San Francisco Giants’ broadcaster Mike Krukow coined the affectionate phrase “Gamer Babe from Half Moon Bay” to describe a female fan who wears the colors, know’s what’s what and doesn’t flinch when a foul ball is screaming towards her head. If you asked me 10 years ago if I was a gamer, I would have said no. My consuming passions were rock and roll and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” I wrote about TV and music for a living. The last thing I wanted to do was log couch time watching sports. It was hard enough just to endure the freezing/blistering sandlots and competition-crazed parents at my son’s Little League games. My husband was a jock. Sports were background noise.
But I was lying to myself, to everyone. I just wasn’t ready to embrace my inner fanatic.
I grew up outside Boston, during the Celtics glory era of Bill Russell and Johnny Most and “Havlicek stole the ball!” I was 10 years old when the 1967 Red Sox realized the Impossible Dream. Somewhere in the detritus of my childhood, there is a scratched copy of the “Impossible Dream” record album, including the rousing “Carl Yastrzemski” song: “Carl Yastrzemski, Carl Yastrzemski, Carl Yastrzemski/ The man they call Yaz …” I followed Bobby Orr and the Big Bad Bruins to the Stanley Cup, crushing on Derek Sanderson and Espo and Cheesy and, especially, Ace (RIP).
I became a sports fan because of the men in my life. My father took me to Fenway Park, and to the Garden to see the Celtics. He taught me how to play Whiffle ball in the street. Later, I started dating a jock, who came from a big family of jocks. Although by then I had transferred my fandom and passion to Bruce Springsteen and the Clash and Elvis Costello, I knew that I would have to make some concessions if this relationship was going to last.
Thanks to the Larry Bird-era Celtics, the relationship did last. Watching the Celts with my husband became a ritual. We even co-owned a fantasy basketball team. I started to depend on basketball as a stress-reliever from the deadline pressure of my writing job. When I listened to music or watched a TV show, I had to be a critic and formulate an opinion. But when I watched the Celtics, I could just watch. There was no judgment to make, there was just the game – the original reality TV.
When we moved to the San Francisco Peninsula in 1987, we bought into a Golden State Warriors season ticket. We also tried to see the Red Sox whenever they played the Oakland A’s. We spent many a night in the sparsely-attended frozen confines of Candlestick Park, still soaking up the novelty of living in a National League city. Imperceptibly, we sloughed off our Boston allegiances and became Bay Area fans. (Pet peeve: fans who root against their team when the Red Sox or Lakers or Red Wings come to town. You live here now. Get over it.)
Then our son was born, and we had to give up the Warriors tickets; between work and parenthood, I had no time or energy left for sports fandom. Sports came back to me in 2008. My husband was watching a hockey game and I sat down with him, not intending to stay long. Two hours later, I was a San Jose Sharks fan.
I don’t know how it happened, maybe some primal instinct kicked in, some old wiring sparked to life again. And when the Sharks’ season was over, I followed my husband into the Giants’ season, and then back to hockey again, and then all hell broke loose. Our son left for college; I was an emotional wreck. A health crisis soon followed, and then major surgery in April 2010. The Giants saved my sanity during a long, difficult, frustrating recovery. I was on the DL, and Timmy, Buster, Wilson, Panda, Kruk and Kuip became my companions for those afternoons when I literally could not move from the couch. For the first time in my life, I understood the importance that sports plays in the lives of fans. As long as you have your team, then everything else — illness, heartbreak, worries, loneliness — can be forgotten for the duration of a game. Nothing matters except the next pitch, and the next at bat. I’m not kidding when I say that the Giants winning the World Series was the best thing that happened to me in 2010.
I get my orange on from April to whenever the Giants’ season ends. I feel the teal from October to however deep the Sharks go in the playoffs. I’m there for my teams, and they’re there for me when I need them the most. I’m a gamer.
© Joyce Millman, The Mix Tape, 2011