Many of the writers you'll read in The Globe and Mail this weekend have actually reported war stories. Mine involves the Toronto Blue Jays.
Oct. 23, 1993. I was about six months into my job as a news reporter for a rock 'n' roll radio station – back when rock radio stations had reporters – and drew the Saturday night assignment of hanging around outside game six of the Jays-Phillies World Series, in case the Jays took it – and won the series.
Sitting in the station's community cruiser outside the SkyDome, listening to the radio broadcast, it did not appear that my reporting services would be required that night. The Jays were down 6-5 in the bottom of the ninth inning, with one out.
And then, you know: Joe Carter at the plate, a 2-2 count, the crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd – the mad, fireworks-lit jubilation. I threw the van into drive and headed for Yonge Street, where Toronto parties after a big win.
Things were fine initially. The crowd was ecstatic, Whoomp! (There It Is) seemed to be blasting from every vehicle (but mine), and every now and then I hauled out my hefty Motorola flip phone and called in a live radio report.
But at some point on Queen Street, a couple of celebrants climbed on top of the community cruiser, parade-float style. Others joined. A dance party broke out on the roof of my van while I shook my little fist out the window and implored them to get the heck off (I might not have said "heck").
Their departure from the roof occurred when the thing caved in; the sickening crunch of the collapse followed by the appearance of shoes, then legs and torsos in my rear-view mirror while I screamed myself hoarse.
This sounds funny now, but that night, in the wall-to-wall crowd, it was terrifying. I felt physically vulnerable and was also worried about my job.
All was well: The van was fixed, I was unhurt and I received concern back at the office rather than my walking papers.
And the Blue Jays had won the World Series. Again.
Some of us are old enough to remember it all: the giant TVs wheeled into our 1977 classrooms so we could watch history play out in the snow at Exhibition Stadium; the opening of the SkyDome (now Rogers Centre); the first World Series win; that repeat in '93.
And now this.
Like, I suspect, a few others caught up in the whirl of this storied Blue Jays run, I am hardly a rabid sports fan.
In fact, I don't quite get why people identify with a team that really, other than geography, has nothing to do with them. If the Leafs or the Lions win or lose, what is the actual impact on my life? The credit clearly does not belong to me, so why should the good feeling about the victory?
"There is a part of our psyche that's occupied by our avocations and that becomes part of our total self-definition," explains Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a psychology professor at University of Massachusetts Amherst, who has an interest in spectator sports and psychology.
"For some people, if you could dig into their brains and look at their identities and how they're made up of different parts of their lives past and present … the sports team occupies a little chunk and it's just a part of who you are," adds Prof. Whitbourne, who has studied adult identity.
My personal connection to spectator sports (beyond risking life and limb for late-night radio reports) is more what she calls the absorption factor. Despite my very casual fandom, they have created a haven for me in times of crisis.
When my father died unexpectedly days after my 18th birthday, it was summer and I had nothing but time on my hands. We were observing Jewish mourning customs and I read that for a period, as the only television allowed was news or sports coverage. The 1984 Summer Olympics came to my rescue. For stretches at a time, the likes of Alex Baumann and Mary Lou Retton distracted me from my grief.
Years later, watching golf got me through a bad breakup. The Turin Olympics were a distraction after my mother died.
I think televised sports have become a balm in troubled times precisely because it doesn't matter who wins. I can get caught up in the drama on the field or the ice, whisked away to a pseudo-reality where I will feel good (inexplicably) if my team wins – and if they lose, it really has zero effect.
Look, I love the poetry of baseball. The game has inspired some beautiful writing and given Kevin Costner his two best roles. But it's a time commitment I just can't make these days. (I have, however, become a fan of Blue Jays in 30.)
And despite having followed hockey (loosely) since childhood, I can't imagine taking the family to a game. The cost! And the violence. It's not the fighting on the ice I want to shield the kids from as much as the glee in the stands when the gloves drop.
We know a bit about hockey-related violence here in Vancouver, where I've lived since 2007. When the Canucks lost the 2011 Stanley Cup and some idiots rioted, I was away in Banff, Alta. – glued to the coverage from my motel room.
The next day, driving back to Calgary, I listened to a radio call-in show as listeners trashed Vancouver. I was incensed. The rioting was not indicative of my city!
My city. For the first time, I identified as a Vancouverite, not a transplanted Torontonian. Vancouver had become home.
Sports may not have shaped my identity, but on that Alberta highway, they helped lead to that epiphany about who I had become.