Cheering Mark Grace Shows What is Right and Wrong With Sports

Why as adults are we so fanatical about kids’ games?

It is a question that has plagued me for a few months the way a lack of acting ability plagues Selena Gomez’s career.

Even as grown men and women we spend a plethora of our hard earned disposable, and sometimes non-disposable — income to watch other adults play kids’ games, but why? It is an act that seems to make less sense than the drunk text message you sent to your friend over the weekend. Yet, every week, millions of us pack into stadiums around the country like sheep to watch professional athletes, or the collegiate athletes we still kid ourselves aren’t professionals.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sports bring us joy, or in the Arizona sports fan’s case, joy followed by crushing game or season ending pain. It provides an escape. But are those the sole reasons we dedicate so much of our time to them? I’d argue no.

The real answer hit me like a Mike Tyson punch during a rendition of  Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” after the Arizona Diamondbacks game Saturday. We’re only fans as adults because we miss what we once had as kids and teenagers. We long for a past just out of our grasp like a pass from any of the Cardinals’ quarterbacks over the last three years.

It’s the reason why, on Saturday evening, more people than usual were in attendance for the D-backs’ alumni game, or as it should have been called, the deferred payment game, than a normal weeknight affair. This large crowd gave roaring rounds of applause for the likes of Bernard Gilkey and Russ Ortiz, guys who had never so much as earned a polite round of applause in their playing days. They even cheered for players such as Chris Donnels and others who left no lasting impact on the organization during their cup of coffee here.

Exactly why would these players get as much, if not more, love from the fans than the current roster? The answer is simple, it’s because they remind us of the team we connected with as younger versions of ourselves.

The perfect example of this was the two standing ovations former Diamondback first baseman Mark Grace received from fans. Usually this wouldn’t come as a surprise. He had more big hits in the 2000s than U2 and helped the D-backs beat the dreaded “Mystique and Aura” of the Yankees, and no, not the dancers Curt Schilling was talking about, in the 2001 World Series.That would have been all well and good, if it weren’t for the fact that this former player and broadcaster had been arrested twice for DUIs and had just recently been released from tent city for one of his violations.

Now, I’m all for second chances. God knows if I hadn’t been given more than my fair share of them, my life would be very different right now. But the fact that thousands of people stood up and celebrated a man in such a boisterous fashion on two separate occasions Saturday speaks more about the way they view sports than they feel about Grace as a human being.

Fans look at Grace and remember a younger, more energetic version of themselves who got to experience one of the greatest feelings they’ve had as a sports fan. They don’t think of the now but of the nostalgia for what was and the hope that someday they can recapture something close to that feeling.

If a current player had the same off-the-field problems as Grace, fans would likely treat him like a pariah and have a more visceral reaction than if the player had twerked on stage at the VMAs. They’d likely be calling for a suspension or some type of retribution for sullying their favorite franchise’s good name.

Nostalgia is a funny thing. It makes a then 35-year-old rockstar like Bruce Springsteen write a song entitled “Glory Days.” It was a pop ballad lamenting how great the past and his younger days were, despite having fame, fortune and another 30-plus years of stardom to look forward to. It makes people like you and me listen to (insert-90s alternative band who no longer is popular here) almost two decades after their popularity waned because it reminds us of a different place and time we’d like to escape to or remember.

So why do we pay good money to watch grown men play a kids’ game? Because we connected with these teams and players in our youth. We want to remember those good times, the players and the games that meant so much to us growing up. Will we ever find it again? Probably not, but it can’t hurt to try. It’s pretty much what we do every time we turn on the radio, read a book about the past or watch an old movie we love.