From the Sidelines

I’m laid up for a while. My back finally gave out. Surgery followed and they fused several vertebrae. Ugh! Though the doctor is satisfied with the progress, the healing process has been slow. Very slow. It’s given me time to think about sports, some of which I may not be able to do, several of which I might.

Understand, I’ve never been a sports fan, not an avid one anyway. When I was in my teens, I followed the Yankees – Mickey Mantle was my hero — but I grew out of that. As an adult, I followed my son. Soccer, basketball, tennis, track. Later – much later – I followers the 76ers, mainly during the Iverson era – and the Eagles, when they’re having a good season. Lately, I watched the World Cup, but I hardly follow Premier League soccer.  I feel for Neymar and Brazil. But, frankly, I’m still not one for spectating. I don’t like to watch. I prefer to play. The crowd’s roar is not far in the background.

Unfortunately, playing most meaningful sports is, for me, out, at least in the short term. Meaningful means sweat and competition, or at least an investment in the result. Now and forever, that seems gone. Football, soccer, basketball, tennis, racketball, squash, skiing, cycling, sailing… Not that I was a world-class, or even state-class, competitor. But I was good enough and I enjoyed them. Now, I suppose, I’ll have to learn to be happy commenting from the sidelines.

I’ve been wondering, though, about other sports: sports that don’t get much attention on ESPN. For instance, ping pong, badminton, or croquet. These don’t require heavy lifting so they may be in my future. In Canberra, Australia, I attended a match of lawn bowls on New Year’s Eve years ago. Dressed in white, the players seemed elegant and the game easy to learn. Or maybe I could learn why Canadians love curling …. There’s something cute about a team that takes the job of sweeping so seriously.

I’m familiar with ping pong. At the highest level, it’s a fast game, requiring reflexes and flexibility, which, I assume, are now beyond me, but maybe I could play at more relaxed level. I haven’t been able to locate a local club or association. I had a table as a child, and was somewhat good. Eye-hand coordination, I suppose, carried me through. I picked it up again to the extent I bought a table and practiced a bit, about 15 years ago. But I doubt, on further consideration that I’ll do it again. No one to play with, for one. And the table migrated to my son’s home where it likely hosts beer pong.

Badminton I never really played. I’ve seen it played competitively, and it looks like fun. Again, it’s fast. But, again, competition — more simply, a partner — nay, partners — to play with regularly — would be hard to find. Who would come over for a round of badminton?

Croquet, on the other hand, seems to be about my speed. There’s a national association, headquartered in West Palm Beach. And the Merion Cricket Club in Haverford has organized games, so I’m told. “It’s the putting of golf, the angles of billiards and about 66 percent the strategy of chess,” according to a local promoter. I can buy a kit and set it up on my lawn. The rules are sparse, but there are enough to give the game structure. The key one seems to be that you can change the rules to suit yourself, as long as they are announced in advance. I’ve never seen the game played competitively, but something tells me that it is well played with a bottle of gin.

Croquet doesn’t seem like a real sport, though. It seems more like a hobby or a means to pass the time — sauced — with friends on a hot afternoon. I feel the same way about lawn bowls, or, for that matter, horseshoes, bocce, bowling, or shuffleboard. Also, golf, though I credit those who carry their own clubs. Perhaps I’m missing something, but there is something absent from an activity where physical fitness is not part of performance. And you don’t break a sweat.

Maybe I’m being a sports snob though. Maybe I haven’t adjusted to my circumstance, and still harbor hopes of winning and glory: striking an ace while my opponent flails wildly, winching a jib taught and hiking out in a stiff upwind tack, or launching a bicycle kick from edge of the penalty zone. I close my eyes, grit my teeth, dream of the hurrahs…. Alas, truly enjoying a sport requires more than my imagination.





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