Allow me to preface this forthcoming anecdote, and its conclusions, by first acknowledging there are far more compelling news and story lines dominating the sports universe this week.
That being said, and please stay with me after reading this next – what may seem comprehensively melodramatic – declaration: I had an unprecedented and visceral reaction to an unforeseen and yet rapturously spiritual moment during the recent Bundesliga’s Berlin derby match broadcast.
The match was hardly competitive by its conclusion. After halftime, it was pure slaughter. The Hertha Berlin side sliced and drubbed the flat-footed, sluggish FC Union Berlin squad, 4-0.
However, this match was still far and away the best live sports event I’ve seen in months because of what happened in its first minute.
After returning from an extremely socially distanced dog park visit with my adorable rescue black labra-bull, Titus, he and I sat down and watched, via our Fox Sports app, what I assumed would become a mildly interesting, and non-spectacular Bundesliga showdown, warmups concluded. All the seats were empty inside the Olympiastadion Berlin. Kick-off took place.
Then a wondrous, extraordinary thing happened. It was clarity, a vision. I had always known of the term “eye-test.” The term complements the idea that seeing is believing. Yet here before me, and maybe for the first time in my life, I felt completely sure there was and is a special class of elite motion, one that exists in all professional sports.
Within all professional but especially European soccer the eye-test is satisfied by an incomparably stellar finesse balanced with power. It is the acrobatic and efficient footwork, the endurance and precision of the sensationally incisive instinct to maximize one’s and a team’s total utilization through a near three hundred sixty degree spatial awareness.
Social adepts might call this reading the room in polite company, at a party, knowing when and where to move.
Sports fans call it the, “eye-test,” because within the flow of the game, knowing and applying the tactics of the shapes, and the coordinates established, everything can at once be released and abandoned to gain an edge. And in these fluctuant bursts of bright jerseys, the complete sweeping brilliance enswathing and dotting and darting across my screen – all of it was perfect action I’d witnessed before. But the action was renewed, refreshed, and startlingly gorgeous.
An aside, it was like when I re-read DeLillo’s, “Underworld.” The novel experience of something I thought I knew implicitly came at me hard and fast with a fresh verve. So the flow of the action got under my skin. It forced me to grapple with an otherworldly spirituality. And it was excellent.
Both sides converged on the ball and spread out, I saw the game afresh, the sophisticated bunching of bodies, the jukes and the cuts; the slanting, curling sprints, the soft touches, hard passes, all before the informal elongation of many rayed and diligently articulated diamonds and rectangles and pyramids, all the grids smelting into tumultuous overlapping and broad sweeps.
As the entirety of the most beautiful game unfolded and unraveled and compressed and became this cyclonic and kinetic poetry – I am not lying – I soon felt ebulliently overwhelmed, and I nearly cried. I saw and I could feel a rapturous jazz-like improvisation unwind and coil and scud.
I was beyond entertained. I was ecstatically relieved I was witness to professional sports once more. Don’t get me wrong, NASCAR’s return was phenomenal. But here, in this first minute of live action, every single pass, every purely athletic moment in which the game’s bright orbicular beacon got knocked around by these deft fleet footed men, Berlin’s finest footballers, sidewinding and slicing through the LED refractions on the nearly pearlescent green ocean of blades in the Olympiastadion; as the ball got slotted around, played out wide, and swiftly wrangled, corralled and redirected; as all twenty swirling bodies congealed; and as the game deliquesced into constant states of advantageous expansion and contracting and overlapping; I was overcome, simultaneously, by this fluid awe of flooding expectations, a sense I can only reasonably juxtapose with the grace of simple miracles derived from nostalgia and game memories I did not know I possessed.
It was an abstract and vivid experience all together. And perfectly counterbalanced. This was, in many ways, just an average thing, a professional sports broadcast. But the expert motion, these professionals finally performing, executing perfect passes, and making runs up and down the field.
It was mind-blowing.
In my gut, I knew what I was sensing, perceiving, felt so unexpectedly stirring, and dramatically invigorating, because even though I knew the sport’s nickname, only now, after it had literally vanished from the earth, could I finally perceive and sense its implied wisdom, its expertise. I was now witness to the most popular world wide sport, “the beautiful game,” in a personally and unprecedented way.
This was a day when cliches started to matter in my life. The sport universe’s cliches were no longer overused terms misapplied so often they’re silly. No, this single, simple minute of game time had, for me, the astral awesomeness of walking away from the shadows and deathlessness of a dense, forested swath of remote terrain, to somehow, brilliantly, and unexpectedly find one’s self abask, and now witness to as well, the refulgent comet tails of a meteor shower spangling a mythical and romanticized landscape.
