Every person that has invested any blood, sweat, tears, time, or money into the sports world has one thing in common with every other sports fan. Everyone has rivalries. The great thing about rivalries is that every single matchup is different. The animosity between two teams or two cities is like a virus that spreads into the cameras of national television. In my opinion, I think that rivalries are a necessity for sports and on a side note, I love them.
Although rivalries are unique in each way, every sport has them. The Green Bay Packers versus the Chicago Bears, the Boston Red Sox versus the New York Yankees, even Manchester City versus Manchester United are some examples. Heck, you don’t even need a team to have a rival; the wind can be your rival when nature calls if you catch my drift. One of the best questions that has been asked and televised for years is, “which rivalry is the best one?”
Football, baseball, soccer, hockey, and nameless other sports come into mind right away after hearing that question. But stop your thinking. Don’t try to remember the team on TV that had the bloodiest and longest game in your lifetime. Instead, remember the game that you invested your blood and time into the game. Recall that one situation where you had nothing else on your mind except defeating that opponent at whatever cost.
It was my first year of fall baseball. The Pittsburgh Travelers, a city based club that had recruited and collected numerous players from across the city leagues, hadn’t won that many games all year. When you have low-funded teams competing against suburban well-funded teams, talent only takes you so far. We had been pummeled by many groups of well trained players and classy clubs. But we hadn’t taken a beating like we did against the Bethel Park Hawks. It wasn’t so much that we just lost the game, but the final score seemed like a one-sided basketball game. Moreover, the players just scoffed at us. To them, we were the poor city kids. If my memory serves me correctly, the most frequent denigrating term used by the whole team was “city scum.” The team included the players, coaches, and shockingly, the parents. We lost the game and seemed to lose our pride along with our dignity.
Fast-forwarding through the season, we participated in playoffs. I believe every team did and considering our season record, I’m positive that that would be the only way we were in the brackets. Our first opponent was none other than the Hawks.
That frost-bitten morning was quite miserable. The Hawks wore Under Armour that early morning while we stuffed sweatshirts into our ball bags. I remember squatting in the dish, catching a curveball when a few snowflakes melted in the rock-solid dirt. The game was intense. This preexisting rivalry had been built up before the game by the exchange of glances, words, gestures too. The score was 0-0 throughout the entire game, when the Hawks scored the first run in the fifth inning. The Travelers didn’t seem to back off just yet as we scored three runs in the sixth inning. With a 3-1 score in the bottom of the seventh, our pitcher walked the lead-off batter. A groundball from the next batter allowed us to get the lead runner and one out in the final inning.
Even though the thirty degree weather made me see my breath, I didn’t want anything to stop this run towards victory. Every sting of that bat on ball and every red hand from that pitch missing the pocket of my mitt made the desire to win stronger. I wanted to win, but I wanted to taste the victory. Now, it was my turn. One out and the runner tried to steal. But my cannon of an arm contributed the second out of the final inning (mind the boasting). Strike three was called on the fourth pitch of the next batter, and we all ran to the mound celebrating. It was we, the poor city boys, who knocked off the Bethel Park Hawks.
To me, the best rivalry is the one in which I can be involved. It’s the competition between two groups or individuals that have contributed and invested so much. No other game means nearly as much.
After losing so much early on in the season, the Pittsburgh Travelers wanted more. We wanted just one more matchup. Eventually, we got that matchup and we triumphed over our most heated opposition. And on that day, in that moment and never again were we their “city scum.” It is the agony and the anguish of losing that manifests the idea that another is better. This is the though that creates a rivalry. No matter the outcome of the previous battle, that torture leaves one wanting more.