Give Me Sports, Give Me Stories

SF Giants Winning the NLCS

Not too long ago, I guess there was an article in Men’s Health proclaiming that the “only” way to get your girl to like/watch sports is to get her into the “storylines.” You know. The Underdog. The Hometown-Boy-Makes-Good. The Comeback. The Redemption.

I didn’t get to read the actual article before it was taken down, but thanks to the feminist and female-sports-fans rants and reactions to it, I got the gist.

The thing is, that article (I’m guessing) isn’t totally wrong.

Women love the storylines in sports.

Where they went wrong is in assuming that we don’t also love the other aspects, but more importantly in apparently/probably implying that men don’t, or have no need for, those storylines to love sports.


If that were true, why have my Facebook and Twitter feeds been filled for the past four+ days with articles and posts (many written by male sportswriters) about the story of Travis Ishikawa?

You haven’t heard it yet? I’ll fill you in.

Travis Ishikawa is what they call a “journeyman” first baseman. This is usually a bench player, one who gets the occasional start every couple weeks but mostly fills in as a pinch-hitter or for late-inning defense. They don’t get the big contracts and are quite often little more than pieces of trades. “Journeymen” because they make journeys around leagues, from one team to the next, bouncing between the minors and majors until they’ve had enough. They retire quietly and after a few years, only the most die-hard fans remember them.

Ishikawa was drafted by the Giants in 2002. He made his first Major League appearance in 2006 and made the team full-time in 2009. He’s a fine defensive first baseman but not an offensive powerhouse. He played on the 2010 team that won the World Series (contributing by drawing one of the best walks in franchise history). Then he spent 2011 in the minors and played for four other teams from 2012 – 2014.

He was released by the Pirates at the beginning of the season and the Giants re-signed him to a minor league contract.

Let’s pause a minute. Guy signed out of high school and has been in the big leagues for 13 years. He’s never done anything besides baseball. He’s in his early 30s now and has a wife and kid. He’s basically been fired and the guys offering him a new job are saying “well, we only have an entry-level opening available.”

So sometime over the summer, Travis Ishikawa began thinking about retiring. He decided to stick it out through the season and then, in his time off, do some reflecting, some praying, some talking with his family.

Then…well, God bless baseball.

The Giants had a slew of freak injuries over the summer and brought Ishikawa back up to the majors. Then they had more injuries and, with practically no other options, stuck this guy — who’s played first base his entire adult life — in left field. He’s a good teammate. He understands his role. And he’s reasonably athletic enough to (mostly) get the job done, more or less.

Which meant last Thursday, the Giants had a first baseman playing left field in the National League Championship Series — a time you absolutely cannot afford to make mistakes. In the bottom of the ninth, with the game tied and two runners on, it was Travis Ishikawa’s turn to bat.


This is something that wasn’t supposed to happen. By all rights, he literally shouldn’t even have been playing on that game. Maybe he shouldn’t even have been on the roster. Maybe not even in the dugout. But he was, and something awesome happened.

I can talk stats and argue strategy all day. I can appreciate Posey’s sweet, sweet swing and whatever the hell Bumgarner does to the ball to make his pitches move like they do.

But none of that is why I was jumping around my living room, yelling like a crazy person on Thursday night. That’s not why any Giants fans were screaming, crying, hugging and high-fiving everyone in sight.

Technique and stats are great, but over the course of a season, we get to know “our” team, “our” guys. We ate enchiladas before Vogelsong’s starts. We made Hunter Pence signs. We cried a little when we read this story about Sergio Romo. We laugh over Bumgarner’s one-liners, perfectly delivered in a thick Southern drawl. We damn sure teared up when Cain led the Bat Kid out to the mound. And oh God help me, this. I’m talking only in terms of the Giants, but ask any sports fan of any team why he loves them, and he won’t start spouting statistics.

He’ll tell you a story. About how his dad used to take him to games when he was a kid. About where she was during [insert great franchise moment here]. About taking his kids to a game for the first time.

Baseball — sports in general, really — is the most amazing reminder that miracles happen. Sometimes it’s super in-your-face, like a team winning six straight elimination games and then sweeping the World Series (see: 2012). Or a journeyman playing out of position and hitting a home run to win the pennant. Or a guy who was a long shot to ever make it out of the minors making the catch for the final out — hit by the guy who nearly ended his season with a takeout slide a week ago — and winning the NLCS MVP.

If you write this as fiction, your editor will tell you it’s too contrived and cliche.

But think about how many sports movies are based on true stories.

Rudy. Miracle. Remember the Titans. The Rookie. The Blind Side.

Sports give us our stories, and they give us hope. If miracles like these can happen on playing fields, courts, rinks, whatever, why can’t they happen everywhere else?

(Now, if you’ll excuse me, Game 1 starts in a little less than 2 hours and I need to start freaking out drinking my Anchor Steam.)

photo credit: McCovey Chronicles



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