If I’m being honest (and when am I ever not honest with you people), I couldn’t care less about the Olympics this year. A lot of that probably stems from the fact that I’d just prefer to keep watching baseball every night than to tune into a big event where I don’t really know all the rules and am going to have to trust the announcers to educate me (what if I get stuck with the Tim McCarver of water polo?). And I’d rather see the Twins play or listen to the beautiful cadence of (the now Twitterly aware) Vin Scully than root for the U.S. of A. to prove that it has the best putters of shot on God’s green Earth. And I don’t care to see the NBA superstars of Team USA destroy Nigeria, like the Globetrotters taking on an 8th grade traveling squad. There’s not much glory in that.
It’s not that I’m not patriotic. It’s just that I don’t see why I should care who the best hurdler or diver or marathon runner is. I don’t understand the nationalist fervor that would have me rooting for a target shooter or rhythmic gymnast to somehow prove that the U.S. is #1, as though that weren’t (in large part) a function of having a large population and a willingness to funnel tremendous resources into our Olympic program.
I’m not above having that kind of connection to the team I root for. After all, I root for the Twins because I’m from Minnesota. But if the Twins win (a relatively rare phenomenon these days), I’m not going to claim that Minnesota is somehow better than Ohio because of it (rather, Minnesota being better than Ohio is simply a fact that exists independent of our respective baseball teams).
No, the real reason I root for the Twins is the shared history I have with the team and with the community that supports them. We root together, and we do it every night. We cheer together, we heckle together, and we express our disappointment together. I don’t get that with the Olympics, so I won’t be tuning in this year. I’ve got enough on my plate and enough space in my head spoken for without cluttering it with fencing or dressage.
I’d encourage you to do the same. Here are several reasons why even the worst baseball game is definitively and objectively better than the Olympics, regardless of who you root for and how they’re doing:
- Anyone can win any night. Sure, there are favorites every game, but the greatest thing about baseball is that virtually every team will win at least 40% of its games. The underdogs always have a puncher’s chance in baseball, unlike up against Usain Bolt or Team USA. So the drama is heightened.
- No tape delay. I don’t know how it’s been up in Canada, but NBC’s blunders with spoiling their tape delayed broadcasts have gotten increasingly complex and ridiculous. It hasn’t hurt their ratings, but it’s definitely severely killed the experience for thousands of fans.
- The spirit of international harmony. Sure, the Olympics are supposed to be about the brother (and sister) hood of man, but given the occasional racist outbursts by some athletes and punching of U.S. athletes in the face by others, there’s some serious intercountry antagonism going on in these games. Meanwhile, baseball teams are comprised of players from many nations, including the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Panama, Colombia, Jamaica, Curacao, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and Australia. There’s a kid from Germany in the Twins’ minor league system. The Mariners have an Italian citizen in theirs. And the Pirates have an Indian pitcher down in A-ball. Now there’s your international brotherhood of man, man.
- Games in more than one city. Sorry, if you don’t live in/around London, or don’t want to pay a zillion (Canadian) dollars to travel there. You are S.O.L. if you want to go to the Olympics. Meanwhile, there’s a pretty good chance that a Major League Baseball team plays within 100 miles of where you live, and a minor league club probably far closer than that, making it easy for you to patronize them with your money and attention.
- Reduced specialization. Ok, in an era of LOOGYs and ROOGYs and Designated Hitters, maybe this isn’t as true now as it once was. But think of how good the vast majority of Major League players have had to be at multiple skills: hitting, fielding, throwing, pitching, baserunning, basestealing. Think about whether the talents that ballplayers have (hand-eye coordination, balance, speed, quickness, strength) would serve them well in other sports. Now ask yourself whether an Olympic sprinter would be any good at basketball. Baseball players may not be as fast or as strong or as springy as someone who has trained for a very specific sport, but they’re arguably far better overall athletes.
- Short opening ceremonies. The lineups are announced and you get a 2 minute national anthem. Sometimes, on really special days, you get a pre-game ceremony that takes a half hour at most. None of this 5 hour spectacle directed by Danny Boyle featuring dancing and torches and processions. Get on with the games, pal! We came to watch the games!
- No closing ceremonies. You win or you lose and you go home. But you get to play the next day too. Don’t make a big deal out of it, there’s always more baseball to play.
- Longer season. Two weeks versus six months? I will take six months of nightly sporting entertainment, thank you. Have fun with the rest of your summer, Olympics fans. I’ll be watching baseball deep into the Fall.