On the EDge: Nostalgia, and all that Jazz

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OPINION — The last time I really paid any attention to the Utah Jazz, it was Stockton-to-Malone all the way.

There was some pretty cool basketball for a couple of years there, that is until the Jazz ran into Michael Jordan in the playoffs and it all went south in a hurry. Even when Jordan had food poisoning one year he was able to make some remarkable plays to snuff the Jazz in the playoffs.

I sort of lost interest in the Jazz and NBA in general about the time some strange teams started showing up in what would have once been thought of as minor league cities at best.

Hockey was always more interesting, anyway for me and I kept up with the Los Angeles Kings for some time – especially that exciting Stanley Cup win a couple seasons ago against the New York Rangers.

Football has sort of fallen to the wayside. I mean, I know it is going to be rough as the Raiders play out the string in Oakland before moving to Las Vegas. And, then there’s always baseball. The talent is about as watered down in Major League Baseball as it is in the NHL or NFL or NBA. Still, those tickets keep going into the stratosphere, so much so that I doubt I will ever make it back inside a stadium to catch a baseball, basketball, football or hockey match. That’s OK, of course, because it is much more comfortable to watch from the couch where the drinks are cheaper and colder and I can sit around and watch the game in my underwear if I so choose.

Besides, I think I’m officially at that curmudgeon stage where I can complain about how these guys would never have made it during the days when Musial and Mantle and Williams and Clemente ruled baseball. Football was a much better sport during the pre-Tom Brady era when quarterbacks called their own plays and defensive linemen were truly something fearsome. As a hockey fan, I lost interest during the Gretzky era because, well I had Esposito, Mikita, LaFleur, Vachon, Orr, Hul and Howe to watch as they flew up and down the ice. And basketball? It just hasn’t been the same since the days of Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, Bob Cousy and the incredible Bill Russell. Bird and Magic were interesting fellows, but were no match for the guys who played the game the way it was designed to be played.

A young friend was talking about the St. Louis Cardinals the other day and I mentioned a lifelong fidelity.

“Oh, you go back to the Mark McGwire days?” he asked.

I then gave him a brief history of the Redbirds from Musial to Bob Gibson, Curt Flood, Ken Boyer, Bill White and a team filled with scrappers who should have won more than they did.

I explained that as a child growing up in St. Louis, I would always ask to go to a Cardinals game for my birthday. Although my mom worked with the team’s doctor and we had regular access to his box seats, for my birthday I would ask Dad to get us bleacher seats, which cost a whopping 75 cents for adults and a quarter for kids.

Baseball was invented to be watched from splintery bleacher seat benches under the hand-operated scoreboard in left field on a pleasant late summer day.

Today you couldn’t even pay for parking with the $2 we paid to get into Sportsmen’s Park back then.

There were only 16 teams in all of Major League Baseball back then, so you can see how the argument about the players being more talented then holds water.

Of course, a lot of talented athletes took a pass on playing pro sports because they could actually make more money doing other things. I remember my Dad telling me about going to an open tryout with the Cardinals once when he was in his early 20s.

They invited him back for a second tryout the next day, telling him they’d sign him to at least a AAA league contract. He said no thanks, that he was making more money doing construction work at the time, that he just wanted to see if he could still play third base and get around on a fastball.

He could and, even in his early 70s he would throw a baseball during a backyard game of catch with enough snap to make it pop nicely in your glove.

This all came back to me after watching just a portion of the Jazz game the other night, a wave of nostalgia for an era that is long gone and never to return.

We never dreamed that pro sports would become so huge, so expensive, so corporate.

There was an outstanding baseball special many years ago that looked at the sport “When It Was A Game.”

Yes, the teams were out to make money then, but there was something more than dollars at stake, a sense of pride.

There was a realistic value attached to what those marvelous athletes earned on the field.

We learned life lessons on dealing with adversity.

We learned we should never give up, that if there was a chance for success, we should go for it because it might be the only shot we had.

And, it left us in good stead.

Have we learned anything positive from the guys on the Jazz or Cardinals, Raiders or any other professional team during this era?

Not really.

Sports at every level has been contaminated.

It used to be about teamwork, lifting each other, finding a common good.

Not now, of course.

From the owners down, it is all singular effect and reason.

We’ve got baseball starting up while hockey and basketball are winding down for the year.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve got a sense of sadness or loss, I don’t know.

But, I’m pretty sure that’s why I don’t follow the Jazz or Cardinals or anybody else like I used to.

It just isn’t the same.

No bad days!

Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Email: edkociela.mx@gmail.com

Twitter: @STGnews, @EdKociela

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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