Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Please Bring Me Whatever Mr. Papelbon's Having!

"I have a tendency to wear my mind on my sleeve / I have a history of taking off my shirt." -Stephen Page, BNL

I heard someone describing Jonathan Papelbon's response to his outing against the Angels on Sunday by repeatedly saying how Papelbon "just sat there, motionless and speechless" for two hours -- TWO HOURS! -- after his blown save in Game 3. Of course, Mr. Papelbon had good reason to be upset -- he was up 0-2 with two outs and no one on before five straight Angels (three of whom were a strike away from sending the series to Game 4) reached base.

I couldn't tell whether the person describing the reliever's response was critical, favorable, or just neutral towards Mr. CincoOcho, but here's what I think: That's awesome. It's all too rare in the Bigs these days, but when it happens, I appreciate it.

The entire reason that college sports are often more fun to watch than the pros is that the players actually care, and you can actually see it in their faces. This is particularly so in college football, where any one loss can be devastating for a title contender.

Apparently, the professionals used to be this way before the days of free-agency and sky-high contracts. I've heard Kevin McHale make this point a few times in interviews..."We used to HATE the Pistons. We used to HATE the, everyone has the same agent, they all shake hands, they're all rich, it's different." Either way, times have changed to the point that some players can't even hustle up the court for an October or November regular-season NBA game anymore.

Where there are exceptions, however, there's fun to be had in watching certain players -- point guards who pump their fist when a teammate scores, baserunners whose uniforms always end up dirty, and yes, even quarterbacks who visibly show displeasure after dropped passes in the end zone. Not only is this type of stuff okay by me, I'd say that's what makes following a team *worth it* -- the knowledge that the people you're taking time out for care, too.

So even though I'm not a huge Major League Baseball fan (I might watch if it's the World Series, but it depends), I'll always smile when I see the picture of #58 jumping for joy with Jason Varitek in 2007 (prominently displayed in the Cafe Aiello mens' room, for instance). And if the same guy takes an equally-sized roller-coaster ride in the other direction after a loss in which he frankly blew it, I'm all for it.

As I like to say, show me a man and a woman fighting and I'll show you two people who love each other. Show me a couple that claims to have never gotten heated with one another, and I'll show you a sham.

Show me someone who rides up for the highs and down with lows of their job, and I'll show you someone I'd want to hire if I were starting a company. Show me someone who just talks about how much of an unflappable Cool Guy he is, and I'll show you someone who probably just doesn't give a rip...believe me, I've even see this Cool Guy archetype sit back and make fun of the others who actually work because they can't handle stress. (Funny how easy that is to say with your feet on the desk and coffee mug in hand, isn't it?)

Show me a pro athlete who celebrates by jumping higher and smiling wider than a Little Leaguer on his way to Williamsport, and I'll show you someone I'll make that extra effort to follow. But for a guy who never gets off the bench during a brawl, and never takes a tough loss personally, well, that just doesn't sound worth it for me.

So to return to the title, find me whatver Jonathan Papelbon puts in his Kool-Aid, and serve me a stiff one, please. Somewhere, someone in the corner may be rolling his eyes, but in my mental accounting, that person just doesn't matter.

Because I keep finding that when it's time to roll up the sleeves and get down to the hard work, I can never find that guy anyway.

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