Basserman, Cuba and true sports passion

Saturday, March 18: A cool, spring day in San Diego. I sit with my father high in the right field bleachers of Petco Park. Watching the first of two World Baseball Classic semifinal games, I am excited by the patriotic passion and pageantry displayed by the Cuban and Dominican fans.

“Now batting, the second baseman, number 10, Juli Gourriel,” and then the Hispanic echo replied, “Ahora, secundo base, numero dies, Yuli Gourriel.” In either language, the feelings and emotions remain completely transparent. Gourriel singles to start the seventh inning and sparks the three-run rally that gives pitcher, or “lancador,” Pedro Luis Lazo the only cushion he will need to finish off the vaunted Dominican lineup. The rally is accompanied by Cuban chants from fans draped in Cuban flags: “Cuba, Cuba, Cuba!” which to my English ear sounds more like, “Coooba, Coooba, Coooba!” The entire stadium is highlighted in red, white and blue.

Not the stars and stripes, though — the U.S. team has already fallen to Mexico. Rather, the red, white, and blue of the Dominican and Cuban flags. But as I sit here in my Team USA cap and jersey, which I bought presuming the U.S. presence in the semifinals, I can think of only one person: Steve Bassermann.

You may know him as the ebullient Branford junior, or the large, powerful, frequently mustache-wearing offensive lineman on the Yale football team. Or, if you’re a New Haven-area youth hockey player who frequents Ingalls Rink, you know him as Captain Freedom (of Sports Illustrated On Campus fame). Nevertheless, he is recognizable for his stature and his loud personality.

Monday, February 6: Sunken into a fifth row seat in LC 101 for “History of Brazil, 500 Years of Tomorrows,” I greet Bass. “Good Morning, Steve,” I say. “Hey, friend,” he replies, reaching out his hand for a high-five. “How you doing?” I mutter underwhelmingly. “Ready to learn!” Later, Professor Schwartz’s cell phone rings, and Steve reassures him, “It’s okay.”

Steve is wearing his royal blue New York Giants sweatpants. Bassermann and his family take the Giants quite seriously. It seems he is almost always clad in red, white and blue. Recently, he and some of his teammates and close friends made a terrific acquisition — high school letterman-style USA jackets with white leather sleeves. The others refuse to lend out their jackets; Bassermann obliges to a cold girl and lets her wear his. He is warm, friendly to all and full of fervor for everything and anything American.

Wednesday, January 11: As Captain Freedom at the Yale hockey game vs. UNH, Steve is found wearing blue tights, showing off his chest, and proudly flying the American flag. Hanging onto the back of the zamboni, Steve struggles to keep the flag from twisting. I eavesdrop on the conversation of the boys next to me. Among other choice lines, “Look at Captain Freedom … he’s the man!” Steve is excited and therefore exciting to watch. What is otherwise a dull intermission becomes surprisingly entertaining.

But the Dominican and Cuban fans in their red, white and blue share more in common with Steve than their fashion sense. These are people akin to Bass. They are enjoying themselves, relishing the experience of watching their countrymen compete. These people must have other things on their minds, but you would never know it. Steve is the same way.

Why was Steve so chipper on that typically dreary New Haven morning in Schwartz’s class? He had already been awake for hours. Had already poured his sweat on the floor of the Lanman Center, as he and his fellow gridiron teammates had done their dreaded morning runs. They had run wind sprints and suicides. Months from kicking off their first game, the Bulldogs put in hard hours running in the mornings, lifting in the afternoons. Having already exerted himself more in one morning than some Yale students do in months, Steve could have easily been tired and grumpy, or not gone to class at all. Instead, he threw on his rubber boots and daily arrangement of red, white and blue, and showed up. And Steve not only shows up, he wears a smile.

Like the fans in San Diego, Steve seems blessed with the ability to inspire happiness in others. His own happiness is contagious. So too was the Cubans’. His patriotism is infectious. Likewise for the Dominicans. I sat in my Petco Park seat, disappointed by the poor performance of the American team, and was uplifted by the spirits of the other fans. I sat in my LC seat, discouraged by the weather, and Steve helped chase away my discontent.

Above all, Steve and the Dominican and Cuban fans enjoy sports and enjoy life, as much for the entertainment or love of the game as for the camaraderie. In the midst of complaints about poor officiating and poor play, the World Baseball Classic provided a refreshing reminder of the world’s excitement for the game of baseball. And for me, Steve Bassermann is a permanent reminder of what it is to be enthusiastic and positive.



Nicholas Thorne is a sophomore in Pierson College. His column normally appears on Wednesdays.

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