Welcome To The Strange New Normal

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The sports universe is thrumming again.

Throughout the last week I’ve felt equal parts flummoxed, galvanized, as I’ve been not so much soul searching as taking the excursion route that swings askance a refracted perspective of ideas streaming live from the deep shadows that dominate everything rupturing from the old cliched realm: Left Field.

And flying through these hints and suggestions, that sports history is tossing a gem at my favorite team of all time; this entire week, I’ve taken on a churlish, whimsical, and optimistic quest to identify, isolate, and then label the major, overarching themes and explicit trends in the revamped sports universe since the coronavirus emerged, to prove, finally, that as my favorite Adidas slogan of all time claims, “Impossible is Nothing.”

So far, my evidence shows there is only the inexplicable to expect from the sports universe. Yet this newly minted inexplicable is what unites us all. The only constant element in our evolved, ongoing and modified sports universe is, that, since the ongoing pandemic prompted an abrupt halt to public life, giving rise to a universal sports vacuum, we are witnessing the strange and the extraordinary becoming, not so much normalized, but space to flourish and repeat again, and again.

Here we go. The ancient sporting storylines are gone. Our new sports universe is best and most accurately defined by a not-so quotidian piece of vocabulary: ineffable.

Is this ineffable sports universe a harbinger for a seismic shifting of the magnetic poles, maybe?

Because there are, now, among most of the major leagues that have resumed play, transparently raw, otherworldly, strangely, and yet infinitely compelling inconsistencies. I’ve observed, in both the predictability and quality of game results, and in the performance exhibited by both players and teams too, wild fits of extravagant upsets.

And this recurring pattern of inconsistency is exhilarating.

Our first example exists on the multinational stage for, “The World’s Game.” The top flight soccer leagues are often, and have historically been, dominated by the biggest popular names, the super-brand teams with an unlimited and fluid capital to throw at the best players and most disturbingly astute coaches who are fluent in tactical wizardry. The more money spent leads to an equivalent demonstration of the prowess by which most of the world class soccer teams, the several and select elite squads that claim the majority of hardware within a calendar year, are notable for, and represent a pattern of near monopolistic claims on all possible prestige available.

A tradition carried on most notably, by the New York Yankees, and lately, the Boston Red Sox too. (It’s all connected, stay with me!)

But Liverpool F.C. – a team also guilty of splurging to glory chase via financial shortcut – since winning their first Premiership in three plus excruciating decades of mediocrity, and close calls, and following a notable, though maybe forgotten stake of ownership sold to LeBron James – aside from a Champions League victory during the 2004-05 campaign – not only this week, dropped off a smidge, in what is a typical post-championship win’s regularly noticeable, and well documented performance hangover, but have dramatically plummeted from a cliff of superiority; falling hard and fast this week to Arsenal, in a bizarre 2-1 come-up for the otherwise floundering Gunners, but also getting lacerated by the equally wealthy and star-studded, Manchester City, 4-0, then perhaps most shockingly, also, getting outplayed as they came away from their empty but historic home, Anfield, with an horrific and meager 1-1 draw against Burnley.

Let that sink in for a moment…Burnley had a chance to win against Liverpool. Remember this as we move along. (It’s all connected! Trust me!)

I should mention – and I’m sure this flew under the radar for most sports fans, some of the lopsided results coming out of the rarely stateside broadcasted Russian Premier League – a match in which Sochi pummeled the ordinarily superior, Rostov, in the equivalent of an underground, bareknuckle, boxing mismatch – maybe a dive? – featuring zero red cards, and two Rostov players earning hat tricks, and how, pregame, both squads entered the arena sporting bonafide, winning records, though Sochi eventually triumphed 10-1.

10-1.

What’s more, the frequency of stoppage time allotments spilling into, or nearly approaching an outsized and oddly regular double digit total during the MLS is Back tournament, shows us the ferocity of the strange, thriving amidst the new soccer world.

