Let us be up front about this. You know I’m going to love any book where the acknowledgement section ends with, “I’d like to close by thanking Mariano Rivera. Not because he helped with this book or anything … just for existing.” The book is a series of autobiographical essays by Span, some about her experiences as a sports writer covering the Yankees and the Mets, but most are more generally focused around being a baseball fan. (Span is a Yankees fan, who is Mets sympathetic, and the book actually spends more time on the Mets.)
I loved this book for a bunch of reasons, the first of which is that I giggled aloud almost the whole time I was reading it, and kept stopping to read sections to my sister. The anecdotes are delightful — trying to interview Pedro Martinez, but waiting for him to put on pants first, only to have him never put on pants, for example — and there were plenty that made me laugh out loud while reading on the subway (the look back at the Mets’ them “Our Team, Our Time,” if only because I remember listening to that the first time and laughing so hard I cried).
It’s also the only baseball book I’ve ever read where I actually identify with it. That’s mainly two reasons: Span focuses mostly on the teams starting around 2003, which was the year I actually started watching baseball, so I’ve got a much better idea what she’s talking about than in most baseball books I’ve read — I remember Kevin Brown breaking his own freaking hand after a bad start — but also because the way she describes watching baseball is something I identify with:
When I first got interested in baseball, and stopped treating it as background noise and actually focused on it, it was the characters that drew me in, the personalities, and the drama, more than any inherent beauty of the game. I didn’t really care what kind of pitch someone threw or whether a batter had shortened his swing; I just wanted to see if Paul O’Neill was going to beat himself up all night, cursing his perceived failures in the dugout, terrorizing innocent water coolers. I wanted to see how the rookie replacing Tony Fernandez might overcome what I assumed had to be a bad case of nerves and succeed in the big leagues. I wanted Bernie Williams to do well because I wanted a shy, awkward dude with glasses to win one for sky, awkward people with glasses everywhere.
And just, yes, that’s it exactly. People complain about the slow pace of baseball, but for me, watching my first game when I was 20, it was perfect. The fact that it’s one guy batting at a time makes it much easier to figure out who’s who, and gives plenty of time for the announcers to speculate wildly about his mental state, personal life, and whatever else seems interesting. The moments of human drama were more interesting to me than the game at first, and gave me an entrance point that got me watching and kept me interested.
Finally, the book is also basically a love letter to New York. My hands-down favorite essay is “Frankie Furter, Chorizo, and Guido,” in which Span travels to Milwaukee to see a Mets-Brewers game. The thrust is that it’s lovely: the stadium is nice, and cheap, and the people working there are helpful and friendly. The Brewers fans were also nice, and totally welcoming to out-of-town fans, happy to give directions, and cheerfully inviting Mets fans out for drinks after the game. And, as she enjoyed herself there, Span realized that she wouldn’t trade in the hurried, rude, dirty, crowded New York experience for anything:
Let me just say here that I understand why people from other parts of the country get annoyed with New Yorkers’ refusal to see their city as anything other than the center of the world. It’s obnoxious and dismissive, this attitude towards the rest of America, grudging respect for L.A. and (maybe, sometimes) Chicago aside. There are lots of great cities in the United States and plenty of sophisticated people between the coasts.
That said … come on. If New York isn’t the center of the world, what is?
And you know I’ve been a New Yorker for awhile, because of my nodding agreement. (Sorry, entire rest of the country.)
Span touches on lots of other subjects, ranging from the near-and-dear-to-my-heart topic of being a female fan (and female sportswriter), to watching broadcasts of American baseball games while staying in Taiwan, to stats and why people are still arguing over how accurate they are, and so on. It’s a short, quick read, extremely smart, and extremely funny. It’s going right on to my reread list, as soon as I’m done loaning it to everyone I know.
If I was the sort of blogger who wrote things on a timely basis, this post would have been up during the ALCS when I first thought about it, or at least during the World Series, when it was topical, or shortly thereafter, when people were still buzzing. But I’ve been busy with work, that novel I’m perpetually working on, and meeting some of my favorite authors. And I’m not that sort of blogger. Alas.
So. Baseball. And feminism!
