The best sports moment of my life was July 24, 2004. I was at Fenway Park with my Uncle watching my beloved Red Sox take on Emperor Palpatine and the New York Yankees. I had been to Fenway dozens of times in the past but I had moved to Los Angeles from the east coast in 1996 and hadn’t seen the stadium since the new ownership group installed the Green Monster seats and made a bunch of other upgrades to the “World’s Most Beloved Ballpark.” I flew in the night before and watched a typical Sox-Yanks slugfest on TV, Kevin Millar had 3 homeruns and somehow we still found a way to lose. The Yankees’ lead in the division was getting fairly comfortable even for July and the next day’s game was one of those regular season games that FELT more important than it probably was. Then the next morning it rained and it looked like they wouldn’t even play.
Apparently the Sox players insisted on getting the game in and the grounds crew did a great job, and my trip was saved. The game itself was a crazy, back and forth battle, with two major highlights. First was the famous brawl which was triggered by Bronson Arroyo hitting Alex Rodriguez with a curve ball (for those of you keeping score at home, you never intentionally hit a batter with a curve ball) and escalated when Jason Varitek decided to show A-Rod’s nose how nice his new catcher’s mitt smelled. The second highlight was almost 4 hours after the first pitch was thrown, when the seemingly impossible happened, as Bill Mueller homered off the great Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the 9th to win a game the Sox historically NEVER won against their arch-rivals.
So why was this my greatest sports moment? There are certainly plenty of others that seemingly would fit the bill better. I’m a UNC Tarheels basketball fan, and I’ve been lucky enough to see them win the National Championship 5 times. My Red Sox have won 4 World Series since 2004, and of course I’ve loved every one. As every Yankees fan (and Lakers fan, Duke basketball fan and Patriots fan) can tell you, winning championships doesn’t get old. It’s true that Mueller’s homerun was an unexpected moment of pure joy, and that does resonate in a way that the closing pitches of a blowout win (like Game 7 against the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS) does not.
But what REALLY set that moment apart was it was shared with 37,000 like-minded people who ALL seemed to experience the exact same ecstasy at the exact same moment. We FLOATED out of Fenway that day, giving high-fives, hugging random strangers, telling each other that THIS IS THE YEAR, and running back to my Uncle’s place to watch the highlights of the game for 5 hours straight. If we had watched it on TV together, it would have been an amazing moment we would have felt lucky to have shared together, and we would have remembered it for a long, long time. But being there, and feeling that community bliss, was other-worldly.
That sense of connection with other fans is one of the biggest things we are missing as sports fans in 2020. As expensive as tickets to major sporting events are these days, everyone can’t justify attending games in person. But the experience of rooting for a home team in person really is special, and tends to intensify the fervor of young sports fans in a way that watching a game at home never could. And even if you cannot attend in person, one often feels a connection to the fans who ARE at the game, especially when good things happen and the noise level rises. It’s been said that being a sports fan, you’re really just rooting for laundry. And that’s true to an extent. The players come and go, and as you get older you stop idolizing flawed people who just happen to be incredibly good at playing a sport, and you just root for your team because that’s what you’ve always done.
A couple generations ago the vast majority of fans rooted solely for their local team, partly because that was the only team you could watch on television, and so the sense of connection was based not only on the team but on the community as a whole. Most people of course still root for a local team, but plenty of fans, especially younger fans, find other reasons to root for teams no matter where they play. Every professional sports game can be watched on television through one service or another, and social media has allowed fans to feel a far greater personal bond with pro athletes than ever before.
But if this first series of pro sports seasons (baseball, basketball, pro and college football) is going to be fan-less, as it seems like it will be, the sports world is going to have to find a way to connect with fans in new and different ways, or they will find fans tuning out in greater numbers than ever before. They will be helped by the relative lack of entertainment options right now, as the well of new television and movies is running dry, and when the summer ends and the temperatures go down in most parts of the country, outdoor options will become less appealing to many. But at its core, sports are a story, and that’s why we watch.
As fans we have already seen every conceivable shot, throw, catch and hit many times before, and while it’s wonderful to see and marvel at the newest generation of athletes and how they are almost without exception the best we have ever seen, we keep watching because each season is a story and we want to see how it comes out. Each sport WILL still have a story to tell this year, but that story may not feel as compelling without the feeling of connection to the fans. And hanging over everything is the very real worry that the story may not have an end – that some or all of these seasons may get cancelled due to a further COVID outbreak. If a pattern like that emerges, the sports world is in danger of becoming irrelevant to millions in a way that seemed inconceivable just a few months ago.
Commercial Real Estate Broker/Sports Fan
Staff writer at Six Feet Apart, commercial real estate broker for CBRE, Inc., and most importantly, a father of two.