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Warning: I'm rambling for the next hour here.

In between sports writing and sports viewing and sleeping this past weekend, I was able to do some late-night reading; obviously with the sci-fi novel well underway (four chapters completed as of last night), my late-night reading under the lights will be what I've already written.

Most of you know what I do when I'm not working on a novel: I write about high school and Division 3 college sports, and in addition, I watch quite a bit of sports for leisure. A few years ago, I started really getting into soccer, or football as they say in Britain (one week later, Jenni is still saying to herself, "Sean likes soccer? Wow."). I chose to follow the Arsenal F.C., one of the top clubs in London. Bill Simmons of ESPN.com likened them to the Red Sox; in addition, in a little nice piece of symmetry, both the Red Sox and Arsenal won titles in 2004.

But that's not all: the Arsenal and the Red Sox also share a little bit of literary/cinematic scope with each other. The movie Fever Pitch, released in 2005, is about a Red Sox fan and a chick he begins to see; to tell you the truth, I own the movie, but I've never watched a minute of it. The book Fever Pitch, by Nick Hornby, is about Hornby's love of the Arsenal. After buying Hornby's novel two years ago, I finally got to read it this past weekend (have you seen the number of books I own? Do you really think I can read them all? Don't put a ton of pressure on me like that.).

In a nutshell, Fever Pitch is a fan's tale about his boyhood idols at Highbury and how that idoltry became an obsession, and how his moods were reflective on how the Gunners were performing in the First Division. Eventually, Hornby grew out of his obsession called Arsenal; while he has outgrown that part of his life, he still is a fan and regularly attends games. Of course, whether or not he carried his tickets for The Arse over to The Emirates after Arsenal left Highbury three seasons ago remains to be seen. Let's presume he did. Oh well.

While I was reading it, I found many similarities between myself and my local sports teams (the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, Bruins) and Hornby and Arsenal, as well as Cambridge United, a club he also supported while at university. We discovered our sports teams at a young age (I was 8 when I first went to Fenway; now I haven't been to a Red Sox game since I took my nephew Christian some nine years ago), we followed them obsessively through our teen years and into our 20s. Then, at some point in his 30s, he began to realize that his obsession with Arsenal was (gasp!) unhealthy.

That was a thought that stunned me. Here I am, a 31-year-old male, with a deep obsession for sports. After all, sports is in my blood. Sports puts food in my stomach, puts gas in my car. I watch sports to be a better sports writer; after all, the more you know about a sport, the better you can write about it. Obviously, I know that now: do you really think I started following Arsenal just to learn how to write more compelling soccer prose? No, not really. That was not my intent whatsoever. I just wanted to see what was so interesting about this sport I derisively called kickball throughout high school. And I'll tell you: I got hooked. After one season, I wanted the next season to begin. I learned about promotion and relegation. After my second season, I began to actively monitor the transfer window. However, after reading two-plus seasons worth of recaps on the BBC Web site and picking up quite a bit of lingo, such as "cautioned," "from the spot," "off the woodwork," "in the center/right/left channel," I've learned to incorporate that into my writing to make the story more believable. It makes me a more reliable reporter, especially when there aren't many reporters here who like soccer.

What really got me thinking was this: have I been postponing that so-called real life because I'm still doing something that I enjoy? Listen, I've been a sports writer since the age of 16. When I was 16, my writing was crap. Somehow, I improved enough to the point where I was writing better (I remember back in the Fall of 1999 where I wrote a very wordy lead for a Fitchburg State football game, a game the Falcons won in overtime; I'm really thinking that one story is where I turned the corner as a sports writer and made me believe this was something I could do for a living). Of course, that same Fall I was covering a lot of games because it was only myself and the sports editor. You can only improve with repetitiveness, and my life was a never-ending cycle of games. I never complained, because I was getting good games, I was improving, and I was making money.

But postponing real life? That was something I had never thought about before. Sports writing is my job, even though it is part time right now. The only papers that are hiring for sports writers are nowhere close to Massachusetts, and since I'm relatively broke, I can't afford a move right now. In addition, with the state of newspapers right now, I'd probably also be the first to get laid off if I were to get a new job; I've already been laid off twice in the past two years, and I don't think my presently fragile psyche could take that torment and depression (yes, the layoffs sent me into long bouts of depression) again. While reading, I was wondering if it is time to lay my childishness aside and get something that I despise that will pay me more than the money I'm getting right now; it's the first time that I've really given in any consideration. Truthfully, I don't want to do that: with my gross attention span or lack thereof, if I were to slack off at a job that I don't really have all of my heart into, I'd more than likely end up getting fired. I'm also too old to work at the mall; besides, I've already done the mall thing. It's overrated. What to do, what to do.

I also figured that it was time that my obsession with the Red Sox, the Celtics, the Bruins and the Patriots must also end at some point. I'm 31. I haven't been to a game in the flesh in years (Red Sox 9 years ago, Bruins 7, Patriots 11, Celtics 2). The only time I see them is on TV. Sometimes I don't even feel like watching them. One team isn't really that good, always tugging its fans toward hope and then dashing their dreams at the very end. It's happened so many times in Boston sports that I thought I would never watch another Red Sox game after Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS (see also: Turning Back The Clock, whenever I release it). Two weeks ago, I was throwing my hat in frustration at a child's birthday party when the hated Miami Dolphins ran the same bloody play over and over and over again to beat the Patriots (I kept my language in check). And just last weekend, I watched Arsenal try to play for the perfect goal against Hull City and saw the Gunners lose to the Premier League new boys, 1-2 at home. I was frustrated beyond belief; even more frustrated than when Arsenal was robbed in the Champion's League this past Spring. And this past Sunday, I openly spoke of the Patriots' flaws on the offensive line (and have since before the Super Bowl). Hell, I've openly spoken of the Red Sox' flaws in the bullpen (gee, didn't THAT almost come back to bite us in the ass last night?).

It makes me ask myself: does sports really matter this much? And the answer is: of course they do. Sports is a way to escape from the hellish realities of our current world. Our troops listen to games on the Armed Forces Radio Network. When our country was attacked seven years ago, we needed football and baseball to return so that we could get some semblance of normalcy back into our lives after a week where nothing was normal.

That's what it is like to be a fan: to wait with baited breath for the next game, the next play, the next home run, the next touchdown, the next goal. Right now, I just watched my Red Sox hold off the Angels in the fourth game of the American League Division Series, one day after watching the Angels beat the Red Sox for the first time in the postseason since Game 4 of the 1986 American League Championship Series. Now I await the 2008 ALCS. And the 2008 NLCS. And the World Series. Arsenal's next match, which is next weekend. The Bruins face off in Denver on Thursday. The Patriots are at the Chargers on Sunday. It's international week in soccer. And I will be watching because that is what I do.

I can't give any of this up. Call me a loser, call me pathetic, call me someone who refused to grow up.

If you don't like it, that's your problem. It's my life, and I like my life the way it is.

www.johnfitchv.com

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