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Losing on a big stage. Weeds, 2/8/12

February 11, 2012 - Randy Krzmarzick
A couple Sundays ago, I watched the end of the AFC and NFC championship games. If you’re a football fan, you know they were hard-fought, basically even games. The Giants and Patriots won; but it may be more accurate to say the Ravens and 49ers lost.

Amid the couple hundred plays that day, the games turned on three mistakes. Lee Evans dropped a game winning touchdown for Baltimore and then Billy Cundiff missed a short field goal that would have tied it. Four hours later, Kyle Williams muffed a punt for San Francisco that gave the winning field goal to New York.

On the giant screens of today with their brilliant clarity, the angst and dread on the players’ faces was there for the world to see, literally. Millions of us winced and had to feel some sympathy for them. By all accounts, the three were standup men afterwards, Evans said, “Honestly, the most disappointing part of all this is that I feel personally that I let everybody down. Yeah, it's on my shoulders. It's as tough as it gets.” Ouch.

We’ve all been there, we’ve all screwed up. For most of us, there aren’t millions watching on television. In 20 years, some guys sitting around in a bar aren’t going to say, “Remember when Krzmarzick planted those soybeans too shallow. What a bum.” There aren’t 100 YouTube videos labeled “Randy Krzmarzick letting down his kid.” And we don’t have to face 300 reporters… maybe just our dad, or our wife. But the emotions are the same: “Ya. I know I got that wrong. I want to go crawl in a hole now.”

We celebrate winners. But in sports, there’s a loser for each winner. When the loser’s on a big stage, we cringe, but can’t help watching, rubbernecking. After the World Series ends, the network pulls away from the winning locker room for a couple minutes with the losing manager. There, the poor guy is up against the hallway wall, the lights are pale, and his face is ashen. In the eerie silence around him, he’s doing about the last thing on earth he wants to do. Detroit manager Jimmy Leyland does this sort of torture better than anyone else. Leyland looks miserable even if his team won the game. When he gets to do one of these death-warmed-over interviews, you just want to say to him “That’s OK, Jim. Why don’t you just go outside and have a cigarette?”

Then there’s the candidate who just lost the election. The cameras go to the hotel ballroom after CNN projects his defeat. His supporters cheer gamely, and he steps to the microphone and vows to keep fighting for our nation. And you think, “No. Fifty million people just voted for the other guy. You should just go home, maybe stop at Cenex, pick up a video and some Little Debbies. The rest of us’ll fight for our nation for a while.”

My son, Ezra plays hockey and soccer, sports where there are sometimes ties. Players, coaches, and fans don’t quite know how to act after a tie. We learn how to be good winners and losers, but how do you be a good tie-er? “Hey, great game! Back and forth, fun to watch!” “Um, sure” is about all Ezra says. I sort of like ties. But I suppose it wouldn’t have worked out for the Giants and 49ers to say, “OK, we beat on each other for 60 minutes. How about we call it even?”

Maybe I like ties, because I’ve known losing quite a lot. For a long time, I played softball. I can pitch a little, and always found some team that would have me. It was never the best teams; they wanted someone who could pitch AND hit and field.

Most of those years in Sleepy Eye, Whitey’s All Stars was a collection of, well, All Stars. When they were on the schedule, the most my team could look forward to was a little exercise, an evening away from the wife, a couple of beers after the game; winning was only hypothetically possible. I pitched low, and they hit a homerun. I threw a big arc, and they hit a homerun. I’d throw outside, and …you get the picture. Later, the league installed a five-homerun limit. That just meant the All Stars would get their five homeruns out of the way, and spend the rest of the game battering the outfield fence like it was the beach at Normandy.

My team lost to them maybe 40 or 50 times, and the All Stars always seemed slightly disinterested when they played us. Playing us was probably like reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar to your 3-year-old for the 500th time; you pretty much knew how it would end.

There was one near miracle when a plucky Zinniel Tree Service team I was on somehow found ourselves in the winner’s bracket of a tournament and had to go up against Whitey’s on Sunday morning at 9:00. They appeared to have celebrated a bit much the night before, and somehow we were ahead late in the game.

Then, just as the Earth was about to tilt off its axis, I threw a fat, middle-of-the-plate pitch to slugger Kim Mertz, who hit it 1,000 feet up and 270 feet out. When it landed, it boinked directly on top of the center field fence, straight up…and over the fence. We lost; order was restored in the universe. After the game, I said to the guys, “Honestly, the most disappointing part of all this is that I feel personally that I let everybody down. Yeah, it's on my shoulders. It's as tough as it gets.”


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