Sweet Sounds for the Sports Fan

This was almost a washout sports night for me.  Yanks and Mets off.  No NBA playoff game. The A’s winning big up in Toronto and the Giants at home hosting the Rockies later on (not a bad matchup, actually). I’ve been relegated to seeing if I can work up an interest in Caps-Ligntning, knotted at 2 after 2 (no, not really).

The evening was saved when I decided to check out Bleacher Report’s Game of Zones.  I don’t know how I’ve managed to sleep on this jewel, but I caught the preview clip last night on the TNT NBA Postgame Show (any one else find that Shaq, Kenny, Chuck and Ernie are the best thing the NBA has going for it?) and it was hysterical.  I just watched the full episode on YouTube and it was laugh-out-loud funny.  I now have a new binge-watch option going forward, as I only watched the most recent show, where cartoon-Clyde tells cartoon-Kristaps a bedtime story.  Must see viewing for any NBA fan or anyone familiar with the horrors of the last 20 years of the New York Knickerbockers history.  And “He Who Shall Not Be Named” (yeah, James Dolan) even makes a cameo (along with Steve Mills, playing a lute, no less) at the end.  Thanks, Bleacher Report — I needed that.

I suppose the sound of my own laughter over the pain that is my favorite NBA franchise qualifies as a sweet sound, but that wasn’t exactly what I was thinking about when the idea for tonight’s post came to me.  But the idea was basketball-related.  In my backyard I have a basketball hoop (like gazillions of other humans).  Every once in a blue moon I heave up a few jumpers, and a couple of years back I made one of my better decisions when I went out and bought a chainlink net for the hoop.

I hit a free throw in between multiple bricks while killing time a little earlier, and it occurred to me that the sound of a basketball swishing through a chainlink net is one of the sweetest sounds in sport.  It transports me.  To schoolyards and parks and the cracked pavement court outside my old college dorm.  And it got me to thinking what other sounds in the world of sports can have that magical effect of instantly making me smile and travel in my head to a happy time.  I came up with a few.

The first-cousin of the chainlink net, of course, comes in an oh so close second in the sweet sounds of hoop-dom.  The nylon swish has it’s own special sound deep in the folds of my rapidly aging brain, and that sound makes me instantly want to find a way to replay it.  Throw up another jumper.  Or turnaround.  Corner-J. From the age of five, when I would throw my too-light, toy, plastic basketball at the hoop at the end of our deadend cul-de-sac (which all too often got stuck in the bottom of the net because the toy ball didn’t weigh enough, forcing me to dislodge it with a rock or a stick…), that sound mesmerized me. Soon I started tossing up shots from all angles (always pretending to be the great Walt “Clyde” Frazier, even penning a blue 10 on a bunch of white t-shirts that never looked the way the Knicks home white unis did that I was trying so hard to replicate), always doing my best to ignore my mom calling me in for dinner because I didn’t want the fun to stop, plus, you know, you have to make the last shot before going in.

Another hoop sound is the organ. Oh, how I harken for the days where 19,812 of us bonded in unison at the MSG organ’s musical urging of DEE-FENSE, DEE-FENSE.  I grew up with that organ, and that chant.  Watching on TV, the camera would actually shake when that chant started late in a close game. The organ and DEE-FENSE regained it’s relevance in the Ewing-Riley days, but it’s been way too long. Fizdale is saying all the right things about old fashioned, New York defense right now.  Here’s hoping it isn’t just talk.

Speaking of the classic organ, it’s a different memory stream, but the same musical instrument, and the baseball organ to me is a staple of a good ballgame experience.  Major points scored off any stadium that doesn’t at least offer recorded organ music. At the AT&T Park “Businessman’s Special” I recently attended, I arrived about an hour before first pitch and the air was filled with organ music.  “Festive and celebratory” are the words I come up with that best describe the feeling of “nowhere to be but the ballpark and loving  it” (and while on the subject of organs, how about a quick shout out to John Paul Jones?  When he would pipe in on the organ on old Led Zeppelin bootleg tracks, it was time to party).  Yeah, the organ.

