A Sports Break, Sort Of

Sports bring people together. I’ve written, said, and thought this often. Taking interest in the performance of athletic teams automatically gives you potential connections to millions of people all over the world. During my recent honeymoon, this was reaffirmed yet again.

At an airport restaurant during our layover en route to Jamaica, my wife and I saw SportsCenter highlights of the Golden State Warriors. They’d just won their 23rd straight game and a graphic showed their upcoming schedule. We wondered if they’d lose before we returned home a week later and, regardless, if we’d find out during the trip.

That’s the thing about sports: Even on a vacation in which we wouldn’t be watching any games or even seeking scores or news, you can’t escape it. On a catamaran cruise, a fellow passenger learned I was from New York and asked if I was a Mets fans. He told me the Mets had acquired a second baseman—from Arizona, he thought. I couldn’t think of who that might be. I knew their star first baseman and an outfielder or two. A couple of days later, I saw the fan again and he told me the Mets had actually gotten Pittsburgh’s second baseman—Neil Walker—and it was in a trade for pitcher Jon Niese. They’d also picked up shortstop Asdrubel Cabrera and—best news of all, we both agreed—Michael Cuddyer had retired.

Local vendors walked the shoreline of our beach throughout the day, selling everything from bracelets to wood figures to parasailing rides. One wore a Green Bay Packers hat. He couldn’t remember where he got it and wouldn’t have known if I was, in fact, Aaron Rodgers, but perhaps the familiarity of the green and yellow “G” on his cap is what swayed us to buy from him.

Even that which is typically despised can be comforting when you’re far from home. Waiting for a shuttle off the resort, I sat across from a guy wearing an Ohio State football t-shirt. On American soil, I’d silently curse this person or even say “Go Blue!” In Jamaica, I considered a feeling close to appreciation for having a fellow Big Ten fan around. Clearly I’d heard Bob Marley’s “One Love” too often that week.

I had no reason not to like the 70-something gentleman who recounted his days as a basketball player at Ferris State, in Big Rapids, Michigan. It’s possible he played against Megan’s grandfather at Northern Michigan, and he fondly recalled the NMU players buying him and some of his teammates a few beers after a game.

I would have needed a stronger drink to enjoy cricket. One evening before dinner, I put on ESPN International while Megan got ready.* If you think baseball is slow, stay away from cricket. Minutes passed between pitches—and they were not worth the wait. I gave it a chance mostly because I’d played it earlier that day on the beach. Acknowledging that my experience was not completely authentic, it wasn’t much fun to play either. This was partly because the staff member who taught us insisted that the pitcher (called a “bowler”) aim for the wickets (three stakes behind the batter) at all costs. I found it more fun to throw a hittable pitch instead of scraping the sand and the bottom of a wicket, but he disagreed and relieved me of my bowling duties. The bowler I faced kept the ball in the dirt—er, sand—and I was unable to make contact. Is my dislike for cricket a result of my unsuccessful at-bat? Sports xenophobia? If never playing or watching cricket again means I won’t be able to answer those questions, I’m OK with that.

*The 20 minutes of cricket was the only TV I watched all week. But in the Montego Bay airport on the way home, I noticed Cool Runnings playing on every television in a particular bar. I took another look and realized it was called the Jamaican Bobsled Café, and I can only imagine the movie plays on an infinite loop. Thinking about the café’s staff, if you had to endure one movie on repeat, is there a better choice than this 1993 Disney classic? I think not.

Cricket aside, it was an incredible vacation. I shouldn’t have been surprised that we didn’t escape sports entirely. In fact, the only surprise was that the Warriors did lose while we were there. We didn’t know about their double-overtime win in Boston to get to 24-0 or their first loss to Milwaukee the next night until the day after we got back and I saw a headline about how the streak had been a burden.

A burden. I get it. It was nice, for a week, to get off the emotional rollercoaster that sports fandom can be. Now, anyone have a lean in the Utah State-Akron bowl game tonight?

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