Thursday, January 19, 2012

An Ode to Big Fat Athletes

Throughout almost my entire life, I've been working under a pretty onerous conflict. I love sports. You might say I'm an enthusiast. You might say I'm a fanatic. From playing HORSE to going to Gillette Stadium to watching a Babe Ruth-level baseball game in which I know none of the players while sipping a soft beverage and somehow not being creepy at all, I cannot get enough. If someone were to ask me what my passions are, or what I really care about, I would probably say my family, or perhaps something like "inequality" or "poverty." But in reality, I spend more time thinking about sports than all those things combined. Probably by a factor of about 5.

The conflict arises, however, from my physique. Indeed, even calling what I'm carrying with me a physique is insulting to the word "physique." Sure, my boyish good looks get me by, and yeah, I laugh at myself all the time, but the truth remains: I'm a big fat guy. No shame...just a fact. "Sports" and "being a big fat guy" do not, as you can imagine, overlap to a large degree. They're pretty much in their separate worlds. Sure, ESPN tries to pretend that those worlds intersect every Fourth of July at Nathan's on Coney Island, but let's face it...that's not sports. Being a big fat guy does not help you out in sports. Except...

There are those athletes who transcend those two realities. There are those athletes that achieve the highest level of athletic achievement that they can possibly achieve, until they can achieve no more, and yet, they are still big fat guys. These men give me a reason to hope, a reason to continue living my life the way I do. I love them. They give my life meaning, and they give me license to be the person I am. If you help me rationalize being the person that I am, I'm going to love you. That's the rules.

I know what you're saying. You're saying, "But sir, what about offensive linemen? And even some defensive linemen? Pretty much all of them are fat!" TRUE! Offensive linemen and certain nose tackles (Vince Wilforks) are, indeed, fat people. No argument there. There is, however, a distinction between being "fat" and being "a big fat guy." Vince Wilfork could beat you in a 40-yard dash. Vince Wilfork is probably a really good break dancer. Vince Wilfork uses his quickness, his feet, his body control, and his size to plow through offensive linemen and murder running backs. Vince Wilfork is good in large part because he's fat, and in large part despite the fact that he's fat. Fat people are supposed to be slow, and Vince Wilfork, in the grand scheme of things, is not slow. Fat people are supposed to thwomp around, but Vince Wilfork is light on his feet. He's fat because he can be, because he should be. Vince Wilfork is not a big fat guy.

A big fat guy is someone who just eats too much and gets fat. A big fat guy doesn't exercise enough, puts several kinds of cheese on everything he eats, and needs multiple attempts to get up from a couch (or at least some leverage for Christ's sake). If a big fat guy wore a pair of briefs for a day, those briefs would be completely soaked, yellow, and two-thirds disintegrated at bedtime. The average offensive lineman wouldn't disintegrate a pair of briefs after a day. A big fat guy would.

The list of "big fat guy" athletes is an interesting one. The king of the big fat guy athletes is, of course, Babe Ruth. It seems almost trite to talk about how he ate 15 dozen hot dogs between at bats back in his playing days. The only athlete I've ever heard of that eats as much as Babe Ruth did is Michael Phelps, and Michael Phelps doesn't sleep. He only works out. He only swims. He only burns calories. If he didn't eat at a Ruthian pace, he'd disappear into the atmosphere. Babe Ruth did not burn calories all the time. In fact, he barely burned any calories at all. Six times per week, for less than seven months out of the year, Babe Ruth plopped himself in right field for a couple of hours, trotted to the plate four times, and then slowly thwomped around the bases once or twice. This hardly justifies the 6 pack between innings. Babe Ruth was a big fat guy through and through. He probably singlehandedly caused the obesity epidemic in America. People looked at him and thought 'Gee whiz...if that big ol' fat ol' drink of water can doopsie doodle those home runs right outta the ol' ballpark, imagine what I, Irving Stoudebaker, could do with that kinda tonnage! I'll be tremendous in girth just like the Babe!' That is EXACTLY how people talked in the '20s.

If Babe Ruth is the king of the big fat guys, then Shaquille O'Neal is the prince. I don't care how tall you are; if you're 400 pounds and you're playing BASKETBALL, you're a big fat guy. And speaking of "prince," the Fielders are the greatest big fat guy family in sports history. Cecil went from being thin to being the fattest guy in baseball, and his son Prince just came fat and is staying fat. When C.C. Sabathia and Prince Fielder were on the same team...well, let's just say all was right in the world when those two played in Milwaukee, the big fat guy capital of the world. I'd also like to give a shout-out to Marcos Baghdatis, whose recent tantrum at the Australian Open gave me the idea for this post. He is the fattest tennis player I've ever seen. He certainly is no Fielder, but if tennis players were baseball players, Marcos Baghdatis would be that Hawaiian guy who sings "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

These athletes are all, of course, awesome at the sports they play. The even more interesting big fat guys are the ones who actually suck, or at least guys who are good but could be better if they weren't such big fat guys. David Wells is the king of this category, but Mike Fetters comes to mind, along with DeJuan Blair and John Daly. These guys make the dream attainable for guys like me. If John Kruk can have a nice career and even be an All-Star, I can certainly be a decent Major Leaguer. Certainly.

The most recent example that I can think of to illustrate my love for fat guys is Dennys Reyes. Dennys Reyes has played 15 MLB seasons as a relief pitcher. He was good some years, bad for others. Sort of an average pitcher, but for fifteen years. I, a big baseball fan, had heard of him, but wasn't really aware of him before he played for my team (the Red Sox) last year. He pitched in four games before being cut by the Red Sox in 2011. He's listed at 6-3, 250 pounds. Calling him 250 pounds is like calling Michael Bay a good filmmaker. Dennys Reyes is 800 pounds. Well...he's way closer to 350 than he is to 200, let's put it that way. If this guy can play 15 Major League Seasons, then anything is possible. I love you, big fat guys. And, ipso facto, I love myself.

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