In the end, it all comes down to the old battle.
Jocks vs. nerds.
Break down all the arguments and counterarguments about baseball returning to Washington and the new stadium that the city plans to build, and you'll find the same old yin-yang matchup. Take a close look at many of the people waving the placards next time there's a protest against the new team and its stadium deal. You'll see flaccid bodies. Eyeglasses. Undulating bellies. Sandals. As far as I'm concerned, these folks' ire is about a lot more than just their taxes going to fund a new stadium. It's all about jock hatred.
I see the protesters as the kids who hid in their lockers in high school when they saw the football team coming down the hall. The ones who watched "Star Trek" reruns in their rooms rather than going to the homecoming game. People like that have a deep reservoir of anger toward those who are the kings of every school, indeed the kings of society: athletes. Somewhere deep in the human DNA is the need to worship those who can play ball. I mean, who's more admired in Washington, Donald Rumsfeld or Sonny Jurgensen?
I can speak on this topic with some authority because I've been on both sides of this divide. I was lucky to be born with good athletic genes -- my grandfather was a baseball player for the Washington Senators -- and I was active in sports as a young kid. I was particularly good, if I may say so, at baseball, winning awards for highest batting average and most versatile player in Little League.
This all changed around the time I entered high school. My father, a journalist for National Geographic (a nerd mag if ever there was one), and my two older brothers were all nerds. One of my brothers is an actor, which, until you break big, is a nerd profession. The other is a museum curator. Under their influence, I learned who the enemy was: the jocks. Those were the arrogant guys, the ones who bullied the weak at school and toilet-papered cheerleaders' houses on the weekends. The ones who got out of class early on the day of a football game. They listened to K.C. and the Sunshine Band; we listened to Dylan. They read Sports Illustrated; we read Marvel Comics. They were Republicans; we were Democrats.
I accepted all this and, like the best of geeks, came to despise the athletes. Yet I couldn't entirely squelch the jock that still lurked inside. Oh, for the first couple years of high school I tried. I wrote for the paper, did stage crew for plays -- I even thought about joining the photography club, a four-star signifier of nerdiness. But it didn't work. After school, I would watch the soccer and football teams scrambling on the fields, knowing in my heart that I could do that, too. I began to feel like I wasn't fulfilling my destiny. What if I was wasting my gifts?
My third year in high school, I decided to go out for the varsity baseball team -- much to the shock of the jocks who considered me a "dink" (short for freaky-dink) more interested in the Beatles and "Catcher in the Rye" than Magic Johnson. Then came the day of tryouts. Taking a deep breath, I stepped up to the plate and did what came naturally (although I must admit that my brothers had taught me the art and science of hitting -- eye on the ball until it hits the bat -- so the nerd factor played a role). I can still recall the jocks' disbelieving faces as I kept sending hits to the outfield. I made the team, starting in right field (I went out for the lamest position, uncertain of how I would stack up after so many dormant years). I never hit a homer, but I did manage a double, driving in a run in a game we won 4-2.
Meanwhile, I had begun to realize something: Jocks are nice guys. Oh, not all of them. Some really are the kind of Neanderthals ridiculed in movies written by nerdy Hollywood screenwriters. But most are not. Guys I was sure were egomaniacs turned out to be friendly, self-deprecating, some even shy.
There was this one hulking kid nicknamed Moose who played every sport from football to wrestling; I once teed him off by saying his resume wasn't going to be a list of academic prizes, just an issue of Sports Illustrated. Then we got to know each other on the baseball team. He was one of the nicest guys in school. He didn't play sports to lord it over other kids; he did it for the sheer love of athleticism. He was always happiest during practice, chasing down fly balls in the outfield.
Then my senior year I did the unthinkable: I went out for the football team. The high school I went to is more gung-ho about football than people in Texas. I made the team, and, believe it or not, I also led in interceptions that year. This obviously pleased the coach -- a man I had been led to believe was a combination of Clint Eastwood and Attila the Hun but who also turned out to be (you guessed it) a nice guy.
My jock days didn't last far into college, but I've never stopped being a fan. Having played organized sports, even on the high school level, I can fully appreciate the astounding ability of professional, and even non-professional, athletes. There's a beautiful baseball field near my home in Maryland where some of the best local college athletes play every summer. Part of the joy in watching them is realizing that while God gave me some spoonfuls of athletic ability, he gave these guys buckets. Having accepted my limits, I can admit what drives many nerds insane: People like Cal Ripken and Martina Navratilova are better than I am, at least in the arena of physical competition.
It helps that my nerd side has never died, either. In fact, it has flourished. My love of the Beatles and Dylan led to a love of Mozart and Beethoven. Marvel Comics were a springboard to "The Lord of the Rings."
So maybe when the new baseball team comes and the new stadium goes up, there'll be room for some compromise. Yes, baseball is played by guys who aren't Nobel laureates. And yet, think about it. Isn't baseball, with its dainty caps, its obsession with statistics and its love of science (there are no "Physics of Football" books that I know of), the nerd-friendliest of all sports? Bow-tied columnist George Will, that inveterate baseball lover, proves it.
D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams -- another bow-tier who seems to be in touch with his inner jock -- has talked about giving away baseball tickets to the disadvantaged when the team gets here next year. He ought to put aside an entire section for high school chess clubs.
Author's e-mail: MJudge8449@aol.com