Zimmerman: Sometimes, you just have to be there

May 2, 2012, 1:30 a.m.

June 14, 2009, was not a fun day for this guy.

Fresh off the completion of my freshman year and with a full summer of earning potential around the corner, I made the instantly regrettable decision to drop far too much money on nosebleed seats for Game 5 of the NBA Finals. In the grand scheme of things, the price wasn’t going to impact my life. But for an 18-year-old whose gigs had included a stint at Quiznos and an unpaid internship at a local radio station, the ticket represented at least 40 percent of my net worth.

In my defense, I justified the purchase with the thought that this may be the last time I’d get the opportunity to see my Orlando Magic legitimately contend for a title. What if I missed the game of a lifetime? What if Game 5 was the turning point in the series, the dominant victory that sparked a comeback from the 3-1 deficit I had convinced myself was manageable.

It wasn’t. The Magic lost, 99-86.

Since that day, I’ve been hesitant to pull the trigger to watch any live sports event. Seeing a game in person just hasn’t had the same value, and with the rapid evolution of televised events, I just can’t seem to find the will to pony up my hard-earned cash for a subpar view with limited replays and obnoxious fans.

But recently I decided to ease my way back into the fold as a spectator, and I was able to spend $5 for the Payton Jordan Invitational on Sunday at Stanford. The annual outdoor track meet has been and will forever be one of the most underappreciated and exciting events this campus has to offer. The competition draws many of the best runners in the world, and athletes vying for global recognition routinely shatter records.

This meet had special significance, however, as my freshman roommate and good friend Chris Derrick was attempting to meet the Olympic “A” standard in the 10K with a time of 27:45. He ran it in 27:31, setting the school and American collegiate record along the way. If you do the math, that is… absurdly fast.

I’ve been hyped since and have re-evaluated my conservative stance on live sports. If Chris manages to qualify for a certain competition in London this summer (jinx-proof), then I’ll be faced with the predicament of buying last-minute tickets to Europe and, more importantly, actual passes to the event.

I’m no longer 18. This is a big deal.

But what else will I spend my money on? I live nothing close to a lavish lifestyle, and the liberal college kid in me figures I might as well do what makes me happy while I’m young and my schedule is relatively flexible. I don’t remember sports ever leaving me as genuinely excited as I was on Sunday, except maybe for the 2009 Payton Jordan Invitational.

There was something about being in that particular moment, witnessing someone I know do something that very few people have ever been able to do, that resonated with me. If I could buy a (legal) pill that could duplicate that feeling, I probably would. Maybe it was because that event brought me out of my jaded sports funk that had plagued my level of fandom. Whatever the case, I left the track feeling damn proud of Chris and damn proud of myself for shelling out five bucks to witness a small piece of history.

On a depressing note, it’s going to be extremely tough for professional sports to sustain any sort of economic success with their current models. Ticket sales will undoubtedly plateau or decrease as technology in the home improves, and owners will be pushed to find alternative ways to fill seats. I’m not the only passionate fan who has found less of a need, be it for financial reasons or others, to be physically present at games.

Yet there’s a reason people have attended athletic competitions for millennia. Free or not, spectators are able to derive that unique rush from live action that just isn’t available through a monitor. Sure, I’ve been inappropriately pumped after a last-second shot on TV, but that feeling comes and goes as the network switches programs. There’s just no sense of camaraderie, no pure bond between fans and players. It’s not for everyone, but for me, there’s really nothing better.

With that, hit me up if you have connections in London. I’m okay with sleeping on the couch.

Zach Zimmerman’s 10K time would be blistering…if only he could make it through a 10K. Challenge him to a race at zachz “at” stanford.edu and on Twitter “at” Zach_Zimmerman.

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