Rosa petrus a.k.a. canis calidus
RANGE: Despite their reputation for enormous importance, Team Spirits
are harder to see than a dab of hair oil on a baseball travelling at 95 mph
between a pitcher’s hand and a catcher’s glove. Learned experts (which sports writers always are) maintain that Team Spirits can be found even in the Major Leagues, but for the most part, they grace (or plague) amateur clubs, college, and farm teams. They feed off success and grow or shrink with a team’s achievements. Team Spirits are most noticeable by their absence—it is invariably observed that a losing or strife-torn team has “lost its Team Spirit.”
HABITS: Team Spirits, although invisible, can influence the outcome of most sports events. They can nudge a knuckleball over the corner of the plate, and, by spreading their wings and lowering their flaps, transform an arrogant pitcher’s fastball into a hanging curve, or “gopher ball.” Likewise, they can cause a long flyball to remain suspended in the air above the fence until caught and steer a slow bunt to either side of the foul line. Team Spirits inspire basketball players to take swan dives onto the
parquet. Cheered on by a Team Spirit, an out-of-position hockey player will
lunge to catch a puck with his teeth, and a soccer player will interpose his
head between foot and ball … for Team Spirits most often abound wherever large groups of people gather to watch smaller groups get their exercise for them. When a basketball spins for thirty seconds around the inner lip of the rim and then shoots out like a champagne cork, that’s the Team Spirit (who never gets called for goaltending) doing her thing. Likewise, a field goal attempt bouncing off both uprights and the crossbar before dropping down on the wrong side, and a puck coming to rest right on the goal line are both the handiwork of Team Spirits. However, these tricks are whimsical. An angry Team Spirit can shatter a baseball bat and direct a sharp shard of oak into the neck of anyone within a hundred feet of the batter’s box. Many players try to win the good will of the Team Spirit by such time-honored rituals as swinging three bats simultaneously, spitting frequently, or smuding black stuff beneath their eyes. Managers and coaches seek the Team Spirit’s favor by the ancient rites of kicking dirt on the umpire’s shoes, looking sleepy at crucial moments, and looking anxious and intent when nothing is happening on the field.
HISTORY: All Team Spirits are descended from the legendary Will Toowin, who in old England once defeated Robin Goodsport on the enchanted playing fields of Eton. It was Will Toowin who invented the beanball and inspired Ty Cobb to sit on the bench sharpening his spikes while the other team’s shortstop watched in terror. Team Spirits are related to such other malevolent ephemera as The School Spirit, The Self Image, and The Company Man.
SPOTTER’S TIPS: Team Spirits inhabit exclusively the locker rooms of
winning teams, for whose successes they are given (or take) all the credit.
According to some West Coast managers, they do not associate with Nice
Guys, who finish you-know-where.
* Mr. Irvin and the Team Spirit, who introduced him abruptly to many an