Wednesday, December 03, 2014

The Culture of Sports


Baseball thrives on local cultures in a way no other sport does. -  Will Leitch
This statement more than anything is what makes me a fan of the game of baseball.  You can go to any baseball stadium and find a major difference in the people that are at the games, the food at the games, etc. where the fans hang out and do before games, but on the field the game is literally played the same The exception is baseball is played different in American League Parks vs. National League Parks because of the DH.  The culture of one league vs. the other.  There are also running teams, power teams, etc. but the core of the game is the same. 
Go back to the days of the Brooklyn Dodgers, the New York Giants and New York Yankees.  It was as much about culture as it was about geographic location as to why you pulled for one team or the other (if you were in the South or the West there were really no teams so if you were a fan of a pro baseball team culture of a team was likely what influenced you). 
I am sure a Yankee or Giants fan in Brooklyn was hard to find but my guess is there was a scattering of Brooklyn Dodgers fans who lived in Manhattan, Queens, The Bronx or Long Island (before all the Dodgers fan moved to Long Island and caused the Dodgers to shift west).  
You were a Yankees fan because they were the Yankees, dominant and likable characters year in and year out who would just simply win.  They started out in Manhattan, the center of the cultural universe, as the Highlanders (moving from Baltimore) and were in the limelight not just for their success on the field but their antics or performance off the field over the years (they moved to the Bronx in 1923). 
Dodger Fans, my guess were polar opposites.  I say this because my grandfather was a lifelong Dodgers fan, why?  I think it was because he could relate to that team in a more realistic way and because it was easy to be a Yankee fan or Giants fan.  I believe the Dodgers were viewed as the working class guys, the guys that lived in the neighborhood and rode the subway to work like most Brooklynites did and still do today. 
I know it is documented that the Dodgers of Brooklyn were very much a fan friendly team who interacted well with the fan base during and after the season.  They were a community and my grandfather, although the son of a sharecropper, spent allot of time in the East End of my hometown in what was very much a strong community at that time, a mix of many different cultures, who all came together and took care of each other. 
For many years, per stories that have been passed on by my late grandfather RJ, his wife Cym and my late father in law Dutch Herzog they had a common bond, the East End came together on Sunday's around the site of the old Hosiery Mill in Henderson for the adults to play baseball (my grandmother says RJ loved the game but was just not very good something I am sure he would dispute if he were still alive).  Those stories include characters, like a first basemen named Harpole who was a star despite missing some fingers on a hand and Old Monk Norman who had the best drop ball my grandmother said was the best she had ever seen. It is obvious Baseball was a big part of their culture and it is a shame that culture, in this way, has been lost and is gone forever. 
In today's world geography and pedigree play a major role in which baseball team you choose as your favorite but is less regionalized than it has been with TV and media coverage.  I am a Louisville Bats fan even though they are the AAA team of the Reds because I am in Louisville.  In the mid 80's I pulled for Duke basketball because I was on the East Coast and TV there was dominated by the ACC and they were the team that most closely resembled Kentucky basketball at the time. 
If you live in  Missouri outside of KC, Western Kentucky, Western Tennessee, Parts of Illinois, Northern Mississippi, Oklahoma or Arkansas you are very likely a fan of the Redbirds from St Louis because of your geographic location (until the late 50's this was the team located the farthest west) and family pedigree.  For me it is a little geographic location but it is mainly the culture the St Louis Cardinals fans enjoy.  They have a small town feel and the Redbird organization operates the team with this culture in mind. 

