Friday, 26 April 2013

The Super World Series Bowl Association

Sport. To some it is a pass-time, some a religion, to some it is an excuse to go out and do something else entirely. It can be a reason for elation or the catalyst for depression. It is a way of keeping fit or an excuse to sit eating snacks on the sofa. Sport brings out the best and worst in human nature, keeps the competitive spirit alive whilst nurturing cross-border friendships and rivalries. At it's best it is as close to 'world peace' as I have ever seen and at it's worst it can be a source of utter depravity. No matter where you are live, sport will have impinged on your life in one way, shape or form.

I love sport. I've played various versions and codes during my life, I love watching it, I love the unscripted unpredictability of it all. I have been lucky enough to watch many different kinds in many different venues, all different, all unique in their own special way.

Many years ago my father took me to see a game of American Football at Wembley stadium - The San Francisco 49ers versus the Washington Redskins - I was transfixed. Being able to see and to hear the impacts of giant armoured athletes smashing into each other, throwing themselves through the air to catch a ball with seemingly little care for their own safety. It was a game of gladiators, a game for the fearless, for those with slight of hand and feet just as equally as it was for the monsters of brute force and ferocity. Not long afterwards I was throwing my own football around in my back garden, a Chicago Bears jersey on my back, pretending to catch the winning touchdown and narrowly missing the kitchen window after the celebratory 'spike'. That was my initiation to American sport.

Recently I have been fortunate to witness two of the other most popular US sports - Basketball and Baseball. Two entirely different sports, with entirely different experiences of both.

A few weeks back I attended a New York Knicks (Knickerbockers) game at Madison Square Garden. It was my first experience of the legendary venue and it did not disappoint.  Like squeezing a stadium into a building, the venue is cavernous. Multiple tiers of seats, 360 degrees around the court with massive video screens hanging from the center - it is an imperious sight. The game itself was fairly one-sided with Knicks running out comfortable victors but it didn't detract from the flow and athleticism of Basketball itself - the swift thinking, fleet of foot, hanging aerial prowess and accuracy of shooting. I completely lost myself in it and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Then a week later I was treated even further, when, barely had the season started but I was invited by a good friend of mine to watch the New York Yankees take on the Boston Redsox at Yankee Stadium. Another stellar venue, rich in history and folklore, with it's enormous 'Great Hall' and perfectly manicured pitch. I even had the opportunity to visit the museum to see the memorabilia from the greats of the game like Babe Ruth. Our seats were fantastic, directly behind the Home Plate and we could see every type of ball that was being thrown during the course of the game.

Baseball for me however, is like Rounders for Accountants. I admit I am an ignoramus concerning the intricacies of the game but it seemed to simply be summed up as the following -

Throw the ball.
Hit the ball.
Repeat for 9 innings

After 3 hours of watching what seemed to be not a lot - and only being on the 5th of 9 innings - I started to wonder how anyone could endure watching all 162 games in a season. 162. That's a lot of throwing, hitting and running. In the end I had to accept that it simply was not for me.

A curiosity I had about attending both sports was the strangely muted atmosphere at both. It surely wasn't for lack of support, both venues were packed to the rafters, yet there was a distinct lack of frisson. Where, particularly at a derby match involving football (soccer), there would be an intensity to the support and a tangible excitement at the rivalry, here there seems to be restraint, an almost tacit recognition that sport is a family event and that the rivalry must be of a PG certificate. An associate of mine rather unfairly called it 'Disney Sport' - however I did kind of see his point.

At the basketball it was eerily quiet at times, with the electronic billboards occasionally urging the crowd to 'MAKE SOME NOISE' or to shout 'Defence' repeatedly (which I found bizarre as it'd be like shouting 'hit the ball' at a tennis match). What I found even more mind-boggling was the message that would pop up after the demand to 'make noise' with a polite request to refrain from swearing, cursing or directing any abuse at the players. Now I'm no hooligan but I found this approach to be quite anodyne, robbing the event of any real form of edge.

That said, both events were very good-spirited, there was no trouble (probably due to a visible amount of security) and I would imagine for families and kids, it would be an extremely enjoyable and safe day out.

So sport is alive and well in the United States; commercialised - yes, but then what popular sports haven't been - but in terms of excitement (even Baseball if you have the patience and I know those that swear by it - obviously not in the direction of the players) awe-inspiring venues and playing sport in the true spirit it was intended? Well I'd certainly buy that for a dollar.


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