The school where my sister teaches had a Yankees-themed dress-down day when the Yankees won the World series.1 She stopped at a Modell’s store to pick up a jersey to wear, and found only men’s larges and extra larges — and a very few women’s shirts, all in pastel pink.
I don’t actually know any women who want pink Yankees gear. The blue pinstripes? Pretty iconic, is all I’m saying. Rachel asked a salesman if there was anything else for women, and he said no. They never bother to order jerseys for women. Imagine that.2
I went to see a game with my friend B this summer. B is a much harder-core fan than I am, actually, and when we were talking about how we got into watching, she said I was one of the only women she knows who watches baseball like she does — or, in other words, who watches baseball like a dude.
But, she said, it was nice to see a game with another woman because she didn’t have to avoid talking about how Derek Jeter is wicked hot.
Yup. That’s my experience, too. Because that’s the thing about talking baseball with dudes. There’s an awesome feeling of being in-group, and what’s more fun than talking about something you love with people who are similarly passionate? But for me and B both — and, I suspect, a lot of other female sports fans — there’s an unspoken knowledge that commenting on a player’s attractiveness means you will be out-grouped instantly. Your opinions will be taken less seriously, and instead of a real fan, you’ll be seen as one of those women, who only watches the game for eye candy or because your boyfriend makes you.3
The thing is, this is not something that happens in reverse. For some reason, a sports-centric magazine with a primarily male audience puts out a yearly edition that’s devoted to women in swimsuits, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a magazine about sports. 4 Movie reviews nearly always comment on the female lead’s attractiveness, but even when written by men, the reviews aren’t discounted out of hand, on the grounds that people assume men only watch movies to stare at the women. And often, female athletes are uber-sexualized, and their looks are considered at least as important as their skills.5
So maybe I do watch baseball like a dude, because apparently even sitting on my couch watching the YES Network is a gendered activity. (Sigh.) But I also watch baseball like a chick. Because, whether you believe in Derek Jeter’s intangibles or Derek Jeter’s actual defensive statistics?
Dude is wicked hot.
- Still not tired of typing that. ↩
- She scowled at him, bought a men’s large, and demanded I blog about it. ↩
- FYI: this is not something than any of the men I know do on purpose. It’s just a part of the same culture that, you know, devalues things girls like. Stupid culture. ↩
- Or at least that’s what’s on the cover, I have no idea what the actual content is. ↩
- I googled to find examples of this, and there are plenty out there, but I was so grossed out and annoyed that I decided not to link to any of them after all. ↩
Dear Adam Carolla,
Let me just thank you for informing me that I deserve a meal fit for a man! I shall run out to Taco Bell — I think that was it — immediately. I think it’s awesome the way you reach out to female (dare I say feminist?) viewers of ESPN who really just want to enjoy a final goodbye to Yankee Stadium by embracing us and reminding us that it’s true: along with things like the right to vote, and equal pay for equal work, we’ve too often forgotten the right to eat the same meal as a man — wow! I can’t believe the importance. Tragically, that’s one that is overlooked all too often!
Thanks, Adam. And thank you, Taco Bell.
PS: I do have your motives and message correct, don’t I?
…But pretty close.
The scene is my living room. After text messaging the Gentleman Caller to update him on the Yankees’ score, only to see them blow it in the fourteenth, my phone rings…
GC: Fucking Joe Torre! I defended him the whole fucking season when things went wrong, but now he pulls THIS kind of shit in the fourteenth inning of one of the last games of the season on a night when the Sox won? Fuck that guy!
Me: It’s his bad habit. Torre always feels like when there’s pressure, he has to DO something, he can’t just let things play out, so he over manages and screws himself–
GC: He fucking took out Melky! Melky is clutch! For Wilson fucking Betemit! Who the fuck is that guy?
Me: You know how I feel about Melky. I love Melky. And Brian Bruney? Really?
GC: Damn it! Okay. I’m going back into the bar now.
Me: Allrighty. Drink away the pain.
GC: I will… You know everyone who walked past me on the sidewalk assumes I’m ranting to a guy, right?
Me: …There’s absolutely nothing I can think of to say to that.