“No Joy in Mudville”

illustration by Kadir Nelson

When my wife Judy Birdsong received her death-sentence diagnosis of Peripheral T-Cell Lymphoma, I swore to myself that I’d never again let the outcome of a sporting event darken an otherwise sunny day. After all, just a few months before, I had allowed the season-ending injury to Gamecock running back Marcus Lattimore ruin an otherwise glorious afternoon in the mountain town of Saluda, North Carolina. Judy was healthy, bees were flitting among the flowers outside the loft we had rented, and the trees were, as Yeats put it, “in their autumn beauty,” a canopy of orange and gold beneath a deep blue cloudless sky. But there I was sullenly obsessing about a mere athletic event, a tribal association I have with a perpetually underperforming football team, peace and joy squandered, preempted by my agonizing over a goddamned sporting event.[1]

So I more or less gave up following sports, which given the cursed programs I pull for, including not only the hapless Gamecocks, but also the Atlanta sports franchises, was an act of wisdom. For me, “the thrill of victory” doesn’t compensate for the agony of defeat.” 

I followed the Atlanta Braves so religiously in the 90s that I would score the games at home as I watched them on TBS, my boys sitting watching with me as Judy puttered around peeking in every now and then. Eventually, it occurred to me that watching them wasn’t bringing me happiness but instigating anxiety. So I quit cold turkey.

Alas and alack! I’ve fallen off the wagon, have started following the Braves again! And the Gamecocks!

Friday night, instead of going to the Moonlight Drive-In with my wife Caroline and stepdaughter Brooks, I opted to stay at Folly to have my hopes dashed as the Braves squandered a two-run lead with poor base-running and relief pitching in a game had they won would have landed them in the World Series. They had triumphed the night before, which felt pretty good, but didn’t have me awakening in the middle of the night with a warm glow of serenity. 

In the wee hours of Saturday morning, however, my inner superintendent switched on the lights of my consciousness, and the first thing I thought of was the Braves’ defeat. There next to me lay Caroline, fast asleep, looking angelic with her glorious hair cascading from her pillow, and there I was dyspeptic, again allowing what should be a happy moment shadowed by the missteps of multimillionaires playing a game.

I say Fie on it! Fie I say! 

[1] By the way, the Gamecocks play Auburn Saturday, a team they haven’t beaten since 1933.