Reflections on a ring

AT&T Park, at the edge of  San Francisco Bay, floated with celebrations last weekend.  The San Francisco Giants’ 2011 home opener on Friday saw our “Fear the Beard” closer (Brian Wilson) run the 2010 World Series flag out to the right field arcade and hoist it up the flagpole to rest just below the Stars and Stripes.

Saturday night fans arrived an hour before game time to witness the historic presentation of the World Series Championship rings – enormous, gaudy things that went to every player on last year’s team, plus the front office folks and untold others in the Giants organization.  The first ring was presented to 53-year Giants veteran Mike Murphy, who manages the Giant’s Clubhouse.  Not to be left out were Giant fans’ favorite radio voices, Kruk & Kuip (Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper).  Also receiving rings were the team’s six living Hall of Famers, four of whom attended the festivities.

Non-players donned tuxedos or even tails (with orange bow ties, of course), lending an air of class to the occasion.  Many players put on their rings immediately.  They lined up along the first and third base lines, with each new individual receiving his ring making his way down the ever-longer row of players to fist-pump or bear-hug on the way to his spot.

Sunday marked the 2010 Rookie of the Year presentation to catcher Buster Posey, who characteristically deflected praise in thanks to his teammates, the selection committee, everyone in the Giants’ organization, and of course, Giant fans.  He was joined by four other past Giants who received Rookie of the Year awards, and he was given a day off catching to revel in the moment.

Monday the Dodgers were in town, and Juan Uribe (last year’s SF shortstop, now a Dodger) received his ring before the game began.  The upshot: fabulous ceremonies, once-in-a lifetime experiences, all pulled off in true San Francisco style: celebratory and sophisticated.  On the diamond, the first four home games amounted to two come-from-behind wins, followed by two losses.  Sports commentators agree that it’s time to set 2010 aside and turn our attention to 2011.

So what does this have to do with me, a sports fan by marriage?   I was happy for my husband when he decided to take Friday afternoon off and pick up a ticket to Opening Day.  I was absolutely fine with coming home from a night out in San Francisco on Saturday and watching the ring ceremony he had had recorded while we were out, even though at times it seemed to go on as long as a Lord of the Rings movie.  I continued the celebratory mood by watching Buster on Sunday, but I skipped the Uribe presentation — going three for four, as it were.

The accomplishments of last season were remarkable: a band of so-called misfits who went all the way, defeating “better” teams to win it all.  For veterans who have played 162 games a year for ten-plus years, finally achieving a World Series Championship is satisfying and sweet.  For younger players, it’s an amazing high.  True fans, whose patience kept them at the ballpark or in front of their TV screens, year in, year out, share in the celebrations just as though they won the Series themselves.  The rest of us can at least appreciate the beauty of the moment, when individuals rise above their personal weaknesses to achieve something magical together as a team.

But why do we allow ourselves to become misty-eyed at professional sports, the same way we might at the birth of a baby, or a wedding, or the death of someone who has lived a full life?  Aren’t professional sports actually businesses?  Aren’t they run by people whose incentive is to make a profit?  The capitalist in me would reply that sports are an elegant confluence of worthy goals: making money and celebrating human potential.  On good days like last weekend in San Francisco, they are.  But not always, as we have seen with stories of sports heroes gone bad: Michael Vick, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Tiger Woods, and countless others.

So why does a love of sports sustain us?  Why do we feel free to holler and jump to our feet at a sporting event, but not in the office, or at school or home – places where we could be celebrating no less praise-worthy accomplishments?  I want to learn to feel and to express that same elation that a sports fan experiences when his team scores, or wins a game against all odds.  The lesson a “sports fan by marriage” can take from all the hoopla is to look for the “magical moments” in my daily life – they’re surely there, but I’m not paying attention.

At this point, however, it’s time to get out your teal and white pom-poms: the Stanley Cup Playoffs start Thursday night in San Jose.  Go Sharks!

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