Finding Myself in (Sports) Losses

I worked as a consultant for a $40 billion-a-year company, 12 years, and then they hired me full-time. Less than a year later, I was laid off, and then about 8 months after that, I was brought back as a consultant again. At a better pay rate than before. During that “sabbatical” I worked at a small start-up that made brain-training games. Part of my job was to read brain-blogs all day long, on all sorts of subjects, from biology to psychology to philosophy. By this deeply personal and circuitous route, I bring you to my discovery of “mindfulness,” which has been a pretty hot topic in brain science for a few years now.

The relevance of mindfulness to the above, of course, is being aware that end results are always only the very smallest part of a journey. It’s a more complicated way of suggesting one not sweat the small stuff. So the Mariners lost AGAIN last night. How can mindfulness help me deal with this sports anxiety?

I mean, thinking about it, new-age philosophy and sports fandom go together like peas and chocolate. Indeed, the only place they would ever meet is in the head of a self-indulgent, middle-aged, upper middle class, privileged white male living in Seattle in the new-millennia teens. Nevertheless, here I am.

The Mariners, after 14 games, are five and nine. They have to win four games in a row just to break even. They have to do better than they’ve done, so far, just to be considered mediocre. There’s an irony there. Hard work is supposed to be its own reward, but here’s what I’m finding in all of this: no it’s not.

If the journey is the thing, then the current record doesn’t matter. And we hear this in sports all the time. Athletes will tell you they don’t think about the last game, they only think about the next one. They don’t think about the play-offs, they just think about the next game. And when they’re playing, they only think about the game they’re in.

Turns out, good athletes are expert practitioners of mindfulness. And that’s the reward: not needing a reward. “It isn’t whether you win or lose; it’s how you play the game.” So, ignoring the winning and the losing of my home-town team, how am I playing this game?

All I can do is try to find something in this game I’m playing, this ridiculously close examination of my feelings vis-à-vis the losing record of one of the highest paid teams in baseball. My discovery: mindfulness. Being self-aware. Knowing that I’m darn lucky to even have access to the misery of watching my team lose. Being grateful for my existence.

And laughter— the look on the average fans face if/when I tried to explain all of the above. “Every loss is a gift,” I would say. “So is every beer,” they’d reply. Sounds like a win-win to me.

The Mariners Lost Last Night

mariners capI can very much appreciate it if someone is not into sports. In and of themselves, most sports are pointless. They’re just entertainment, one choice in a slew of others—why watch a baseball game when one can watch one of a million TV shows on demand? Or read a book, or go for a walk, or sit in front of the computer and write a novel? And don’t get me started on how much those guys who throw a ball around for a few hours a day get paid. My point is: you’re not into sports? I get it, I accept it.

I used to be the same way, frankly, but for the past 10+ years I’ve lived in a city big enough to support a few major sports organization. And there’s an identity one has, living in a city, and rooting for the home team Not everyone in Seattle roots for the Mariners—we’re a fairly hipster town. But some of us do, and some of us do because we love where we live. Call it civic pride.

But the Mariners lost their second game of the season. No big deal though, right? It’s only game two out of a 162. And they won their first game! Still, if you’re not a sports fan, or if you’re not a baseball fan in particular, or if you don’t follow the Mariners, then you don’t know: already there’s rumblings.

When non baseball-fans think baseball, they think Yankees, maybe Red Sox, they think about the most recent world series winner (the San Francisco Giants). And, for the most part, these are winning teams. I’ll be blunt: they’re winners because they pay for the top talent.

The Mariners, finally, have started paying for top talent. Thanks to a loophole in the MLB profit-sharing rules, they had an extra 190 million to spend on guys like Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cunoe. The talk through all of spring training has been: the Mariners are the team to watch this year.

And that’s saying something, as the Mariners have not been to the playoffs since 2001. Last year, they were literally one-game away from making the playoffs. The very idea that the Mariners could be playing in October is a bit apocalyptic. People who live in Seattle, who have civic pride, who identify with the Mariners—all of us are tired of, but used to, our team losing.

Which is why, despite the season being only 1.2345679 percent complete (that’s the real number- baseball’s all about esoteric stats) we’re all a little anxious at this point. Yes, the Mariners won their first game (thanks in no small part to our Cy Young award-winning pitcher) but we got no production in that game from that new 190 million dollar talent we brought in. And none again last night. Are we doomed?

Another team people think about when they think baseball is the Cubs. The perennial losers. The last time the Cubs were in the world series, the Mariners weren’t even a team yet. Heck, the first MLB team Seattle ever had, the Pilots, wasn’t even a team yet. The Cubs have been to the World Series six times in the last 100 years and lost every time.

Is that to be Seattle’s fate? We lost last night—it’s really hard to think about anything else.