We all know some things are supposed to be beautiful. We hear the stories. We see the action and claim, “we get it.” But then also there are times when we catch the flash of the beauty, the legendary action, and we know the truth.
Even though I was slumped on my couch, sheltered from the bright, scalding heat of high noon in the heart of my air-conditioned living room, my heart was racing.
Part glimmer of transcendence, part simplicity, and part itch for anything but prolonged social isolation, I was reminded in one elastic flash of time there is nothing in this world like live sports.
This rhapsodic anecdote is all one long way of saying I’ve been deeply discouraged by the sour, sassy, prolonged, and ostentatious pettiness Major League Baseball is exhibiting at the moment.
Yes, player and team staff safety is paramount throughout this entire process. It is priority number one.
I cannot attend a baseball game anytime soon, therefore I cannot donate money to the many organizations I have respected and admired since I fell in love with the game. And I know this monetary fact prevents some of the MLB’s owners from ponying up for full player salaries. But watching the entire league’s onslaught of what amounts to elaborate finger pointing and tattling, this vicious bickering – and who let Scott Boras into the conversation all of a sudden? – when every major European soccer league now has a concrete plan in place to resume their regular season with, again, player safety their first priority; I am just disheartened, and extremely annoyed.
What’s more, I know every league’s situation is different. And I may draw my own unique flood of ire for using a description of this anecdotal and personal rapture, witnessing the workaday action of a Bundesliga game’s resumption of play, to lambast my favorite sport’s incessant bickering – and let’s be frank selfish bull crap – but the major arguments from both sides of the ongoing labor dispute in the MLB just kills any shred of optimism I had when I first heard about a creative plan to enact a safe and halfway decent regular season.
And yes, I wholeheartedly agree, there are thousands of reasons to postpone the MLB regular season until every person’s safety is as near as guaranteed as possible. This type of diligence takes a lot of time.
Then again, check out the KBO.
I am not a player. I don’t work for any of these teams. I don’t own a team. But I have personally contributed thousands of dollars to the MLB in the last twenty years. I know more millions of Americans can get behind any—yes, ANY—alternative season proposal. And, right now, I may only be capable of ranting on the page or aloud, to the eternal aggravation of Titus, in my living room.
But still, none of these thoughts and realities resonate, nor outweigh, the fact that damn near all baseball fans just want some—again, ANY—shred of their normal sporting life returned.
And it’s all because abnormal and exhausting and not even close to fruitful negotiations have ruined what will undoubtedly epitomize our whole sports loving life for, some incisive and sober-minded estimates claim, the next several years. So what I’m sayin is the least my favorite sports league can do is give me one dram of hope to ideally blossom into optimism, and soon, reality.
And my last major point in all of this: there are times when I feel the heart of baseball’s existence for fans – and I’ve written about this subjective impression for our publication before – is that baseball represents, at times, an entire whimsical universe of its own.
Baseball is a bizarre realm where fans and players and coaches, and though they don’t show it, team owners too, collectively indulge the empathically quirky, magical-thinking-assisted flamboyance of a phantasmagorically elaborate world deeply out of touch with reality, because the average American baseball fans’ daily grinds are often comprehensively exhausting and thoroughly soul crushing. Therefore, we baseball fans have adored the game because its major premises and possibilities have always erected and maintained wild and great avenues into an oasis of sorts, a dreamscape where magic and superstition reign, where fiction and sacred rules applicable no where else but our imaginations are essential. This optimism is vital to getting through another week of work and a depressing existence because we let baseball indulge our itch for superstition and imagination. Our whimsical world that doubles as a profession for a very select few, but a well-deserved break from normal for average fans, this practically goes without saying, but baseball fans desperately need some of the game’s multi-centuries old magical thinking right now more than ever.
And if the English Premier League, Italy’s Serie A, Spain’s La Liga and Germany’s Bundesliga can craft and successfully implement a sophisticated plan to compensate players fairly, and keep entire organizations safe, and financially stable throughout the hundreds of forthcoming games in Europe, then there is absolutely no excuse for MLB to not begin again soon.
Both sides of the MLB labor dispute simply need to – and I can’t believe I’m using this cliche as my last point’s apogee – play ball.
If I can feel this strongly about the new-normal of a Bundesliga match from my couch on an otherwise unspectacular Wednesday, I can only imagine what baseball fans everywhere would and could feel if our national pastime resumes this summer. The envenomed spring must conclude as soon as is safely possible. I am not asking for rapture, just a nod toward hope.