The Tease of Pitchers and Catchers, and the Folly of Sports Fiction

A visual representation of my heart during the offseason.

Pitchers and catchers have reported, and whoop-dee-friggin’-doo. Now not only are we forced to live without baseball to watch, but we have to live with the knowledge that baseball is happening somewhere, but nowhere that we get to see. It’s lovely to read the stories that have abounded with the beginning of Spring Training (Tim Lincecum abandoned his mustache crusade), but it’s just another step in the excruciating winter that is the offseason.

With football still over, basketball still boring and my XBOX perpetually on the fritz, I’ve been filling my non-work hours with the calming, intellectual Spartacus: Blood and Sand, a show seemingly intent on seeing how many dead bodies and exposed breasts can be fit into an hour-long show.

But even while Spartacus is about the noblest of competition – gladiatorial combat – it falls victim to the most common problem of such fiction. The series is called Spartacus, so whenever our hero by the same name steps into the arena, it’s a pretty safe bet that he’ll be walking out of it alive before too long.

That’s the problem with even the greatest sports fiction: it’s utterly predictable. These movies tell the story of an underdog who, after putting forth a mighty effort and showing great heart, comes to challenge the evil empire and attempt to topple the status quo. After the final contest, which is far closer than anyone expects, our heroes either win (Rocky II) or lose but win a moral victory (Rocky I). Either way, everyone comes out on top, everyone saves face, and everyone goes home happy with a warm feeling in their heart.

Jolly good, except that this is the exact opposite of what makes sports great. When a game begins, anybody can win. In fact, even the richest and status quo-est team can win and, unfortunately, usually does. And yeah, losing sucks. Teams aren’t trying to make statements about their fortitude and teach people about doubting the little man, they’re trying to win, and when they don’t win, they lose.

Anyone who believes that the 2010 Texas Rangers were satisfied with second place after their miraculous season doesn’t understand real sports. “It’s an honor just to be nominated” is the moral equivalent of your parents yelling “good swing!” after you strike out playing Little League. There’s usually no silver lining or greater lesson to be learned, except to come back and try again next time. Sometimes we see Hollywood-worthy comebacks, and sometimes we don’t.

Baseball is freakin’ awesome, not because it is fair, but because it is unpredictable. Sometimes the Yankees win, but sometimes the Baseball Gods give you stories so intriguing that you’d swear they came out of Aaron Sorkin’s mind. Sometimes you have great stories of rebirth and redemption a la Andres Torres and Aubrey Huff, but sometimes you have stories of an old player attempt a comeback, and it’s truly depressing watching his body continue to fail him because getting older sucks. And you never know which one you’re going to get, because every day there’s a new game, and in the sport of Baseball every team wins and every team loses.

T-minus 42 days, and damn if it can’t come soon enough.

So tell me, Gentle Readers. What is your favorite sports movie? Did you ever have any doubt who would win? How much would you pay Albert Pujols?