The odd and strange travels well, because not more than one half week from this writing, deep in the heat and humidity, on a track in Sparta, Kentucky of all places, a long shot, fresh face, a very young driver making his twentieth NASCAR Cup Series start, the 22-year-old Cole Custer became the first rookie driver to take home a victory in a non-rain-shortened race since the infamously underperforming NASCAR driver, Juan Pablo Montoya – although at the time, Montoya was coming off a prolific, albeit inconsistent and crash punctuated, Formula One veteran-ship (the Formula One seat he earned because he was also a once superbly dominant championship caliber force in the Champ Car World Series/CART series) – in 2007.

Hold on, it gets better, the pattern is real. The dots connect. Please, just trust me!

During the eleven day jag of sterling defense and ankle-breaking handles, a shocking and deeply talented pool of players from professional leagues around the world, all starring in what felt like a flamboyant mashup of March Madness blended with the semi-professional allure of the XFL, and anchored by the incomparably dramatic fireworks – what the NBA All-Star Game used to bolster its competitive edges this year – of the Elam-Ending-powered-fun during Columbus, Ohio’s, The Basketball Tournament; a 22-seeded squad, “Sideline Cancer” took down nearly every single opponent, before drawing level with the eventual champion, Golden Eagles, late, and going into the Elam-ending in the championship game, during an improbable run; and a jaunt I cannot remember being paralleled by any true and real underdog collegiate basketball caliber program or team, since Loyola University Ramblers’ 2018 Final Four appearance; this, THIS! This is when I started to catch intimations of some larger picture, a grand celestial design. This is when I had to ask myself, seriously…

But before I go on, I should point out that even though I was swiftly proved wrong about King Felix’s resurgence, and Yasiel Puig did not sign with the Bronx Bombers – But wait, wait! Here me out because I may have absolutely drilled my Mike Trout and Atlanta Braves predictions. We’ll see soon.

All of this leads me to articulate a nascent, but devastatingly applicable, yet aspirational too; just this one salient cliche; now; in light of Major League Baseball’s regular season looming on my avid and sports game saturated televisual horizon. And before this bustling, frenetic regular season begins, I take one look at my beloved Seattle Mariners, and their roster, flush with prospects, unproven talents, and I know I sound ludicrous, but I’m saying there is a chance the American League MVP is somewhere, clad in teal, and navy blue and turquoise, sweating with a mask on his face and a upside Spring Training-only trident on his forehead.

Here it is.

Don’t be surprised if in several months from now, before our M’s loving lives change forever, we witness vociferous hoards of die-hard, “True To The Blue!” shouting M’s fans sharing a litany of memes on social media featuring the now infamous, often repeated, Micheal Scott dialogue from scene when Dwight Schrute sets up barricades, and locks every door, and masterminds a devastatingly hilarious labyrinth of an office building fire, in order to teach his coworkers the proper, and largely ignored, life saving and fire safety procedures they need to survive – and all because he deeply loathed the boring, “Peacock” PowerPoint presentation tools of the word – in an unwise, but memorable and visceral simulation style, that had Michael Scott yelling at his employees, “OH MY GOD! Ok, it’s happening! Everybody, stay calm! Everybody, stay calm! Stay! F*&%$#@! Calm!”

Or, just, instead, quote my brother, when the mood strikes you – because I swear there is a sports universe where this is real; where we all witness the upstart baby M’s clinch a number one seed in the American League; dominating with explosive creative bullpen strategies and algorithmically powered and efficient starting pitching, and ingenious base-stealing aggression – sitting at the fore of a competitive bottleneck plunging into the 10-team playoffs: “Stay Calm, and Get Fired Up.”

What am I really saying? With this bluster? I’m saying there’s a chance.

There’s a chance for the M’s because this post-sports vacuum reality has already prompted me to expect- and revere – the weird, irregular, unimaginable, and the absurd, and all of the oddities on a grand scale; the world over, in this new and wild sports universe. This is, sports fans, without a doubt, the Year of the Bizarre, and of The Ineffable: our strange new normal. And it feels lovely.

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About Author

Jackson Pappin is a freelance writer. A 2018 WSU Edward R. Murrow College of Communication alumni, he writes fiction, journalism, columns, essays and poetry. His work has been published in Anastamos, The Oregonian, The Spokesman Review, The Seattle P.I. Reader Blogs, The Daily Evergreen, The Central Circuit, LandEscapes and at the Spectra Art Gallery. His writing is available at https://jacksonpappin.blogspot.com

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