“He’s a good guy at sports.”
The titular quote, if you didn’t recognize it, comes from one of the great intellectual figures of our age; this guy.
I came to sports as an adult, and they were a foreign country to me. The playing of them was misery for fat young me, before I grew into fat contemporary me, and it was left behind me as soon as it was no longer required to move up a grade in school (the one exception being the occasional game of basketball with a hand-picked group of non-competitive, non-bro guys. Even still: in my experience, if one of those decent fellas brings even just one alpha prick into the mix, barking orders or admonitions at teammates, the majority of the group will curdle and turn bro themselves).
The watching of sports was a cultural practice left untransmitted. My queer dad evinced no interest in them whatsoever, and his indifference was contagious. As an adult, I’ve tried — to some extent, successfully — to develop an appreciation for the cultural grammar of sport, as well as the games themselves. For a few years, I followed the Canucks from only a medium distance, but the quick succession of Game Seven Loss II turned Riot II and the NHL Lockout stunted the momentum of my growing interest.
For the past few summers, I’ve been avidly following the Vancouver Canadians; single-A minor league affiliates of the Toronto Blue Jays. I started attending the games because people whom I love were there (George Bowering, Ryan Beil), and the ballpark is pretty as hell. Over the course of the past three summers, I started to enjoy, then care about, what was happening in the game.
Tonight was the first time back at hockey since my baseball training. A good friend with an affluent, season-beticketed brother kindly brought me along to see the Canucks play the Edmonton Oilers. We were seated in row 7 — a closeness that is paradoxically both totally thrilling as well as making the whole thing seem completely ridiculous; these baby-faced millionaires, at totally human scale, skating around on the same continuum as when they were kids.
The pace of hockey, after baseball, is amphetamine-manic. The stands are also brimming with monied yahoos (whenever the stands at Nat Bailey begin filling up with bone-headed chanting, Bowering dismisses them as “hockey fans”). Unlike in baseball, conversations with hockey seatmates are stolen in quick snatches so as not to miss the action (unless you happen to be the drunk business goofballs who were sitting behind us, one coaching the other through an acrimonious divorce).
I had fun. I enjoy both — though the short season of single-A baseball is a doable commitment for me as a sports-foreigner, whereas I’ve never found it possible to sustain interest in hockey for the full length of the interminable NHL season.
But tonight, I kept thinking of George Carlin’s beautiful piece on Football and Baseball; a shining bit that encapsulates not only the spiritual differences between the two sports, but the two sides of the idea of the United States of America (pastoralism vs. empire; militarism vs. play). I wanted to know where hockey might fit into Carlin’s dichotomy — and for that matter, Canada, and the small army of hockey bros it surrounded me with tonight.