Monday, February 23, 2009

Heart vs. Head

Welcome back to Seattle, Junior.

One of the underlying storylines in sports in recent years has been the building movement of statistical analysis. Ever since Moneyball was released in 2003, the argument has come to the forefront and divided some lines - especially in baseball, where traditional thinkers like to judge with their eyes only. It's been gaining steam in basketball, too, in recent years, but the stronghold of "sabrmatricians" (the term for such stat-heads) is on the diamond.

Statistics say that Ken Griffey, Jr. is going to be a very, very average player for the Mariners this year, and that he should avoid seeing the field as much as possible. If you were being even more cynical, you'd say he should only ever face right-handed pitchers, too. That's what parsing through the numbers and statistics available to fans and analysts say, at least.

The romantic, the fan, the one seeking out a story, that person thinks Junior returning - quite possibly for his final season - is going to be awesome, regardless how he does this year. "He's coming home!" It's like being transported back to 1998 again, to see Griffey in teal and blue smashing home runs out of shiny, new Safeco Field and patrolling center field, pulling a Spiderman impression and leaping up against the wall to steal a home run.

That bat twitch. The effortless swing. The casual trot out of the batter's box as another home run is crushed. Sure, the memories are just that - memories, sugar-coated, and so very sweet - but if we don't have those sweet dreams as fans of sports, all we have are box scores.

I fully admit to wanting Griffey to come home to Seattle for purely selfish reasons. It's like wanting to go back and re-live the best childhood memories. I want that Ken Griffey, Jr. who was on the poster in my bedroom to walk back out on to the field when Opening Day comes, but that's a fantasy. You can't go back home in the same way again, but the nostalgia trip will be great for all involved.

Sure, statistical analysis is great - incredibly useful. But without nostalgia - great play-by-play calls, amazing images, wonderful memories - sports are almost meaningless. There's room for romanticism alongside the science.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The power of stupid memories and cheesy jingles

I hope to god this embeds properly, because it's been making the rounds of sports sites and is awesome.

There's a music store across the street from my office that says, "Without music, life would be a mistake." Even though I would sound like a strumming monkey were I to pick up a real guitar, or act like a three-year-old given a couple of wooden spoons and pots and pans if I sat behind a real drum kit, I love music. Love it, love it, love it. Specifically listening to it (playing Rock Band gives me the ersatz creation feelings I crave, in lieu of above-mentioned lack of real talent).

And while it's said that scent often triggers the strongest emotional connections, music has those, too. What's funnier is how songs like the above-embedded YouTube clip - of John Tesh's "Roundball Rock," much better known as the iconic NBA on NBC theme song - work into a sports fan's heart and well up memories on its own.

It's silly, it's stupid, and performed live or found on MP3, it's a long-ass jingle. But just that spark of "Roundball Rock" brings up so many images of the NBA because the period that song was used to introduce NBC's coverage was a watershed for the sport: Jordan. The tail end of Bird and Magic. Hakeem and my Blazers. By the end of NBC's coverage, Shaq and Kobe were forming a terrifying combination as the Forum was about to come to a close for hoops in Los Angeles.

Quite possibly the greatest era in one of my favorite spectator sports is encapsulated in that wonderfully early-90s-tastic song.

I know I'm not the only one who feels this way about "Roundball Rock," and I know the NBA isn't the only sport to have a signature tune. Across the pond, Formula 1 coverage on the BBC in the United Kingdom had one opening song for an entire generation - the ending bass-riff from Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain." From the late '70s through to 1996, the visuals might have changed, but the rising shriek of guitars accompanied the intro. So when the BBC won back Formula 1 broadcast rights starting this upcoming season, there was little doubt there'd be speculation about The Chain returning:

Sure, that's fan-made, but lovingly so and if the real thing is close then I wouldn't be surprised. Having seen older intros as well on YouTube, I get it.

Just like how - as cheesy as it is - the ever-altered Monday Night Football theme still ties in emotions. Or how Canadian fans consider the Hockey Night in Canada theme to be as part and parcel to the coverage as legendary commentator Don Cherry's flagrant suits.

I would say it's as important as hearing other theme songs for popular TV shows or movie series, but though I may be biased as a sports fan, the connection with the intro theme song is greater - for the same reason why sports make for some of the best human drama. Nothing is planned or staged out ahead of time, and it all unfolds, real-time, right in front of your eyes. The connection with sports teams runs deep, and, just like how a college fight song can be universal to school alumni, the theme song for certain sports stand out.

It doesn't always work - most of the ones in major American sports right now are forgettable at best, though Baseball Tonight's jingle is pretty good - but the transcendent ones stick with you. Which is why I'm going to try to make "Roundball Rock" into a ringtone-sized MP3 file, again, and set that on my phone, just to see if I run into another sports geek who wells up with stupid emotion at the sound of John Tesh's master work as much as I do.