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I still refer to the worst flight I’ve ever taken, from Detroit to New York, as “the Draymond Green flight.” I boarded the plane four separate times. The second boarding lasted long enough that I watched an entire movie on the seatback screen before the pilot announced that we’d all have to get off the plane again. This 90-minute “3 p.m.” flight landed at LaGuardia just before midnight. It was not the Draymond Green flight because it inflicted pain on all involved, but because Draymond Green was on the plane. I have thought that if I ever run into him again, I will ask if he remembers this flight. He must, right? A large percentage of his air travel occurs under frictionless conditions, so if anything, his memories of this nightmare flight should be extra-vivid. 

The odds that I do run into him again are decent. Not long after the Draymond Green flight, I began regularly running into astonishing numbers of athletes, just in my day-to-day routine. My colleagues, who are treated to these stories a few times a month, must think I live in some kind of Sesame Street world, where Tigers and Pistons hang out on stoops and sing charming songs about the alphabet. But I swear I don’t live on Sesame Street! I don’t frequent trendy restaurants or clubs. I am not doing Kalyn-style stakeouts of the Ritz-Carlton. I keep to myself. Rarely do I venture beyond the same, like, four places, in a city not known for celebrity abundance. And yet, my old-lady habits have not stopped me from waiting in line for coffee behind a newly called-up relief pitcher, or from sharing an elevator with the three-and-D guy who very chivalrously let me off first with the “after you” gesture. Athletes are haunting me! On sidewalks, at airports, at coffee shops, at pizza places! They’re everywhere I go! How does this keep happening to me? A few theories:

  1. All athletes in my city take the same walking routes as me. Who can blame them? Perhaps it was a certain young basketball player's excellent taste in breakfast spots that stood out to Pistons scouts. It is surely why his two-way contract was converted to a standard deal.
  2. Everyone in a four-sport city runs into professional athletes at the same frequency I do; I just happen to be especially good at recognizing them, even the less pro-athlete-looking ones. For every 6-foot-3 wide receiver leaving a baseball game with his friends, there are five shorter, less conspicuous athletes lurking, unseen by most. Members of the U.S. women’s hockey team and anonymous bullpen guys might escape the average person’s notice—even the average sportswriter’s notice—but they will not escape mine. 
  3. The opposite of Theory No. 2: I write about sports for a living, and that leaves me prone to seeing athletes’ faces where they aren’t. I am imagining all these run-ins. The guy I saw handing his keys to the valet in front of a nice French restaurant while I crossed the street on New Year’s Eve wasn’t actually Steve Yzerman. It was just some random guy.

If I wanted out of this life, I wouldn’t know how. Nowhere is safe. On a recent flight leaving Detroit, the universe trapped me not with one athlete, but with an entire Triple-A affiliate, on their way to play a road series. I neglected to select a seat when I booked the flight but knew from my ticket that I’d be sitting in a middle seat. After making my way through the plane, I found, to my horror, that the guy I would have to ask to stand up so I could get to my seat was a just-demoted first baseman who nearly killed me with a baseball last month. I asked him, and he got up, and then I realized that while contemplating this inescapable fate of mine, I had miscounted rows and made him get up for no reason. I wish he had killed me with a baseball.

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