Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Sports and Radiance: A Tribute to Eduardo Galeano

The Uruguyan writer Eduardo Galeano died this week. Though he wrote many books, I know him best as the author of Soccer in Sun and Shadow, one of the most beautiful works of sportswriting I have ever read.
The history of soccer is a sad voyage from beauty to duty. . . . Nobody earns a thing from that crazy feeling that for a moment turns a man into a child playing with a balloon, like a cat with a ball of yarn; a ballet dancer who romps with a ball as light as a balloon or a ball of yarn, playing without even knowing he's playing, with no purpose or clock or referee.
I was thinking about Galeano's book as I listened to the Boston Red Sox play their home opener yesterday. In the top of the first inning, a rookie center fielder named Mookie Betts leaped at the wall and caught what could have easily been a two-run homer. In the bottom of the first, he worked a walk and then stole two bases on the same play. In the bottom of the second, he hit a three-run homer.
The ball seeks him out, knows him, needs him. She rests and rocks on the top of his foot. He caresses her and makes her speak, and in that tête-à-tête millions of mutes converse.
Galeano wrote about soccer, but his words transcend the game. Sports, for all their corruption, falsity, and gilded pointlessness, allow us to adore, for a few hours, a few moments, "the carnal delight of embracing the forbidden adventure of freedom."
When the game is over, the fan, who has not moved from the stands, celebrates his victory: "What a goal we scored," "What a beating we gave them." Or he cries over his defeat: "They swindled us again," "Thief of a referee." And then the sun goes down and so does the fan. Shadows fall over the emptying stadium. On the concrete terracing, a few fleeting bonfires burn, while the lights and voices fade. The stadium is left alone and the fan, too, returns to his solitude: to the I who had been we.
By chance, my father was in the stands in Pittsburgh, in 1960, at the seventh game of the World Series, when Bill Mazeroski launched a spectacular ninth-inning home run and the Pirates beat the Yankees 10 to 9. What else in a life can compare with that instant? And yet my father had nothing to do with Mazeroski's action. He merely watched it happen.

The ball laughs, radiant, in the air. He brings her down, puts her to sleep, showers her with compliments, dances with her, and seeing such things never before seen, his admirers pity their unborn grandchildren who will never see them.

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