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12/24/98 The Parking Lot
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10/29/98 What Is Money?
10/15/98 Sick People
10/01/98 Baseball
09/17/98 Dollars and Sense


Having recently discovered the real estate catastrophe at the corner of Westlake Blvd. and Avenida de las Arboles, I am dying to write another piece on overdevelopment and lost innocence. But I will not. You've heard that song and dance before and, frankly, I'm tired of complaining. Let's just say that we could aptly rename that street Avenida de las Muchas Casas.

This week's column is something of a "curveball" in that I'm writing about the national pastime. If this topic bores you, please know that you are not alone. I've bored countless others before you.

Not too long ago, the L.A. Dodgers traded all-star catcher, Mike Piazza, to the Florida Marlins. The Dodgers weren't concerned that Piazza could become one of the best hitters ever. The Marlins didn't really want the Dodgers' catcher; they just needed to unload three players who were costing too much money. Bear in mind that these three players were instrumental in the Marlins' World Series victory last year. The Marlins immediately traded Piazza to the Mets, who are now hitting the cover off the ball while the Marlins would be hard-pressed to beat the Agoura Chargers varsity team. Who cares, right? My point exactly.

Everyone loves a Dodger game. We get to eat junk food and stomp our feet and shout at the top of our lungs. But when the Dodgers traded Piazza, I was forced to ask, "What the heck does it mean anymore?" Baseball, like all professional sports, has become a superficial course in economics. It is no longer a sentimental experience, but a circus run by sponsors, agents, advertisers, and, of course, the media. It's about seeing that damned Nike emblem everywhere you turn (I think Tiger Woods would tattoo it onto his forehead for the right price). San Francisco's Candlestick Park is now called 3Com Park. Next year's Rose Bowl will also bear the name of its sponsor. Maybe Federal Express will replace the football with a bulk rate, third-class package.

Sometimes I peer into the Dodgers' dugout to see the concerned expressions on players' faces. We assume they are devising some strategy to win the game when they are really deciding between investing in a money market CD or a property tax shelter. Maybe they could get in on that hot action in the Thousand Oaks area. I can see them thinking, Man, we sure are getting our butts kicked today... It's a good thing we're millioniares... This thing called "The Dodgers" is a financial composite playing a game more like Monopoly than athletics. The players don't represent the city any more than Michael Jackson represents the male populace. Some of them don't even like the cities for which they play. They're on the team because someone paid them to be there. Yet we cheer our heads off like their losing would end our world.

The question is, To whom or what are we pledging allegiance? It's not the players. We're lucky to recognize the roster from one year to the next. It's certainly not the coach. We fire the coach any time our team loses three consecutive games. We can't even count on the uniforms staying the same anymore. The only answer that logic will accept is that we are rooting for ourselves. We, the fans, are the only thing that remains unchanged about a sports team year after year. We are the only ones who care. And ultimately we are the ones footing the bill.

So here's my plan. To hell with the game. Once all 40,000 of us have piled into Dodger Stadium, we'll just open the gates to the 40,000 fans of the opposing team. Then all 80,000 of us can argue or fight or play "Paper, Stone, and Scissors" - whatever it is we are trying to accomplish - until there is a winner. We can still eat our junk food and stomp our feet and shout at the top of our lungs, but it will be toward a more meaningful end: our own personal, manipulable success. We can, at long last, prove that We the People from L.A. are superior to They the People from Chicago (which would be a good thing because the People from Chicago tend to riot when they win).

It's funny, really, our fetish with sports despite its irrelevance to our personal lives. We seem to use them to fill some unnamed existential void in ourselves. The phenomenon should be studied at the university level. It could be called "sports in lieu of religion" or "the psychosocial need for a hero." Sports give us something to talk about around the water cooler, something to focus on besides Pakistan's underground nuclear testing. Perhaps we could introduce baseball to Pakistan to distract them from literally ending our world.

I almost forgot to fasten this subject to our local community. The moral of the story is to appreciate local sports because it is the last time that a victory will really mean anything to us. When our local team wins, it is because our genetic pool conquered the genetic pool of another region. I'm not sure what that weighs in the heavens, but it seems somehow more profound than "we were able to obtain two free agents on waivers at the draft deadline and avoid the salary cap this year." If our high school is credited with an athletic achievement, it is because the kids who live here, the fruit of our loins, reigned superior. There are roots to that tree. Local sports represent the apex of an athletic career, a time before talent is lost to our aforementioned disorder. And it is the last time that we can truly care about the outcome because we are personally tied, however remotely, to the players' success.

Stay tuned next week when we discuss how my blind, senile, handicapped, 82-year-old grandmother enjoys a better free throw percentage than Shaquille O'Neill...


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