On Watching Other Sports In The Off-Season

Patrick Kane - Jonathan Daniel

Make no mistake about it: baseball is my first, second and third love. But I do like to watch other sports in the off-season but lately, I've been having trouble finding one I like.

Al likes to end the season with this famous Rogers Hornsby quote:

People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.

I'll add that I don't stare out the window waiting for Joe Girardi news either, although that's about all a Cubs fan can do these days. I've afraid my life isn't that single-minded. Maybe that's why I'm not in Cooperstown.

Through the rest of the month, we all have the playoffs, even without the Cubs. But come November 1, I'm going to be looking for something to do. Yes, there's that old standby "Spend quality time with my family," but I make time for my family year round. I wouldn't mind spending more time with my family in the offseason and I actually do. But there comes a point where they don't want to spend any more time with me.

I used to watch a lot of football. The Super Bowl doesn't get played until after pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training. But lately I find myself losing interest in both the NFL and NCAA football. The NFL's attitude has always bothered me, with its emphasis on war metaphors and its overblown self-promotion. The NCAA is better in that aspect, but they also have a business model that pays their workers nothing and keeps all the profits for themselves. I've also been involved in education long enough to know that revenue sports detract, rather than enhance, a school's academic mission. Sports in school for the recreation of their students is good, but once you add money to the equation, the well-being of the student-athletes is no longer a priority.

Football also has the highest talk-to-action ratio of pretty much any sport. It's play ten seconds, take thirty seconds off. That time gets filled with more and more inane blather about "courage," "physicality" and "toughness" and other things designed to tell us that football players are better men than you or I are. Then they only play one game a week and fill the airwaves all week long going over the same points over and over again. I can't say baseball is immune from endless chatter with the MLB Network going 24/7, but at least between April and October, there's almost always a game on somewhere.

On top of that, I'm finding new things to criticize about football. The reports about concussions and their long-term effects are chilling, to say the least. Now every time there's a big hit on the field, a little voice in the back of my head tells me that's got a good chance of killing that man one day. That knowledge is ruining the enjoyment of the sport for me. Of course, not as much as it's ruining the lives of the players.

I admit I still watch football. I'm not a purist and there still a little of the sport inside of my sports fan DNA. If the Iowa Hawkeyes or Green Bay Packers are on, I'll watch the game. With my wife's family's connections to the school, I'll watch Boise State play football as well, if I can figure out what channel they're on. But I haven't watched a down of Monday Night Football yet this season, nor did I watch any of that big Alabama/Texas A&M game. I just don't care.

I am a fan of hockey and I do watch it when I can. But I grew up watching college hockey, which is nearly impossible to watch on any consistent basis in California. Yes, there's a game on the Big Ten Network every now and then, but it's very hard to get a handle on college hockey watching one random game a week.

It's easier with the NHL, which is on TV a lot, if you know where to look. I could certainly watch almost every San Jose Sharks game and I could watch every Los Angeles Kings game if I was willing to shell out for Center Ice. The NHL has a great game and I'd rank only the World Series above the Stanley Cup finals. The league has an international flavor, which is something important to me but I understand it's a turnoff to many Americans.

For the same reason that concussions in the NFL bother me, fighting in hockey bothers me as well. Yes, I've heard all the arguments about why fighting needs to stay in hockey. Spare me. As I said, I grew up on NCAA hockey and they banned fighting there decades ago. None of the apocalyptic outcomes that the fighting proponents have prophesied have come true in the NCAA.

But the biggest issue I have with the NHL is that the regular season just doesn't hold a candle to the playoffs. Things aren't as bad as they were when I first started watching NHL hockey and 16 out of 21 teams made the playoffs, but there still isn't the same kind of urgency in the regular season like there is in MLB or the NFL. And by the time the Stanley Cup playoffs start, baseball is back underway anway.

I used to watch the NBA a lot back in the days of Bird, Magic and Jordan, but I hardly ever watch it anymore. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because the game is a lot more defensive-oriented than it once was. Maybe it's because the same four or five teams have won the title almost year since the late 70s. Maybe it's just because I'm getting old. I just don't know, but I do know I care very, very little about the NBA. I watch a little more college basketball, mostly because it's on every single moment of the day. But it has the same problems as NCAA football (well, except for the concussions) and while the NCAA Tournament is still awesome, the regular season suffers from the same problem of the NHL--it just doesn't compare to the postseason.

I've started watching soccer over the past few years, but you can tell that I'm not a hardcore fan by the fact that I call it "soccer" and not "football." I absolutely love the World Cup, but that's played in the summer and only every fourth years. I like MLS and I wish more people would give it a chance. But of course, they play over the summer too, which is when there are baseball games to watch.

I do appreciate that NBC is televising every single English Premier League match this season and I am trying to get into that. Of course, the issue with that is that most games start at 7am on Saturday out here in California. That's not as big a stretch for me as you might think as my daughter would never let any of us sleep past 8 am anyway, so getting up an hour early to watch the games isn't a problem. But my knowledge base of English Football is very thin. Maybe in a few years I'll know enough to truly appreciate the game. But by then, I'll likely know enough to find all the things about the sport that will annoy me. I already know that only the same four or five teams have a serious chance to win a title each year. I also know that the English are fine with this. I'm sorry, but "This is the year we're not going to get relegated" is hardly a rousing battle cry to me.

Of course, there is always reading and catching up on television shows, and I do that. I also run in 5k races, but that takes a half an hour on a Saturday morning.

But it looks like I'm just going to be stuck watching the MLB Network all winter.

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