Let’s talk about why sports exist.
As most of you know, sports were born from the Altoona Conference of 1849, mere weeks after the Mighty Men of Earth, history’s most reverential band of brothers, united from 62 countries to fend off the Zorgs. The Zorgs, as you definitely know, invaded Earth in 1846. You know all about how thousands of Zorgbots suddenly appeared across the globe over a span of four days. You don’t know why they came. No one does. But you know we defeated them. And you probably know their defeat was the result of a treaty in which the Zorgs agreed to peace only for so long as Earthlings put on funny costumes and did weird things with sticks and hats and various balls, keeping the Zorgs amused while they hover in their ships just slightly above our sports-saved planet. You know this. And you know, because of this, sports are the most vital key to our sustained, relatively peaceful existence.
Except you don’t know this, because it didn’t happen. Sports exist because sports are fun. They’re fun because of how utterly meaningless they are. Sports only matter because work sucks and bills suck and trying against all odds to keep tiny, helpless humans alive sucks. Sports exist because of rush-hour traffic, and people screaming into their cell phones in the grocery store line, and the inevitable truth that everyone you know and love will someday die.
Enter The Process™. Well, no.
The Process™ comes later. First, enter the development of sports into a multi-billion dollar machine. Enter 24/7 sports coverage on 239 TV channels. Enter Bill Walsh and Billy Beane, and then enter Michael Lewis. Enter Michael Jordan’s sneakers. Enter adult people in collared shirts talking seriously in their office’s break room about whether another adult person who goes to work in short-sleeved hoodies knew about football deflation. Enter the growing interest of smart sports fans who decided to supplement the fun of watching sports with the fun of going behind the curtain and exacting more and more detail about how teams win games.
Then, enter The Process™.
The Process – (n.) the deliberate sacrifice of short-term success for better odds of sustainable future success; tanking.
The Process™ didn’t ruin sports. This is true primarily because sports aren’t ruined. Instead, there’s a select group of fans (of which the present author is a long-tenured and sad member) who ruined their own sports experience. We’re a group who, after the entering of all those aforementioned things that entered, conflated the fun experience of sports as a live, spontaneous, meaningless on-field product with the behind-the-scenes experience of analytics, strategy, and the efficiency of building a winning product. These two things are very different.
Now, consider: (a) my previous acknowledgement of being a sad and long-tenured conflator, (b) the current state of the Atlanta Braves, and (c) I’m a Braves fan.
(a) + (b) + (c) = broken sporps (sic, of course)
This isn’t the Braves’ problem, so much as it’s my problem. The Braves are doing a smart thing, and while their performance in the second half of 2015 is most kindly described as “incomprehensibly terrible,” they still play baseball. And watching baseball is fun! The unfettered joy that results from watching Andrelton Simmons backhand a ground ball approximately one mile away from where he began the play, then laser a throw off his back foot to first base in time to record an out is the same unfettered joy whether the Braves are winning 3-2, or (more likely) losing 48-0. The experience of watching a walk-off home run is the same, whether it’s Evan Gattis hitting it for a 96-win team, or Nick Markakis hitting it for a team built to lose. Point being, reader, that fun and exciting baseball things are fun and exciting regardless of the bigger picture. The moments of joy are fleeting and and less common, but they’re there.
Here’s the problem, though: It’s really hard for me to care about those things. To the conflator, those things are irrelevant. And the crux of it all is, again, the Braves are doing a smart thing. It’s something the long-tenured and sad version of myself agrees with in toto.
A N D
B U T
T H E N
this is the place where the fun and the non-fun and the smart and the dumb all smash together repeatedly for centuries and emerge in the visible light spectrum as a bland baseball-watching experience. Here we are, my fellow conflators. We’re in a room of mirrors and the only image bouncing back and forth to and from every angle is dread. And it was us who bought the supplies and googled “how to hang mirrors” and built the dang place.
We’ve decided the fun is in winning, and those smarter than us realized that winning later is in losing now, and the result is that, for conflators/Braves fans, fun is in a slow-moving vessel headed our way from slightly further out than Mars. I, and maybe you, won’t have fun watching baseball until (admission: this is optimistic) 2017.
Unless, of course, we choose to have fun. The way to experience sports, like everything else all the time, is the result of choice. So choose. Walk straight into your local tattoo parlor and festoon in a circle around your belly button: SPORTS ARE MEANINGLESS AND THEIR RESUL TING JOY IS IMMEDIATE. Keep an eye out for diving catches and shoulder-to-ankle curveballs. The Braves will probably hit a walk-off home run next year, and it’ll be momentarily awesome. It won’t matter that it’s hit by a 39 year-old named Dummy Joe Bagnuts, or that it’ll precede eight consecutive losses. Shelby Miller is going to go 1-26 with a 2.05 ERA next year, and it’s going to be depressing. But along the way he’ll strike out 13 in a game or help his cause with a lead-taking triple. These tiny bits of joy and wonderment will add up to nothing, but the entire existence of sports adds up to nothing. It doesn’t matter. Enjoy the moments, live in them for a few seconds, and write some extremely detailed fanfic about receiving a hug from Freddie Freeman.