The states I mentioned are built on small town feel so it is not surprise to me that when you talk baseball in these areas you are talking predominantly of the St Louis Cardinals.  No doubt Budweiser and the previous ownership of the Busch family has had an impact on the culture of the Redbirds and the fan base of the St Louis franchise something that was unique. 
I am a Navy Football Fan because I served in the Navy, a fan of the culture of Navy Football of maximum effort, respect, etc.  I like Bama because of the mystique of the Bear and those great wishbone teams of the 70's and their winning culture.  I am a Kentucky fan because that is in my DNA no matter what the culture (although the current changing culture for football and the basketball culture of Coach Cal are major pluses).  I started out as a Pirates fan, loved the A's of the early 70's, 75 Red Sox's, the Dodgers for a bit before finally settling (much to the dismay of my grandfather) in as St Louis Cardinal Fan (to note my mother is a longtime Reds Fan). 
I think Will Leitch nails it for baseball.  His article during the World Series represents the baseball culture of teams on much more an expanded level. 
Baseball, because of how long it has been played, is still influenced by culture and the players are influenced by the local culture.   College football teams are deeply rooted in local culture and tradition and that sport is likely more localized than any other (for example if you did not grow up in Mississippi or attend a Mississippi school or ever reside in the state the likelihood you are a fan of a Mississippi school is very slim). 
You can find Cubs fans everywhere, why is beyond me (that is a humorous statement because I get it), a Braves fan all through the South because of TBS (although they know longer carry the games like they used to) a Yankees fan anywhere (I know several and some have never even been to New York) or a Red Sox Fan anywhere because of the culture and coverage of those teams.

Do all the teams have that culture I am talking about?  I would say that St Louis, New York, Cincy, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Baltimore, Detroit, Chicago and Philly have long standing baseball cultures and that culture still influences those teams today.  I would even say that the Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers, LA Dodgers and SF Giants have that level of culture also even though they are not in their original cities.  The others are building that culture or may never even really capture that culture because they are new cities in the grand scheme of things. 

For Pro Football I think for the long-time professional football teams of the Giants, Eagles, Browns, Redskins, Bears, Packers, Lions, Steelers and 49er's culture within the fan-base still plays a large role because of the team history and influence of the local cultures.  A team like the Indy Colts is not really influenced by the culture of the fans in my opinion.  Dallas has it and you could say the New England Patriots and New York Jets have it also.
Sports = culture and to me it is positive culture in general (everything has it's flaws that can be picked out).  I know that my life benefits from participating in, watching and listening to games and most of all attending games.  Find a team, support that team and better yet find a local team (like at the high school level) to follow for Friday Night Football (something my wife and I have done for the past couple of years). 

If you want to experience what baseball culture was like before a game in the past go to a day game during the week at Wrigley field and you will experience that moment. 

There are still Giants Fans in New York:

Read about the Culture of the Brooklyn Dodgers from Don Zimmer and Vin Scully during Dodger Hey Day:

Kentucky Football - From Coach Stoops

''As you look at the season I never hid from the fact that it was important to win one of these games down the stretch and we didn't get that done,''

Agree 100%.  With the stadium improvements and now the practice facility upgrades scheduled all of these things can help add to the success.  The offense went backwards, due to play calling, but they have playmakers and a new OC will help (as long as it is someone who runs the true Air Raid attack).

Monday, November 24, 2014

Oscar Taveras

I was a very young kid the first time I remember a sports personality passing away tragically. 
In 1971, at the age of seven, I had become very familiar with Roberto Clemente.  This was because my mother was such a baseball fan, passed down from grandfather and I am sure that she was instrumental in me watching the 1971 World Series in which Clemente was named MVP after a great performance.  At seven years old I was hooked on baseball, hooked on Clemente and the Pirates were my favorite team (important to note the A's were soon my favorite team, then the Dodgers and back to Pirates before finally locking in on the Redbirds). 
I would like to say that I vividly remember watching Clemente glide all over the field with such grace and his prowess at bat on the bases but I really do not.  I do however remember the events surrounding his disappearance and death. 

