Writing a blog with "Bay Area Sports" in the title, I've understandably gotten a lot of grief over the last four years for my minimalist style when it comes to covering the region's most consistent team, the San Jose Sharks. And by "minimalist" I mean the amount of posts about the Sharks on BASG can probably be counted on one hand (they could easily be counted on one of Antonio Alfonseca's hands). There are several reasons for this, but here are the main ones:
- I grew up in Eureka, Calif., where the nearest ice rink is at least 250 miles away. To say Eureka isn't a hockey town is like saying San Francisco isn't a dogfighting town.
- The Sharks didn't exist until after I turned 13, long after my sports allegiances were set in granite.
- With the NFL, MLB and NBA, along with college football and basketball, I'm pretty well covered every day of the year, sports-wise.
But with the NBA canceling their preseason and less than a week from scrapping the first two weeks of the regular season, I'm thinking it may be time to finally throw myself 100% into learning about hockey and the Sharks, at least beyond rudimentary knowledge like "Logan Couture's really good" and "Ryan Clowe's a badass." I'm starting to think it's high time to watch and learn as much about the Sharks as humanly possible. And not just because the NBA lockout threatens the entire 2011-12 season -- actually, some observers are pretty optimistic that the owners and players will come to an agreement within the next five days -- but because hockey's a great game. A game I've never given a fair shot.
For those who think I'm an idiot for letting the three lousy reasons I mentioned earlier keep me away from pucks, well, you may be right. But I do understand that hockey is incredible in person (I've been to all of two Sharks games, but I had an absolute blast both times), and that it's also a far better viewing experience on high-definition television than it was when I used to watch Mario Lemieux play in the Stanley Cup Finals on ESPN in the early 1990s. Hockey players are incredibly tough and athletically gifted. And on top of all that, by and large they're blessed with humility and the ability to sound like normal human beings during interviews.
However, I've stayed up after midnight several times, watching playoff hockey games that went for several overtime periods, and each time I woke up the next morning I had no interest in reading analysis of what I had watched just hours before.
Even though my athletic career would never be considered "athletic," nor a "career," at least I played all the other sports I watch religiously. Over the past couple decades I've even kept better track of the top tennis players, golfers and the Majors they competed in than the NHL, because I've played hundreds of hours of tennis and around 100 rounds of terrible golf in my decidedly nonathletic existence. Compared to the amount of experience I've had playing hockey (which consists of a summer during junior high when my friends and I strapped on the roller blades about a dozen times and took our Big 5 hockey sticks and hit a street hockey ball back and forth on a driveway), I'm a veritable soccer expert. I know more about hockey than I do about cricket, rugby or any other decidedly non-North American sport, but I don't know nearly enough about hockey to write about it without coming across like a total novice.
Can an adult (in terms of years, not maturity) pick up a sport and learn enough to truly live vicariously through the players? Probably. If my grandfather learned French in his late 50s, I can surely learn more about the favorite sport of French-Canadians. And maybe the most adult thing to do in this case would be to take a terrible, frustrating thing (the NBA lockout) and turn it into something good: a fun new hobby where I would support a local team that seems to do everything as "right" as can be expected from a professional sports franchise.
The NHL is looking at the NBA these days and praying they'll continue with their nonsense. With reports on Oct. 4 that the owners want 53% of basketball-related income, and the players also want 53% of basketball-related income ... well, it looks like the only pro sport that'll be available to us on Monday-Wednesday is going to be hockey. Through November, at least.
But if I start paying my undivided attention to hockey, I have to commit. If I'm going to look down upon people who love multiple baseball, football and basketball teams, or (even worse) only pay attention to teams that are winning, I can't be an NBA-lockout-casual-hockey-fan, even if I'd be starting out that way. In other words, I can't stop paying attention to the Sharks just because the Warriors are playing the Thunder in a week. Otherwise, all the hockey fans reading this who are thinking, "We don't need this guy following our sport," would be 100% right -- instead of just 99.7%.
So Sharks, not that you need my support, but I'm ready to branch out and learn a sport I've never played and probably never will. Such behavior can't be THAT rare. I can't be the only one without the ability to skate backwards who's appreciated a Joe Pavelski goal assisted by Joe Thornton. Guys like Ray Ratto seem to appreciate hockey, even though they've probably never faced a 100 mph slapshot like Antti Niemi does regularly.
Perhaps there's something beautiful about appreciating something you'll never truly understand. I can't play guitar or the drums either, but I was still a huge Nirvana fan back when the Sharks played their inaugural season at the Cow Palace.