Curve Balls: There’s Comfort in Idle Sports Chatter

Special to the Valley News
Tuesday, September 12, 2017

It starts with something as simple as a T-shirt or a snippet on the news on the television in the convenience store or, more commonly, at the gas pump. Any of these can be the jump-off for a conversation about sports because, regardless of season, there is always plenty to talk about.

These impromptu interactions happen between strangers every day in places where adults find themselves waiting for a few minutes. There are not many rules to this social game about games; the tone is light, the mood is casual, nothing too strident or brash.

This is not the forum for a discussion about spousal abuse, political affiliation or mascots. Rather, this is more a critique about the kid who is paid more money in three years than you’ll make in your working life. Is he worth it? What were his college numbers like? Who do you wish your team had traded for or acquired? You leave when your wife is done shopping, when dance class is over, when the nurse calls your name or the mechanic says your car is ready.

This is a conversation even a non-fan like me can enjoy even though I can’t contribute to it. I love to watch people turn and start up conversations together, laugh and nod as though they are friends, because these moments always end up really being about only a few things: hard work, respect and appreciation.

People remember the teams, coaches and players who earned the respect of fans with hard work before sneakers were practically made out of mattresses, before contracts were larger than double indemnity clauses and before anyone ever heard of a swoosh or a bobblehead.

Sports are a safe way to make connections with people in what can seem a scary, polarized and unfamiliar world. This is so reassuring to those of us whose lives are changing faster than we’d like, be it from progress, sprawl, empty nests or a rapidly shifting job market.

Early this summer, I was at an event at a field in Claremont with my husband for his work as an athletic director. It was commemorating someone for something.

There were going to be players from a team from the 1970s. “Here we go,” I thought. Lots of conversations like, “Remember the grand slam Beaver Cleaver hit to Andy Griffith in that third inning?”

Two men came up from the parking lot with their varsity jackets from that time, and let’s just say they were, at this stage, more decorative than actual outerwear anymore. But I began listening to them talk about that time years ago when they were players and to then hear about how they had gone on to encourage kids like them to play sports and to give to the town and continue the legacy through coaching, volunteering with the recreation department, officiating.

It was impressive. It, too, was about working hard, earning respect and giving back to your community — the same themes emerge in the off-the-cuff conversations every day.

This is precisely why these meetings with strangers are so appealing. They are like a family dinner on a lazy Sunday afternoon. I realized that I have been listening to this conversation long before I ever married a sports guy.

Every weekend of my life, there was a Red Sox game on the radio in the summer. The sounds of Fenway Park and the conversation of the men in the booth were the soundtrack of my childhood, which is why, to this day, I sit in the car or the living room and listen to the two guys chat as the Sox play. I have no idea what they are on about, but it makes me feel happy for some reason. The rhythm is slow and easygoing; occasionally, each guy adds a comment here or there, but there are also companionable silences.

These chance encounters has few rules or obligations. You leave when you leave; no one has to shake hands, trade business cards or share phone information. You just nod, say, “See ya.”

It’s just like comfort food on a beautiful day: delicious, reassuring and sure to put you in a good frame of mind.

Deb Beaupre writes periodically on sports from the parental point-of-view despite the fact that she once referred to uniforms as costumes. She lives in Meriden.