84° F Friday, July 28, 2017

“Mike Scott sucks.”

Those words rang loudly through the vast caverns of the Astrodome in 1987, and I never thought about fandom the same way again.

Distraught voices and distressed faces filled isle ways, and downtrodden trotting mourners attempted to put loss into perspective as people always attempt to do.

The Astros had just lost the first MLB game I ever attended and experienced in person, with my glove and Astros gear making the voyage with me.

It was sports, but the loss felt too real and too tangible for me to understand in the moment –  I was mad, sad and probably a bit juiced up (excuse the phrase) from an Astrodog and multiple Cokes.

As they announced the next day’s pitcher, I felt something that resonated deep down. Because I wanted to vent just how I felt at the time, I bellowed out something that even as a 6-year-old, I knew was untrue.

“Thanks for coming, folks, and remember to come back tomorrow when Mike Scott takes the hill for your Houston Astros,” the PA announced informed us.

“Mike Scott sucks,” I proclaimed.

It’s the first words I can remember uttering. Even if I had memories before that, those words and my voice and the scene around are vibrantly painted on a wall in my mind and will never come down.

My dad’s reaction and response to me is just as clear, even if his words aren’t.

Stepping back, the first baseball season I ever witnessed was the 1986 season of heartbreak for Houston.

The ‘Stros lost an agonizing NLCS to the Mets that year, and as the last game wrapped up, I remember watching the sulking Astros players, including Scott – who went 2-0 and was named the series MVP even in a loss. Some were draped over the top of dugout. Others were wandering away, standing confused, hurt, sitting around the field, unable to watch the Mets celebrate, yet unable to just walk away. Loss chewed up their insides, and mine.

I cried right along with them.

The full dynamics of baseball and the reality of another season to come in the following year was not a reality I was familiar with. To me, I had just watched the Astros lose, and they would never play again.

It was the end.

That hurt lingered into the next season. That pain of losing from the NLCS loss became strongly instilled in me at a young age. I became obsessed with winning, with passion, with wanting to help others cope and with baseball – all ignited by that one phrase uttered in 1987 by my dad’s side.

“Mike Scott sucks.”

My dad looked sternly in my direction and made sure that I understood what I had just done, letting me know the disappointment that came with my words.

Fandom comes out in passionate knives of irrational emotions, a microcosm of hurt, elation and understanding, boiled down to a ballgame.

Although the exact wording he used might not be the same in my memory, now more than two decades later, I recall the look on his face, the tone, the feeling that I had betrayed something I love by to trying reflect outwardly the hurt I felt  by conveying  something that I didn’t want to through my words.

“Losing can make you react in ways you don’t understand,” he said, as I learned later he meant in sports and in life. “Passion and love make you want some things to happen that won’t happen, and you want to behave in ways that can hurt other people when you are dealing with loss. You don’t lash out, and you don’t take out your anger through words or actions; you be supportive because everyone needs support when dealing with a loss.”

Mike Scott certainly does not suck, as his 3.54 career ERA and six seasons of more than 200 innings pitched in which he had a combined 93-62 record over that time shows.

Scott was one of my favorite players. Because I felt what losing did to the brain, heart, soul, even body, I couldn’t stand that the Astros had lost the game I came to that spring in person in 1987. I couldn’t rationalize how they lost, how they couldn’t understand that they were supposed to win and why they wouldn’t try harder to not lose.

Soon, I would learn real loss as the human condition became ever-present, and you learn to stand in there as a curveball looks like it’s going to embed itself in your skull. Loss has been present in my life a lot lately, and the image of standing in the emptying Astrodome amidst emotions feels closer than ever.

Losing is still the worst feeling in the world to me. I still don’t deal with losing very well, but I understand it as much as I can. Life gives it gravity, and luckily sports, while teaching as well, helps the context. All combined, thanks to my dad, it taught me how to stand, to cope, to grieve, but to ultimately celebrate life and not let losing, of any sort, linger around.

Truth is, everybody is always losing. That’s nature; that’s humanity. It never ceases, and it never will, but that isn’t very comforting.

The way I see it, the best way to get past losing is to feel it, understand it, then realize that as long as life will allow, take the field again tomorrow, and “play ball.”

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