True Bromance

You had me at hola, Ozzie.

I don’t know if I’m the only one that’s noticed, but it seems like this country has got a bunch of problems. There is economic turmoil, rampant drug abuse, a failing education system and the Kardashians. Conservatives and liberals do battle every day in the media in a civil war over who is to blame for all this trouble.

They fight each other instead of working together to find a solution. The United States – and really the entire free world – has a history of this sort of intolerance and unwillingness to see the other guy’s side and then compromise.

Sometimes people just can’t see past their differences: left, right, men, women, whites, blacks, browns, yellows, fatties, skinnies, midgets, giants, prudes, pervs. And there are also different religions and sexual orientations and sports affiliations that make us all appear different. But are we really so different? Okay, that guy is a Braves fan – but he is a baseball fan! And that guy has darker skin than you – but he has skin! Those are similarities that need to be embraced.

We need to be more tolerant toward our fellow man and women – except for homeless people, of course. (Don’t worry, it’s not like a homeless person is ever going to read this. It’s on the Internet. And while homeless guys definitely use the bathroom at Starbucks, they don’t use the wifi.)

One area of intolerance that is still quite troublesome in this country is sexual orientation. And, like most intolerance, it is born out of ignorance and in many cases by hypocrisy when really, once again, we are all not quite so different from each other. I’m not talking about the hypocritical politicians who denounce homosexuality with “it’s an unnatural abomination” and gay marriage with “the next thing you know they’ll want to marry a cat or a washing machine” in order to be elected, only to later be found to secretly be quite the enthusiast for those activities. I’m talking about a deeper love than even the machoest of the machoest heterosexuals are powerless to avoid:

Um, Gary, I said "Man Crush" not "ass grab."

The Man Crush.

It’s that very special feeling that one man has for an athlete who performs at the highest level of skill and looks so good doing it. You never know when it will strike and it happens when you least expect. You’re minding your own business and then, out of the clear blue sky, you see a player with the perfect combination of speed and strength and physical competence who just makes you think “yes.” It’s nothing against other players who are faster or stronger of even better looking – they’re just not your type.

Women love athletes for their reasons – cute butts, I’m told, are important. There are also strong jaw lines and rock-hard physiques that factor in. With men, it’s more the slam dunks, touchdown passes and home runs that get our blood boiling.

My wife and I did one of those “if” lists. You know, where you make a list of celebrities who, if you had the chance, you could have sex with them. It’s just one of those weird things that couples do nowadays that helps speed up the divorce process. Anyway, my wife and I thought we would be cute and choose another couple: Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen. Cute, right? Obviously it will never happen, but if it does, I hope Tom is everything I imagine he’d be.

The man crush is really quite a remarkable thing. It can cross lines that have long kept people apart, like race, religion and even the most taboo-est of all: favorite teams. Yes, it’s shocking, but a man crush doesn’t care about skin color, who or what you worship, or the jersey on your back. My grandfather was a lifelong Red Sox fan, but one of his favorite players of all time was the New York Yankees’ Mickey Mantle. I was shocked to hear this. But I understood.

Based on no research or study whatsoever, I think this infatuation happens more in baseball than in the other major sports. Maybe it’s because you can see their faces or maybe it’s the way they hold that long, hard wood bat so firmly. When your “guy” is batting or pitching, you can’t change the channel, there’s no bathroom breaks allowed and your wife and her precious “dinner” will have to wait. All that matters is you and your player, and then when he smashes a home run to win the game – swoon.

Sometimes a whole city can have a man crush on a player where everyone falls in love with his combination of professional skill and personal charm. Manny Ramirez and his unbelievable talent and goofy persona infatuated Cleveland, then Boston and then Los Angeles (and now Nowheresville).

Like any other truly deep love, a man crush blinds you. It makes you look past the red flags, problems and flaws that other players have. He’s in a batting slump? “It happens to everyone.” Steroids? “Everyone was doing them.” Drunk driving? “Nobody got hurt. And besides, he’s one of the single greatest athletic specimens this planet has ever seen and he was just letting off some steam!”

The man crush isn’t really about looks. Well, maybe it is – a little bit. I mean there are lots of ugly players that guys have had man crushes on throughout the years. Babe Ruth was a heck of a ballplayer and men adored him, but that was one ugly dude. It’s like if you go to a strip club enough times, at a certain point you get past physical appearances of the girls and it’s just about skill (except for that one girl with the mole on her right breast – really, you can’t get that removed?).

This isn’t about wanting to have sex with the player so much as being willing to have sex with them. Well, maybe not actual sex, but definitely cuddling and some heavy petting.

Look, I’d totally have a normal “man-woman” crush if a woman was out there playing baseball, but there are just guys out there. (Editors note: Really, Jed?) (Note to editor: Of course.) (Editor’s note: What about the WNBA or tennis or golf?) (Note to editor: Okay, yeah, I’d still be into the dudes.)

A hug from Mike Piazza? One can only dream ... (Kathy Willens/Associated Press)

Just as with any other sports fan, my past is strewn with man crushes. Sometimes they end well and we go our separate ways. Mike Piazza was my first real infatuation – right away I knew he was a special catcher with his home run power and that amazing mustache. And there was Nomar Garciaparra – the gritty shortstop who could hit the ball hard and play defense. And sometimes it ends terribly and there’s bitter resentment that lasts forever. Roger Clemens was my Rocket Man who captivated me with his fierce bravado and flaming fastball. And then he turned into a cheating whore of an ex that just goes around seeking validation in the form of cheap, meaningless relationships with a long list of teams (a lot like one of my actual ex-girlfriends – she knows who she is).

These days I’m carrying a torch for two players who both have that bad-boy vibe thing going: Matt Kemp of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers, two insanely gifted athletes. Josh has the dark past with overcoming drugs and alcohol where you want to help save him. Matt has that out-of-control combination of speed and strength and he just needs to focus to achieve his potential. And with me cheering them on, I think they’re going to be great.

I’m looking back over what I’ve written here and I feel like I’ve maybe given you way too much TMI. And there’s a really good chance I’ll be receiving some restraining orders. I hope I haven’t creeped you out with this stuff and I hope you’ll have the decency to keep this between you and me.

So, next time you see some TV guy or political pundit screaming at the top of their lungs about how pure and righteous they are and how people who are different, like gays and lesbians, are wrong, just know that that guy needs to be more tolerant and he probably just wants to be held so very close and so very tenderly by his favorite ballplayer.

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