EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a weekly column from former sports reporter and editor Mike Bass. Bass will be contributing to The Enquirer by offering advice for sports fans, athletes and youth sports parents and coaches through a weekly Q&A. You can reach him at [email protected] or on Twitter @SportsFanCoach1.
I was venting at my team on TV one day, because sometimes I do that, sometimes louder than I realize.
My wife happened to be walking nearby.
“Why are you getting so upset?” she asked.
I took a breath and smiled.
“I’m OK,” I said. “I let go of it now when the game is over. This is part of the fun for me.”
Just not for her.
“If this is making you uncomfortable, I will tone it down,” I said.
“No, I’m fine,” she said, and she meant it.
She smiled and continued what she was doing.
She might not get it.
But she tries to get me.
* * *
You the Bengals fans were kind enough to share how you and your significant others co-exist during games. My turn. This is my ode to my label-defying wife.
Marla is not what I could call a big sports fan. She used to own a sailboat and once crewed the Chicago-to-Mackinac Island yacht race. If I had known her then, I would have been there for her. If sailing were ever on TV today, she would watch and I would ... wish her well.
She knows the feeling. When I started planning to attend my college-newspaper reunion, I told Marla I would be back in time for the Chicago Bears’ opener, in case she wanted to watch. I knew how enthusiastic she would be.
“Football, already?” she replied.
Marla is not what I would call a football fan. When we dated then married, I was the St. Paul Pioneer Press sports editor, and football primarily meant Vikings football. If I was not at the games, I was watching at home. Not cheering. Not booing. Working. She understood.
She found something else to do, because she is happy to pursue her own interests and because football appeals to Marla about as much as ketchup on a hot dog.
Marla once sat in the stands with her younger son for a game at Illinois (his school, our alma mater) against Minnesota. I sat in the press box, to let mother and son bond, never expecting she would bond with the rabid Illini fans. Swept into their anger after a controversial call, she texted me a NSFW rant featuring her favorite obscenities.
I recognized the prose and knew it was not a prank. The grammar was perfect. The English major in her never dies.
For one day, the football fan in her lived.
* * *
Marla is not what I could call a baseball fan, but baseball is the one major sport she does value. At times.
We both appreciate its history and how it reflects and can shape society. She enjoyed watching Ken Burns' documentary and visiting the Baseball and Negro Leagues museums with me. We have attended games in a handful of major- and minor-league parks, she liked seeing the real “Field of Dreams” site and she loved watching the movie version atop a cruise ship one night.
Marla is proud to be a fair-weather Cubs fan. During the team’s surprising rise to the 2015 National League Championship Series and historic run to the 2016 World Series title, she would watch. Sometimes. Her way. Maybe while knitting or web surfing. Or until she got bored or too tense. Which might be after an inning or two.
“I'll jump in and out,” she might say.
This works for her. This has nothing to do with me. She knows what she enjoys and when to walk away. She admittedly would prefer the serenity of a one-sided win to the anxiety leading up to a walkoff victory. She probably would prefer not to watch the latter. I never assume.
After the Cubs won the 2016 League Championship Series, she thought it would be fun to hit a sporting-goods store for World Series apparel. I was surprised. We waited in line until after midnight. It was a blast. We watched Game 7 of the World Series together. The drama was intense, but she stayed with it. She had champagne ready. We toasted the Cubs’ win.
Those moments were better because she was there, and I appreciated them more because she normally is not.
Marla will attend a Cubs game every couple of years or so, and we bought tickets in June, when the team was good, for a game in August, not realizing the Cubs would be bad. Thanks to a fire sale, the Cubs entered our game with12 straight home losses, tying a franchise record.
Although the weather and seats were great, the baseball was bad. The Royals led 9-1 in the sixth, and the game and Marla were dragging. She did not ask to leave. She was thinking of me. I said let’s go after the next inning. I was thinking of her. We had seen enough of the rout.
“This always happens when I go to Cubs games,” she said, speaking with a bit of hyperbole (they had won the last time we attended) and generically (about her lifetime).
Take the first Cubs game Marla and I saw together. The Cubs lost 17-1. When we returned to our car, someone had shattered a window and taken a few items, including Marla’s favorite knitting bag, a birthday present from me.
To her credit, she did not stop coming.
* * *
Marla has no interest in watching a bad Cubs team on TV now. She does not begrudge me watching them or any sporting event. I appreciate the sentiment and try not overload on sports (certainly not as much Cubs), and I do not begrudge her pursuing any of her interests solo.
Sure, I would have enjoyed watching part of the Bears game with her, catching up a bit more during breaks and between plays. She knows it. Instead, I had fun during the game messaging with friends. And I know she would enjoy it if I watched more documentaries and British TV with her.
We try to compromise and find common interests, to be respectful and talk. Sounds good, right? Sometimes, we do better than others. But asking me if I would prefer Marla were more of a sports fan would be like asking if I would prefer Marla to be different than she is. No way.
Marla is a hospital nurse practitioner in palliative care. She helps people with life-shortening illnesses, and families, navigate the most trying of decisions and circumstances. She is spectacular any day, a hero amid a pandemic.
Just when you say Marla is not a sports fan, there she is, telling you and everyone around you to be quiet, hoisting her marshal’s sign at a PGA Championship some years ago. If she disliked golf, she would not have done it. She rarely plays and never watches it on TV. Golf is right up there with football. And hockey. And basketball.
She might never fully understand my level of sports fandom, now that I am free to cheer and boo again, and I might never fully understand hers, and that’s OK.
But she is starting to understand why I vent at the TV. I reminded her of what I call her “interactive TV” experience.
“You know how you talk when you watch TV, and I’m never sure whether you are talking to me, the TV or nobody?” I told her. “This is my version of the same thing.”
She got it.
Remember to email Bass at [email protected] or reach out to him @SportsFanCoach1 on Twitter if you want to be included next week. His website is MikeBassCoaching.com.