Hi, hello, how are you? This is Tendrils, your — let's face it — weekly, newsletter from me Adam Wood. It’s sports week here at Tendrils. As I write this, I’m settling down to watch the Formula 1 British Grand Prix (on TV, I’m not at Silverstone), and I’m thankful that — after many years of clashes — they’ve finally scheduled it so that there's no clash with the Wimbledon men’s final. This has actually been a particularly sport-heavy week, so I’ve got some notes for you, and then the story of how a boy from the West Midlands came to follow sports teams from the American Midwest.
The first week of Wimbledon 2022 is in the books. I’m something of a fair-weather tennis fan, in that I watch Wimbledon every year, and other events only when something especially noteworthy draws my attention to them. However, I've enjoyed some wonderful matches this week, none more dramatic than Harmony Tan's first-round victory over Serena Willams. If there's a better match to come in the tournament's second week, I'll be (pleasantly) surprised.
At the same time, there has been a dramatic second week to the FIDE Candidates chess tournament. This is the competition that will decide who will challenge incumbent World Champion Magnus Carlsen for his crown. There have been a fair number of incident-free draws, but there have also been upset wins, and missed opportunities. One in particular, in the 11th round game between Fabiano Caruana & Ding Liren, was shocking enough to have fellow competitor Hikaru Nakamura expressing unmasked confusion.
Last year, Carlsen successfully defended his title for the fifth time, by — frankly — thoroughly deconstructing challenger Ian “Nepo” Nepomniachtchi, and has since said that he may not mount a sixth defence, unless it's against French-Iranian wunderkind Alireza Firouzja.
It's been a poor showing for Firouzja at the Candidates, and at the time of writing (after 12 of 14 rounds) he’s in last place with 4.5 points (1W / 7D / 4L). Atop the leaderboard, and a draw away from securing the tournament win, is none other than Nepomniachtchi with 8.5 points (5W / 7D / 0L). He would surely have mixed feelings about the opportunity to mount another challenge against Carlsen, if Magnus deems it worthwhile!
I would also like to quickly note that — at the time of writing — the London Spitfire, whose championship run in the inaugural season of the Overwatch League gave me so much enjoyment in 2018, currently have a five-game win streak for the first time since 2019 (having lost 26 games in a row 2020-21). They play the Washington Justice this evening, to try and make it six.
Meanwhile, this weekend at beautiful, historic Wrigley Field, my beloved Chicago Cubs host a three-game, interleague series against the Boston Red Sox. Given how the Major League Baseball schedule is constructed, it’s been rare for these two teams to meet*, and so these games have me reflecting on the fact that in a parallel universe somewhere, there is a version of me who is a Red Sox fan.
The story of how I came to follow Chicago sports, largely comes down to four men: two Steves; two Michaels — only one of them a professional athlete. The first is Steven Spielberg. I was already enamoured of Indiana Jones movies and E.T. as a young child, but seeing Jurassic Park in the cinema — in the summer of 1993 — was one of those life-altering moments for me. It took my nascent love of film to a completely new level, making me more interested in how these works of art were made, and in who was making them. I started reading every word of each monthly issue of Empire magazine, and began more assiduously digging into Spielberg’s back catalogue, amassing a collection of second-hand VHS tapes (Duel!; Close Encounters…!!; Jaws!!!).
Jurassic Park was also my introduction to Michael Crichton, upon whose novel the film is based. I read that book, and then I went back and read others of his: I particularly remember the weird marine sci-fi of Sphere (1987), and the medical thriller A Case of Need (1968).
All of this was why, a year later, my sister knocked on my bedroom door, to tell me that she had just seen an advert on TV, for a new show that was starting that night, written by Crichton, and made in collaboration with Spielberg. That information was more than enough to get me to tune into the premiere episode of E.R., on which I became instantly hooked. I loved everything about that show for many years to come: its richly-drawn characters, its entangled plot-lines, and the city in which it was set — Crichton’s home town of Chicago. It was enough to switch my allegiance in my favourite Sega Mega Drive game: NHL ’94; I stopped playing as Mark Messier’s New York Rangers, and started playing instead, as the Chicago Blackhawks (Jeremy Roenick!; Chris Chelios!!; Ed Belfour!!!).
My other link to Chicago around this time, was through another Michael — at the time, inarguably the biggest sporting celebrity in the world: Michael Jordan. What little NBA coverage made it to the UK in the early-to-mid 90s (mostly on sports magazine shows, and sporadically on ESPN via Sky) was enough to have me hooked on any glimpse I could get of Michael Jordan playing basketball. If anyone in my circles (in the English shires) at the time, knew anything about basketball, it was likely to be the names Michael Jordan, and Chicago Bulls. Together they had won three straight NBA Championships (1991, 1992, 1993), and then — in late ’93 — Jordan had suddenly, shockingly retired from the sport. That whole story, plus Jordan’s return from retirement, and the Bulls subsequent ‘repeat three-peat’**, was arguably the biggest story in sport in the mid-90s. (Ten points to you if you can name the actor who was in both Jurassic Park, and the Jordan-starring Space Jam!)
The spark for my interest in baseball comes from another Steve, whose work I had become increasingly obsessed with in the early-to-mid 90s: Stephen King. I’ll save the history of my King fandom for another time, but suffice it to say that by the late 90s I was reading almost everything he published: from colossal tomes like Desperation, to short stories and novellas, like The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. The latter is the story of a young girl, lost in the woods, whose only comfort is listening to baseball games on her portable radio: specifically — as the title indicates — the Boston Red Sox (of whom King himself is a lifelong fan), and their closing pitcher, Tom Gordon. I read the novella at some point in 2000, and decided that not only would I start following baseball, but I too would follow Tom Gordon and the Red Sox. When the next MLB season commenced, however, I learned that Gordon had been traded from Boston, to the Chicago Cubs.
That offseason transaction is the reason I’ve been root, root, rooting for the Cubbies for two decades. A happenstance thing that, had it not occurred, would have seen my celebrating four Red Sox World Series wins, instead of the Cubs’ one***. In truth, however, another string to my weird, long-distance connection to Chicago (a city I’ve never been to!) feels apt to the point of being fated.
* Interestingly, this is due to change from next year, when a dramatically different schedule format will see each team play every other team.
** All of which is chronicled brilliantly in the Netflix docuseries The Last Dance
*** There’s also a lot of interesting cross-over between the two teams over the years: incl. Ryan Dempster!; Theo Epstein!!; David Ross!!!
Let’s do a few (non sports-related) bullets:
- I recommend this podcast episode on the US Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v Wade;
- I watched Speed for the first time since the mid-90s, and got a little bit (perhaps unnecessarily?) cruel about its flaws;
- I loved this piece on ‘The Stoic Key to Kindness’;
- Music pick this week: Olivia Rodrigo’s Glastonbury set, available here for three more weeks (if you're in the UK). It's a lot of fun, but the inclusion of Avril Lavigne’s ‘Complicated’ — a song released a year before Rodrigo was born — has me feeling older than the hills.
Right, I’ve got another newsletter to write, so I'm signing off here. I’m very hopeful that you will have an excellent week, and I also hope to write to you again next weekend.