In the Farrelly brothers’ new movie, “Fever Pitch,” Drew Barrymore finds herself competing for Jimmy Fallon’s affections — competing not with another woman, but a sports team. A baseball team, to be precise. The Boston Red Sox, to be exact.
It’s actually the second time Nick Hornby’s 1992 memoir has been transferred to the big screen. In 1997, Colin Firth starred in a British adaptation that retained the book’s original subject matter: soccer (or “football,” as the rest of the world calls it).
But American audiences cannot relate to the kind of rabid, sometimes violent obsession with soccer that most of the world shares, and so in “Fever Pitch” that most American of sports, baseball, duly substitutes.
Now, here’s the rub. I can’t relate to baseball, either. Nor any other sport, for that matter. Yep, I’m one of those anomalous freaks: a straight man who doesn’t give a $@#! about sports.
I don’t mind playing sports, although
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it’s been a long time since I’ve thrown any kind of ball (aside from a rubber ball for a cat to chase). And watching a game doesn’t necessarily rise to the level of torture of, say, sitting through a Nora Ephron film festival. But sports fanaticism as portrayed in “Fever Pitch” is something else entirely.
I can relate far better to another type of obsession — music — depicted in another Hornby adaptation, 2000’s “High Fidelity.” Like Rob Gordon (John Cusack) in that film, I once ran an indie record store, and my large record and CD collection is filed and cared for in true anally retentive fashion. Music is one of the main points of reference in my life, and it’s inexorably linked to every love (and love lost) I’ve ever had. Insult one of my favorite bands or records, and you’re more than likely to get some kind of dressing down — but always verbal, never physical. Maybe that’s the difference. Sports often appeal to aggressive guys. Alpha males. I’m more like the artsy guy in the corner. My aggression is all passive.
Jerry Seinfeld has a bit about sports fans caring only about the uniforms (“rooting for laundry”), and that once a beloved player is traded to another team, he suddenly sucks. And it’s true: Only sports fanatics choose their idols based solely on how nearby they are. Imagine if we applied this criterion to other pursuits. Living in Northern New Jersey, I guess my favorite filmmaker would have to be Kevin Smith (and it most definitely is not), I would have to find Joe Piscopo hilarious, and I would be a huge fan of really awful classic rock tribute bands. I couldn’t even love Hoboken’s own Frank Sinatra, because he moved away (and changed his shirt).
Why are sports fanatics not considered as dorky as, say, sci-fi fans? Why don’t people sneer at sycophants clad in reproductions of actual athletes’ uniforms? Isn’t Joe Six Pack’s beer belly stretching the confines of a XXL baseball shirt with Derek Jeter’s name and number stitched on it every bit as geeky as Chester Hornrims donning the gold velour pullover favored by Captain James T. Kirk? What’s the difference between the two acts? That Jeter’s real? Doesn’t that make it even more pathetic, in some way? After all, with a bit of dedication, talent and training, most people can at least become passable athletes. But as far as I know, the Starfleet Academy hasn’t been founded yet.
And then there’s the pronoun abuse. “We won the game!” You did? Really? When was the last time you heard a fan of Wes Anderson’s films exclaim, “Hey, did you catch our latest movie, ’The Life Aquatic’?”
But what’s most vexing to me is how a team’s win or loss is taken so personally by the fans, as if they themselves succeeded or failed. It’s called basking in reflected glory, and it can lead to extremes, like rioting. Rioting! Because a bunch of strangers won a trophy? How does this make sense? Worse yet, a woman in Boston was killed during the “celebration” after the Red Sox’s pennant win last year, and it barely made the news. Perhaps if she had been impaled by some “Star Wars” geek’s homemade lightsaber, it would’ve been on CNN for a week.
And yet, in “Fever Pitch,” it’s the non-sports-fan girlfriend, Lindsey, who’s treated a pariah because she doesn’t care about the Red Sox. Maybe she got scared by the 1996 film, “The Fan,” starring Robert De Niro as a knife salesman whose obsession with baseball and a pro player (Wesley Snipes) destroys his own life and takes a few others along the way. But that film is one of the few examples in pop culture where sports fanaticism is portrayed as unhealthy.
Still, to each his own, I guess. Personally, I’d like to see an “Alien Vs. Predator” type of film pitting Sox-obsessed Ben from “Fever Pitch” against a grown-up Lloyd Dobler from “Say Anything,” who, as you will recall, is “nothing like those frat-boy types.” Would it be a kickboxing match to the death, or a debate as to which is the better band, the Replacements or the Goo Goo Dolls?
No contest. The Replacements win. But that’s just my opinion.
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