Fandom

Smaller Than Life

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If you stayed up to watch Game 2 of the 2017 World Series, it’s highly likely you were exhausted this morning. That’s not because the game went all that late (considering it went to extra innings, the pace was comparatively brisk for this postseason), but because you went through a probably-unhealthy number of emotions.

Assuming the point of view of an Astros fan, you thrilled at Marwin Gonzalez launching a game-tying home run against the previously invincible Kenley Jansen. You felt your stomach drop to the floor after Logan Forsythe slid into home just ahead of Brian McCann’s tag. In between those huge moments, you were left a tense ball of exposed nerves, scared to breathe lest it push one of Giles’ fastballs that much closer to the middle of the strike zone. And maybe you were allowed a brief reprieve to laugh at the ball bouncing off Chris Taylor’s head, or Yasiel Puig’s continuing relationship with his bat.

This is always what we’re looking for in our entertainment, isn’t it? To be made to experience emotions? Almost every genre is organized by what it evokes in us: comedy, suspense, horror, drama, romance. Sports in general, and for my purposes baseball in specific, are the perfect environments for experiencing these emotions, because they straddle the line between fantasy and real life, taking from the best of both.

Baseball is real life, pretty much. It is real people doing real things in real time, so the tension and drama are real: we honestly do not know what will happen next. With, say, a horror movie, we can always complain that the plot is obvious, the monster is cheesy, an actor is terrible. No such complaints to be found in sports. This is all the result of athletes competing against each other, and it has not (unless you’re extremely cynical about the league’s influence over game outcomes) been scripted.

But it still isn’t “real life”, not really. As much as we may be emotionally invested in the outcome of a game, we are getting that adrenaline rush not because of any real threat to our well-being. And whether or not our team wins doesn’t carry the real-world consequences of, say, an election, or a war, if we really wanna go crazy. We’re free to dispense with the nuanced thinking that real life requires, because ultimately this game doesn’t matter. The stakes are simultaneously incredibly high and completely non-existent.

I don’t know about you, but this opportunity to momentarily devote my mental energy to something that doesn’t have consequences that could fundamentally change the course of civilization for decades is a very welcome thing. Too much of life these days is dealing with existentially crushing decisions. It feels good to, for a few hours of your day, place all your psychic energy on where a ball goes. This, at least, is something you can forget about tomorrow.

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Deus Ex Machina

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If you are sufficiently bored or lonely or paid to write about television, you’ve encountered the debate over when the era of “prestige TV”, the period of American television where it was able to compete with — and arguably surpass — film as an art form, truly began. Some say it was The Sopranos, some say Homicide: Life On the Street, some have increasingly obscure and incorrect answers.

Whichever one you side with, you’re wrong. The first prestige television program aired on August 26th, 1939 on WNBC in New York: it was the Cincinnati Reds vs. the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was the first (broadcast) episode of a continuing series that we, our parents, and grandparents have been enjoying ever since.

What most of us actually love about baseball is the same thing we love about our favorite TV shows. A ton of money is spent on the spectacle. It has characters we love to follow and root for. Many of us have our own personal villains (which are some people’s heroes, a fun and interesting wrinkle).

There’s also the people who don’t care about your show at all, who make incredibly clever and definitely funny jokes about how you’re just watching “a buncha guys hitting a ball with a stick” (I’m laughing just typing it out). This is just a different version of the people who call Game of Thrones “that dragon show” or Big Little Lies “the sad white lady show”. Sure, they are those things if you don’t feel like putting any mental effort into understanding why people like it.


There was a moment in last night’s NLDS Game 5 between the Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs that bothered a lot of people. Well, there were a lot of those moments, but one stuck with me in particular. In the bottom of the 8th inning, Willson Contreras threw behind Jose Lobaton who, after being called safe, video review found that his foot had momentarily came a couple inches off the bag while Anthony Rizzo still had the tag on. So he was out.

Now, according to the rulebook, Lobaton was out. His foot came off, he was being tagged, he’s out. Saying that this makes video review a bad part of the game is fatuous; 90% of the time a replay review simply enforces the reality of what happened, and no one can possibly have any problem with it. And there’s no way, with the high-definition super slow-motion cameras we have, that we could ever go back to just being ok with an obvious error.

