Sunday, October 08, 2006

My sleepaway camp had a longtime rivalry with the other camp nearby. Remember that movie Meatballs? We considered ourselves the ones on Bill Murray’s side competing with the evil snobs across the lake. And I’m sure the other guys thought the same thing.

So intercamp sports games were particularly exciting. But not to me, for two reasons: One, I hated those jerks in my sleepaway camp. And two, I sucked at sports.

That’s probably why they stuck me at boring ol’ fullback during our soccer match, while the other guys got to have the more glamorous roles of trying to score. Which they failed at. And when the other camp’s team loomed in our side of the field, I rushed out to intercept a shot. But I wasn’t fast enough to block the kick properly, the ball ricocheted off my leg and was deflected into our goal.

For the rest of the summer, I was blamed for our loss. “Mike scored for the other team,” the kids would say. “Which camp do you go to anyway, Mike?”

You see why I hated those jerks.

But even as a kid, I knew it wasn’t all my fault. If our forwards had scored even once, we wouldn’t have lost. If our halfbacks had stopped their team up the field, they wouldn’t have been able to take the shot. And what about our goalie? Was he too just confused to keep the ball out of the net because it was last touched by a fellow teammate?

The disharmony among these finger-pointers was indicative of why our camp got its ass kicked in other games too. It was just easier to play the blame game.

As uncoordinated as I was, I had been on winning squads before. Like my little league team. We had a lot of talent to make up for my spazziness -- our star player later went on to pitch in the minors -- but the camarederie and support from the other guys in our roster was encouraging and I was able to make improvements on the field and in the batter’s box. Okay, mainly I crouched my already-short body down so much that my strike-zone was virtually non-existent, and I got walked a lot. Klutzy me rarely got a hit, but my on-base percentage was phenomenal.

But what I’m basically saying here is: There’s no “Mike” in “Team”.

I thought about this as I watched the Yankees lose the playoffs. Again. I hate to admit it, but I’ve noticed a difference in attitude of the Bronx Bombers in the new Millennium. People blame A-Rod’s lousy hitting for recent losses, but he’s just one player. Yes, one extremely well-paid player. And that may be part of the problem… among many problems which have existed for the past 6 years. Whether it’s the presence of high-salaried superstars or a general complacency, the team definitely lacks unity. I don’t know what’s going on in the dugout, or in the clubhouse, but it’ll take more than putting one guy -- who’s far from living in the poorhouse -- in the doghouse.

The House That Ruth Built could clean house and kick out Joe Torre. Okay, a new manager might help shake things up. It may be about time for a new perspective. Someone who’s hungry to get his first World Series ring, not just one for his pinky to match the other four fingers. But Torre, I got your back, man. Anyone accuses you of not doing a great job… I’ll say it ain’t so, Joe.

So here’s where I make the metaphorical leap and compare Major League Baseball to my childhood sports experiences: It’s obvious to me that my sleepaway camp’s soccer team had too many internal problems and defeated themselves. Just like the Yankees in recent years.

But when an unlikely bunch of scrappers work together, they can defeat the odds and win it all. Like my little league team. And maybe next year, the Yankees.

Or maybe I’m making too big a deal of all this, trying to find life lessons among these stupid games. Maybe Bill Murray’s character in Meatballs put it best when he said, “It just doesn’t matter! It just doesn’t matter!”


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