Sticking with the baseball thread, the sound of that horsehide sphere smacking into a leather mitt is certainly Top 10 Sound material.  Anyone else recall and revel in the subtle differences between the smack of a first baseman’s glove (I had a George Scott autograph model when I played first base in my Little League years), and the pop of the catcher’s mitt when it receives the heater?  The first time I saw a catcher’s mitt I immediately knew I had to have one (little did I know it’s not so easy breaking one of those bad boys in, and once you do, those foul tips really sting — so it was back to the first baseman’s glove for me). Gloves, mitts, Rawlings, Wilson, that nasty oil you had to let soak over night?  Good stuff and good days.

And it’s not just the gloves, right?  The sound of ball on bat when you walk into a stadium is priceless. You’ve arrived.  And that unique “thwack” that signals a ball particularly well struck takes this sound to an even deeper sensory level (except when you hear it while you are in line waiting for the Men’s Room, which begs the question, can someone please explain to me how the Mets could spend all those hundreds of millions of dollars on a new stadium and yet it still takes an inning and a half to take a leak?).

Not to be outdone, the “ping” of aluminum bat on ball signals the National Pastime’s next generation hard at work (talking about Little League again here, not college ball where they shouldn’t be allowed to use aluminum bats — just sayin’).  Something about the innocence and optimism of a bunch of kids playing baseball like I did, and my dad did, and my grandpa before that, can change the trajectory of a not so good day.

Even the sport that elicited more groans (and four letter words) of frustration than any other has it’s place in this discussion.  Once on the green (typically lying 7 or 8), the knowledge that the best sound in golf awaited me often kept me from giving up and “picking up.”  Figure out a way of bottling the soothing sound of golf ball settling into the cup and I’m buying. Putt it out. Great sound.

I would add the bell in boxing, but that wasn’t necessarily a joyous sound. However, for a couple of decades there was little that could get a party started in our old, crowded living room more boisterously than Michael Buffer booming “Let’s Get Ready To Rumble!!” It didn’t matter who you were rooting for in the fight, when Mike grabbed the mic, the room filled with palpable elation and enthusiastic anticipation.

Throw a dollar in the hat and pick a slip of paper that said “Tyson 4” and hope that was the round Iron Mike would dispose of his latest victim (the night he fought Buster Douglas in Tokyo we were all so convinced he would destroy the no-name challenger that all we threw in the hat on the Douglas side of the ledger was one lone slip of paper with the words “Douglas Anytime” printed on it.  I still remember us all laughing derisively at my friend Mark when he pulled that one out of the hat, as well as his full-on celebration and victory dance when Douglas knocked Tyson out of the discussion of all-time great heavyweights).

As much as I don’t pay close attention to the NHL any longer, I feel a responsibility to  include in this conversation the sound of two combatants, skating at high speed and crashing into the boards simultaneously. Hold onto that beer tight if you happen to be in the front row.  That thunderous crashing sound has drenched many a fan.  And not one of them was pissed, either (I guess I should say “angry” there, as many, in fact, were the UK definition of “pissed”).

I’ll end it with the cracking of pads.  Back in high school you knew summer was coming to a close and school was soon back in session when you heard those late-summer, gridiron collisions begin.  The unmistakeable sound of hard, plastic shoulder pad crashing into helmets and more shoulder pads just felt right.  Soon the leaves would be falling, the weather would get cold, Thanksgiving football would be on the horizon and Sunday appointment viewing was on deck.

Lots of great sounds to ponder on a slow sports night.  I’m sure I missed a few, but the real key to me is the “snap/drift” effect that takes place in my head when I hear one of these sacred sounds.  At this stage in my life there aren’t that many triggers that take me to a happier time, but leave it to the world of sports to offer a remedy for that, too.


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