But then why does it feel so unfair?

I came to the realization that, to the average fan, it felt like bad writing on one of our favorite shows. The plotline of that game was propelled in a distinct direction: The Nationals had runners on in a high-pressure situation, Wade Davis was struggling, and it was down to him and Trea Turner. But then all of a sudden it wasn’t. And it wasn’t a clear, obvious pick off, it was a decision that came from a stranger in a different city that (virtually) decided how our episode would end. It kinda felt like a deus ex machina.

It’s probably not exactly that. But think of any time you’ve been pissed off by lazy writing on one of your shows. Was [spoiler] Matthew’s death in Downton Abbey sudden, out of nowhere, and seemingly pointless? Did the answer to how Sherlock [spoiler] faked his death piss you off (only to be compounded by Moffat making fun of you for wanting him to do his job?)? That all kinda feels like how you felt after such an exciting inning was ended by a disembodied decision from the ether, right?


In some ways, this is more frustrating because there are no writers or departing actors to point the finger at for screwing up. No one screwed up (except, perhaps, Jose Lobaton because what are you doing you know the Cubs throw behind runners all the time and there was a guy ahead of you on second and why did you slide feet first). We’re just left to feel unfulfilled, and not exactly understand why.

Maybe now you understand why a little bit better.

So if you were upset, don’t let the technocratic scolds make you feel like a dummy. Even if what happened was technically just, it definitely lacked poetic justice. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with expecting that out of your favorite show, even if it’s unrealistic.

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Our Little Corner of The World

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Come along with me
To my little corner of the world
Dream a little dream
In my little corner of the world
You’ll soon forget

At the moment, comparing the Houston Astros franchise to the Texas Rangers is a good way to make yourself depressed. Against all odds, the Rangers seem to have recovered fully from the franchise’s brief fallow period between their back-to-back 2010/2011 World Series appearances to last year’s playoff berth. As of this writing, the Rangers are 8.5 games ahead of the Astros in the American League West, thanks to a 75-53 record that is the second best in baseball.

They’ve been helped to that record by a number players acquired in pretty frustrating fashion. Ian Desmond was signed for a song after apparently no other team could use a very good shortstop, then became a “surprise” All Star. Jonathan Lucroy almost went to the young and exciting Cleveland Indians before exercising his no-trade clause (which he was well within his rights to do) and being sent to the Rangers. Last season, Cole Hamels was almost an Astro before exercising his own no-trade clause (which he was within his rights to do, but I’m much less sympathetic). Continue reading

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It’s Still Hard to Say Goodbye

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Try and think of the character death from a TV show that impacted you the most. Was it [spoiler]? Was it [redacted]? We’ve all had that one episode of Game of Thrones or Battlestar that made us watch a character we loved, that we had spent hours and hours of our life with, say goodbye forever. To say it’s like a friend member dying is stretching it; but it’s losing someone we’ve shared the heightened emotions of dramatic storytelling with over several years of our life. Continue reading

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Crying In the Juice Box

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You saw me crying in the chapel
The tears I shed were tears of joy
I know the meaning of contentment
I am happy with the Lord

Over nearly 10 years of being legal drinking age, when I was trying to think of places to go get drinks, I had a different set of criteria than a lot of other people my age. For most folks in their 20s, they’re looking for the hippest, trendiest bar in town where they have a chance to see and be seen.

I tended to seek out the place with the least amount of people, while still being among the sort of people I felt comfortable with. In Houston, this meant avoiding Midtown at all costs. Big Star had a cool back area and the best jukebox in town. Lola’s was cheap and seldom crowded, but perhaps too dive-y. Once Cecil’s Monday night prices for wells and Lone Stars skyrocketed from $1 to $1.50, enough people stopped coming to make it comfortable. Plus, it being an old haunt of Bill Hicks lent it an extra bit of allure.

There was another place in Houston I could go during that time, that I always knew would offer me a peaceful, quiet evening. No exorbitant door charge, no packs of annoying yuppies elbowing me out of the bartender’s field of vision. Beer prices were a bit high, but at least you got to keep the neat souvenir cup it came in. Continue reading

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