What is the world’s most perfect sporting event?
It’s not the Super Bowl, that monstrosity of promotionalism and excess. It’s not the Final Four, the Masters, the Olympics, the World Cup or any other overhyped, overcrowded spectacle where you park seven miles away, wait in line for 45 minutes to use the bathroom and need a pair of binoculars to discern which sport you’re watching.
The world’s most perfect sporting event is probably played on a college campus on a warm spring evening, under a powder blue sky with a cool breeze drifting in. It’s played in a stadium that’s packed to the brim but still accessible enough that you can ride your bike right up to the front gate. It’s fast-paced, but not so frenetic that you can’t stop and soak up the atmosphere.
Look, I’m not saying that a postseason softball game at Jane Sanders Stadium is the world’s most perfect sporting event. I’m also not saying that it isn’t.
I will say that, for pure aesthetic value, sports don’t get much better than Oregon’s 4-0 victory over Albany on Thursday. Weather-wise, it was one of those nights that makes the Oregon winter seem worthwhile. The game featured terrific pitching, timely hitting and a huge moment for a hometown kid. Also, it lasted 1 hour and 43 minutes.
Alas, it wasn’t quite perfect. Albany got four singles off Miranda Elish, four more than she allowed in her perfect game earlier this season. After one of her 14 strikeouts, the Ducks threw the ball into right field. I think I saw a cloud at one point. Can you tell I’m searching here?
Speaking of perfection, there’s Mike White’s record in regional games. The Oregon coach is now 25-0, in large part because the Ducks are hosting in the NCAA Tournament for the seventh year in a row.
“Fortunately we haven’t been to any other regionals in a long time,” White said, “and I want to keep that way.”
I’m not sure anywhere could match what the Ducks have. Oregon softball has become a model for what every college program should be: fun, fan-friendly and superbly talented. The Ducks don’t draw the biggest crowds on campus, but they fill every seat in Jane Sanders Stadium with the most passion per capita of any fan base I’ve encountered.
It helps when the fans get to witness a fairy tale moment from a player who grew up watching these games from the stands. That’s what they got when Lauren Burke, a year removed from starring at Marist, entered the game as a pinch hitter with two outs in the fifth inning.
Burke has been a part-time player during her freshman season, but White liked the look of her swing in practice this week and planned to find a spot for her in this regional. It paid off when Burke saw a fat pitch and lofted a two-run home run over the wall in right to double Oregon's lead.
“Lauren made me look pretty good with the home run,” White said.
Whether it's his lineup or his pitching staff, White seems to have the magic touch. He guided the Ducks to the No. 1 overall seed behind a pair of aces, then added a possible third in Maggie Balint late in the season.
It’s hard to see anyone beating the Ducks in this stadium, and certainly not twice. That leaves a handful of chances to watch them play before they make what seems like an inevitable return to the Women’s College World Series.
I can’t promise it will change your life, but if you enjoy sports, you really ought to see one of these games for yourself. It’s a reminder that the biggest sporting events aren’t always the best, and that on the right day a stadium with 2,500 fans can feel more electric than one with 25,000.
I guess it's true of anything that if you want to experience perfection, it’s best to avoid the thing that everyone knows about, because the mere fact of everyone knowing about it takes away some of the charm. The world’s best apple pie is probably served in some roadside cafe. The world’s best song probably never made it on the radio.
Perfection in sports is subjective and completely in the eye of the beholder. It’s the product of a bunch of factors — the weather, the setting, the competition — that come together in some magical way.
I’m not saying this is it. But I'm saying you could do a lot worse.