A Pressing Question for Sports Fans: Nothing Spiritual About this….

I have attended two major sporting events in the past month. Lucky me! Both games have also sparked a realization. Perhaps it should not have taken me this long to come to terms with how I feel, given how long I've been a sports fan (i.e. my whole life). Regardless, allow me to put this insight into the form of a question. Here it is. To what degree does the quality of a game affect your enjoyment of the experience? A lot? Not at all? A little? Is there a "right answer?"

On Saturday, September 4, I went to Oracle Park for the second time this season to watch the league leading San Francisco Giants take on our talented nemesis—the Los Angeles Dodgers. With its 6:05 p.m. start, it was the hottest ticket in town.

I could not have asked for better seats or a better companion at the game. Mike is a die hard, life long fan of the orange and black. In fact, he's my favorite type of person to watch a game with. Why? He knows the players, sees details that I do not and calculates standings/potential outcomes with ease (love those text messages!). Mike asks me questions. He knows Giants' history, baseball history and more. Mike is funny and we have a close friend in common who is a massive Dodger fans. We delight in beating the Dodgers because we should–that's what Giants fans do. But using it against our friend is potentially sick and twisted, but still ok. (See rivalry 101 for more information).

Our game was the second game of the three game series. The Giants won game one, but never never got it going and lost 6-1. The winning pitcher Jose Urias was good, but he wasn't MadBum World Series 2014-like. The loaded Dodger line-up put the hurt on early, as Trea Turner started the game with a one-run home run.

While the Giants did score one run in the first inning, they never got in a rhythm and we are still upset about the balk.

While I was sincerely grateful for our time together, something felt off…or missing. When coworkers and friends asked me how my weekend was, knowing I had gone to the game. I should have been more ebullient but that's not how I felt. Does anyone else share my sentiment?

But two weeks later, I was in South Bend, IN for the Alumni Association's Fall Affinity Groups Meeting and stayed for the home opener of the of the 2021 Notre Dame football season. The Fightin' Irish hosted the University of Toledo Torpedos and won 32-29.

I went with a beloved friend, my former roommate. Erin and I have attended a game together, barring Covid, for the past six years. As Notre Dame alumni and fans know, returning to campus for a game is about so much more than what occurs on the gridiron. The pep rally, time at the Grotto, meeting with other friends, tailgating, mass and golf make game weekend and incredible weekend.
Erin is also a great sports fan. Her football IQ is strong and we always find a way to connect to the people around us. She loves to play call and even though I got mad at her for projecting a loss (it was WAY to close), I love her passion and commitment to ND football.

The seventh ranked Irish squeaked out a win on the final drive of the game. We locked arms for the alma mater, took a photo together and were thrilled to leave with another victory (the Irish are 6-0 in the games we have seen together). We also left exhausted, dehydrated and wondering how the rest of the season is going to be with a team that played so flat footed. The defense was no where to be found. I wasn't even sure who SHOULD get the game ball.

I returned home from an incredible trip to campus and yet, I couldn't pretend like the game wasn't something that it wasn't. It was confusing, nerve wracking and even with the win, it was underwhelming.
Thus, I am left with the question I asked at the beginning of this post: To what degree does the quality of a game affect your enjoyment of the experience? A lot? Not at all? A little? Is there a "right answer?" One reason I ask is because I cannot find an analogy for this issue in the spiritual life. But the more important reason is because I believe sports are a gift. To participate and witness athletic contests and feats should enhance our lives, not compromise them. And yet being a fan of sport isn't without cost. If I didn't care—and care deeply about my teams, I could walk away unaffected. Though still grateful for the experience, I reminded myself that we say victory is sweet, but some much sweeter than others.

And if there's a word in German or in Yiddish that captures this feeling: grateful to have been part of something but less than thrilled about the experience itself, please let me know.

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