From Wikepedia:

Clemente spent much of his time during the off-season involved in charity work. When Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua, was affected by a massive earthquake on Saturday December 23, 1972,

Clemente (who had been visiting Managua three weeks before the quake) immediately set to work arranging emergency relief flights.[40] He soon learned, however, that the aid packages on the first three flights had been diverted by corrupt officials of the Somoza government, never reaching victims of the quake.[41]

Clemente decided to accompany the fourth relief flight, hoping that his presence would ensure that the aid would be delivered to the survivors.[42] The airplane he chartered for a New Year's Eve flight, a Douglas DC-7, had a history of mechanical problems and sub-par flight personnel, and it was overloaded by 4,200 pounds.[43] It crashed into the ocean off the coast of Isla Verde, Puerto Rico immediately after takeoff on Sunday December 31, 1972.[44]

A few days after the crash, the body of the pilot and part of the fuselage of the plane were found. An empty flight case apparently belonging to Clemente was the only personal item recovered from the plane. Clemente's teammate and close friend Manny Sanguillén was the only member of the Pirates not to attend Roberto's memorial service. The Pirates catcher chose instead to dive into the waters where Clemente's plane had crashed in an effort to find his teammate. Clemente's body was never recovered.

I remember the news, I remember it real left an impression on me and I remember coming from school each day to scan the paper or watch the news to see if they had perhaps found the great ball player still alive.  Of course they did not and I vividly remember that I thought if they did not find his body that maybe he was still alive.  I am not sure when I gave up on that hope or really the events after the plane went down I just remember the experience at that time and how it made me feel.  I did not remember the part about Sanguillen but that is a great tribute to a fallen teammate. 
Fast forward to Oscar Taveras.  First of all let me say this loss is different in many ways but it is still a tragedy.  Anytime a young person dies, whether they or an athlete or not, it is a tragedy of what if's to be played out over a period of time. 
Taveras was no doubt a special talent with a one of the greatest left handed swings you would ever see (just asked Harold Reynolds who raved about it during the playoffs).  He had been a great minor leaguer who was just starting to learn to play in the majors and was on his way in 2015 to get his shot at being the Redbirds everyday Right Fielder and effort to blossom into a star. 
There was no guarantee that he would every achieve a level of greatness, for every Roberto Clemente there are ten Ty Giffin's, guys who had the talent but for whatever reason they did not make it in the majors or there is an A Rod, Sosa, McGwire or Barry Bonds who have disrespected the game (not for using Roids but for using them and lying about it).  The tragedy for Taveras and his family is we will never know.  He certainly was a hero in the DR and he certainly could have gone on to greatness in both the world of baseball and that as a humanitarian like Clemente. 
St Louis has had some tragedy with their ballplayers over the last several years and they also shook the team and franchise but this one is different to me.  It is different because it is partly the result of some bad choices that maybe could have been avoided.  There is a lesson to be learned here for us all when a death like this now has an asterisk. 
Many of us, myself included, have made these type of bad choices before in our lives but the key is to stop making them at some point so you can live on.  Just like with Oscar Taveras there was no guarantee of greatness but one may never realize their full potential without making better decisions. 
I recently watched the movie Rush, the story of two Formula One rivals on different paths, which is another great example of different ways one can choose to live their lives and have an influence on how those lives end.  Taveras could have learned from this movie as we really all could. 


- Follow @KentuckyStoleMyFish if you want to see how crazy fans on in their hate of Kentucky Basketball. 
- UK Football is not a disappointment overall but after a 5 and 1 start if they do not get a sixth win that would be a disappointment (Most rational people predicted 4 or 5 wins).  Stoops is on the right path and with the stadium renovations this program is taking a big step forward. 
- Does this UK basketball team go on to win it all?  It is a long season and they can get better but winning that tournament is a tough thing to do no matter how good you are. 
- Navy Football is the one that is a bit of a disappoint to me.  I thought that 8 or 9 regular season wins were on the menu but they lost a couple they should not have in my opinion.  QB Reynolds has been great and he has another year to go. 
- I like the trade the Redbirds made with the Braves but St Louis cannot afford to give up anymore of the young arms.  They also need a right-handed hitting 1B/3B to spell Adams and Carp on occasion (mainly Adams). 
- My four playoff teams, if they win out are FSU, Bama, Mississippi State and fill in the blank at this point.  Baylor and TCU have hurt themselves with losses (Baylor beat TCU but lost to WVA) and Oregon is no better than the Buckeyes to me because they lost at home also.  Oregon and OSU have the most uptick since they play a conference championship game.  Still allot of Football left to be played.