Now that I have a car (stupid North Carolina), I find myself listening to the radio more than I have in years. Of course, the radio is terrible. So I throw on sports talk.
Which is also terrible, especially local sports radio. But the national shows, like ESPN’s morning shows and a few others, are tolerable. This morning, I heard Dan Patrick tell a story about how, one day during the 2004 playoffs, some of his son’s classmates – Yankees fans – pissed on the kid’s Red Sox hat.
Suddenly I’ve started questioning the way I’ve been indoctrinating my son into fandom.
My son is also only three. So any allegiances he has to sports teams are based on my allegiances. The Sox and Fins are my teams. So those are the teams my son sees on TV when I’m watching them, and those are the teams whose logos adorn his clothes, and those are the teams he will root for out of loyalty and potentially misguided hero-worship, until he is old enough to make his own decisions and choose his own favorite teams.
Hopefully he’ll still like sports as much in five/ten/fifteen years as he does now. Hopefully he won’t abandon his teams to join his friends, or to hop on a bandwagon, because loyalty is the most important attribute a fan can have. (Hopefully, my favorite sports will still exist in five/ten/fifteen years.)
Regardless of his athletic prowess, or lack-thereof, I hope he’s a lifelong fan of a team or two, provided it’s not a soccer team or, god forbid, a racing team (stupid North Carolina). Because being a fan is great, even when it’s not. And thank god for that, because most of the time, it’s not. Oddly enough, the story above, about the urine-soaked hat, is one of the good times. Well, maybe not good, exactly, but rivalries are the best. Except the Giants/Dodgers rivalry because holy shit no one needs to DIE.
I mentioned that I’m a Red Sox and a Dolphins fan, which comes in handy when the Sox are repeatedly making the fall classic while the Dolphins are repeatedly being fall assholes. My son has had paraphernalia from both teams since the day he was born, and his favorite sport usually just depends on what I’m watching at the time. There hasn’t been a single day in the past 3-4 months that he hasn’t wanted to either throw his plush Fins football around with me or take some swings with his plastic BoSox bat.
Needless to say, I’m thrilled. I loved watching the Red Sox playoff games with him before he goes to bed, and I love bringing him to the bar to watch me stress out about the Dolphins while Mom and Buried stresses out about him getting antsy at the table as I ignore him to stress out about the Dolphins. I love teaching him about the sports, and about my favorite teams. I want him to grow up excited about his favorite teams (who I hope will always be my favorite teams). And I want him to learn about the rivalries.
But when I hear stories like that one from Dan Patrick, no matter how funny – and even kind of typical – it sounds, I worry about going too far. I don’t want him to piss on anyone’s hat (although I’d probably look the other way if it were a Jets hat) or jump out of the stands to assault anyone’s first base coach, but I definitely want him to be enthusiastic. Because getting emotionally invested in sports is what makes them so fun. Even if that passion can occasionally curdle into frustration and stress.
He doesn’t get it yet. He doesn’t get why Daddy was in a pissy mood Sunday evening after Miami embarrassed themselves and he doesn’t understand why Daddy won’t let him wear the Yankees shirt his Grandpa sent him and he doesn’t understand that it’s called the World Series and not the “World Serious”. But he will. And I’ll do my best to teach him that while getting invested is a good thing, keeping perspective is essential. I don’t want him to lose friendships over a bad loss, or not talk to his brother for two weeks because Grady Little kept Pedro in too fucking long. But I want him to experience the ups and downs of it all, because sports are a microcosm for life. There are good days and bad days, dry spells and winning steaks, hope and despair, heartbreaking disappointments and miraculous comebacks, and lots and lots of drug use.
He’s three. So far, he’s a fan on the most basic, visceral level. He enjoys watching the games with me, which is great, and every morning when we get up he asks me to put “SportsCenter” on and we watch highlights together, but he doesn’t feel every win and every loss in his bones, not yet. Which gives me time to help teach him how to enjoy sports without being crippled by them. To teach him to be a passionate, loyal fan without becoming one of those bitter, angry obsessives who blames God for every loss and can’t be happy in life if his teams don’t win on the field.
Which won’t be a problem if the Sox keep playing like they’ve been for the past decade or so. The Dolphins are another matter. But there’s nowhere to go but up! And even if they don’t succeed, there’s always the happiness of knowing that neither will the Jets.