Sports: as important as oxygen

My only difficulty is that in each sport, I generally follow several teams.

Jon Marthaler

Recently, I met a far-flung second cousin (once-removed) for the first time. During our conversation, he asked me a question I’ve been asked many times: “What’s your favorite sport?” This query generally reduces me to stuttering. It seems unfair to be required to select one sport as my favorite.

If forced to choose, I’ll pick football, but this implies disrespect for the other sports I love. While I select football number one aloud, as I did during my conversation, I’m silently naming the rest of my favorites in a five-way tie for number one ‘A.’

My only difficulty is that in each sport, I generally follow several teams. Listing them all would take most of my column, but a quick count on my fingers (and toes) suggests I regularly keep up with at least 14 teams.

Throw in two four-day weekends a year for the U.S. Open and Masters golf tournaments, plus an altogether unreasonable amount of time to manage fantasy sports teams, and one thing becomes clear: I could budget 16 hours a day and I still wouldn’t have enough time.

The intelligent action is simple: Pick a couple of sports, or a few teams, and let the rest go. I’m told that as I get older, I won’t have time for my fanaticism anyway, so it’s better to narrow my field of vision now than be disappointed when I run out of time later. I can’t. I’ve tried. Divorces have been attempted, separations undertaken. Not one has worked out.

My first try was in 1994, when baseball went on strike. Until that fateful year, I had been a baseball fan first, and second, and sometimes third. The best any other sport could do was barely on the medal stand.

Come ’94, though, I was hitting adolescence. Some friends were playing golf, a newfound obsession for me, so when the season was trashed, I figured it was a good time to make a clean break. I swore off the game, swore it was boring and swore I’d spend my time on the practice green.

I couldn’t do it. There’s nothing to watch between the Stanley Cup Finals and the college football Kickoff Classic except baseball. Anyway, I’ve never been able to improve past “duffer” at golf. It only took a couple years for baseball to creep back into my system, and now it’s firmly set as one of my favorites.

With the possibility of quitting any sport cold turkey pretty much gone, I tried instead to let sports slowly slip away. After the North Stars left Minnesota, I tried this with professional hockey. I wouldn’t pick a new team to follow, wouldn’t plan ahead to watch a game, tried to flip away whenever hockey highlights came on ESPN’s SportsCenter. It didn’t work. I’ve now tracked two NHL teams and watch the Stanley Cup playoffs religiously.

I’ve tried it with golf, but the spectacle of majors and the Ryder Cup suck me in every time. My last idea was to not let other sports enter the radar, but soccer snuck in while I wasn’t looking. Now I follow four teams .

The only sport left is basketball. I’ve never been the biggest fan. I’m not very good at the game. Even as a kid, I was never more than a benchwarmer. My favorite collegiate team, the Gophers, has gone to hell with no intermediate stops, thanks to early departures and incompetent coaching. Now that I’ve moved cross-country, it’ll be more difficult to follow the Timberwolves. This is my one chance to pare down, and pare down I shall.

Even as I make this resolution, though, I notice my new cable setup has lots of obscure sports channels, and NBA TV is one of them. And look! The United States is playing Serbia and Montenegro right now! Uh-oh.

Jon Marthaler welcomes feedback at [email protected]