Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Go To A Game!

Isn’t it funny how sports fans can conjure up images in their minds of just about everything they’ve ever seen? From the mob scene at the plate after Bobby Thompson’s home run, to Joe Montana’s arms thrust into the air after the game winning TD pass against Cincinnati, to Michael Jordan’s final shot against Utah, it’s easy. Think of it, and it is there. For me the images in my mind gathered from television have a definite blur compared to the ones I’ve experienced in person. I can visualize all of the great shots and home runs and plays I’ve seen on television, but I can more clearly recall all of those great experiences I’ve witnessed in a much different way. The television confines the experience. It’s visual, and that’s it. Despite many people watching sporting events in bars or with friends, the majority of watching is done alone, in two dimensions. To be there in person is something very different.

All sports fans have certain mental snapshots in their collective memory. Bill Buckner letting the ball go between his legs in the ’86 series for example. Just say it, and everybody who follows sports can picture it. Say, “The Masters” to somebody, and they have images of Tiger Woods upper cutting on the eighteenth green, or Jacks Nicklaus following his putt on 17 on his way to a 6th green jacket. When somebody says “The Masters” to me, two experiences come to mind. I’ve always loved to stand behind the 11th tee during a practice round and watch for about an hour. Television could never portray the silence on the tee. The long chute between tee and fairway, lined by experienced trees always in play. The isolation and the intimacy on the tee are different from every other spot on the golf course. The smell of spring air, the players reaching into the coolers on the tee for a drink, the whispered conversation between caddies, the glances to the top of the pines, checking the wind. For years I also made it a point to stand behind Fred Couples on the 18th tee during his round at least twice during the tournament. Before length was de rigueur on tour, Couples was long. “Boom Boom” was his nickname. Three-wood is usually the club of choice for professionals at 18, but to stand there a couple days in a row and watch Freddie pull out the driver (wooden at the time) and hear the ripple go through the crowd was always fun. I can feel the wind on my left cheek, and easily watch the grass Couples just threw into the air go to the side of the tee. I can hear him murmur “I’m going to aim it at the right corner of the bunker and cut it up the fairway.” And I can remember the explosion of the swing, the crash against the ball, and the polite applause, punctured by the occasional “Go Freddie,” rich with colors, smells and ambient sounds. There’s nothing like being at a game. Any kind of game. From Little League to the Super Bowl, the soccer field on a Saturday afternoon to the state Final Four volleyball championships. It fills your senses. The more you learn, the more you know, and the more you know, the more you learn. Sitting at Camden Yards, my friend’s wife complained about how she was a bit bored with the game. My head was swimming at the time thinking about how the people in the game fit everything in, in between pitches. The sign from the bench. The catcher’s signals. The count on the batter. The fielder’s positioning, the silent instructions from the shortstop to the other infielders. The strategy of the next pitch. Put somebody on base, and things get even more involved. What do you think about when somebody says “baseball?” Mark McGwire hitting a home run? Pedro Martinez striking somebody out? For me it’s the expanse of the outfield at any major league park. The sound of a fastball sizziling toward the plate. Every ground ball looking routine.

Watching a football game on television can be frustrating. If you have a passing interest, no big deal. Check on the score, see what the stars are doing, give it passive attention. If you really want to know what is happening, you have to be there. Are they setting up the cornerback? Who’s dominating the line of scrimmage? Is the wind actually a factor? None of that can be seen on the iso of the quarterback, center, two guards and running backs.

There’s no way we can all attend the games we want to. Our memories will always be of certain television images. But that’s what binds us together as fans. We’ve all seen Joe Namath running of the field at the Orange Bowl with his finger in the air after Super Bowl III. We all can talk about it, based on what we all saw on television. The same images, seen by everybody. More and more games are tailoring their contests for television, and that’s fine. But there’s nothing like being at a game. Any game. Go see a game.