19th Centruty.
But I digress. The thing I have come to realize while watching sports that are foreign to me such as baseball, american football and ice hockey, is that there is another element beyond the actual mechanics of the sport that makes it compelling; the human element. The first part of this relates to the players themselves. I was incredibly lucky that in my second year of being a baseball fan, my home team the San Francisco Giants won the World Series, despite being an un-fancied team that were never rated much chance of doing well. The Giants, due to a run of bad injuries and form, did not figure in the 2011 post season, which I thought would be the end of my interest in baseball for the year.
How wrong I was. This World Series between the Texas Rangers (the team the Giants beat in last year's World Series) and the St Louis Cardinals, turned out to be incredibly gripping. It is a best of seven series, and the close nature of baseball means that the difference between victory and defeat is so slim when two evenly matched teams compete. The Rangers had a chance to win game 6, on two occasions being within 1 strike of ending the match and winning the World Series. Twice the Cardinals were able to come back from behind and go on to win game 6, forcing a game 7 to occur. The Cardinals then went on to win Game 7 and wrap up the World Series. The picture here shows the reactions of the Cardinals after winning. It is hard not to smile when seeing grown men jump around like little children, having just achieved a lifetime ambition. It is a purity of emotion that you do not see everyday. Conversely, I can not escape the pain that the Rangers must be feeling right now. To lose two World Series in a row and to this time be literally one bad swing of a bat away from victory not once, but twice, must be crushing. So given all this, to me the sport almost becomes secondary to watching the human soap opera unfold.
The other human element that I was lucky enough to be a part of is the relationship between the fans. The great thing about baseball is that most cities have one baseball team that the entire region supports (exception being New York, Chicago and LA that have two teams each). I may be over simplifying, but I has made me understand the American love for baseball caps. It is a point of pride and way of advertizing support for the team and by extension for your local area. To see how crazy the San Francisco went for the Giants during the World Series, I could only compare it to the feeling in Sydney during the football or rugby world cups, in terms of how wrapped up in the sport everyone seemed and the associated outpouring of pride and team support.
So I have to come to realize that it would not matter where I moved in the world or what sport was being played. Provided there was other fans around to share the experience with and the chance for close even and fair competition, I am sure I would still support it with as much fervor as my beloved cricket or rugby.
Anyone know if I can get polar bear racing on Comcast?