The Fandom of Fathers and Sons

Carolita Johnson

I grew up a Yankees fan, but the first Major League Baseball game I ever attended was a Baltimore Orioles game. This was in the early 1980s, at Memorial Stadium, back when the O’s still wore white and black caps with orange bills, and the team logo was a jolly cartoon bird’s head instead of an elegant ornithological diagram. I have no memory of who the Orioles were playing (obviously not the Yankees, or I would’ve remembered). I’m not even sure which of my relatives took me to the game—Uncle Marvin? my cousin Lynn’s husband Steve?—but I know it wasn’t my father.

Dad taught me how to throw and catch a baseball in our back yard in upstate New York. He watched Yankees games with me sometimes, and he explained the rules of the game to me. What’s an RBI? Can a batter keep hitting foul balls forever? That part of my brain, my baseball understanding, was inscribed by my father, and I like knowing that. Yet Dad, a Baltimore native and long-time Orioles fan, had lost his baseball fanaticism by the time I became interested in the game. I always wondered why.

This World Series has made me think again about fading fandom. That’s because the Boston Red Sox are in the Fall Classic, and my brother-in-law Bob is the hugest Red Sox fanatic I will ever know. Bob’s passion for the Sox has not cooled and will never cool. Trust me: for Bob, the crimson B is sacramental. Bob’s son, my nephew Jake, is about the same age I was when I most loved baseball. In the past two weeks I’ve seen Bob and Jake teetering on the edge of post-season bliss, then post-season despair, now post-season bliss again, and I feel my own baseball fandom (who’s my team again?) fading in the beaming radiance of all this father-son Fenway bonding. I want the Red Sox to win it; I’ll feel awful if the Red Sox don’t win it. I want the people in my family to be happy.

This helps me think about my dad’s baseball history. As a young husband, my father—a first-generation American, Baltimore-born—took a job in Binghamton, NY, which only received Yankees and Mets broadcasts. Naturally, my brother and I became fans of New York baseball. If my dad wanted to root for his precious O’s, he’d have to root against his sons—especially me, because I was a Yankees fan. I remember Willie Randolph when he was a fleet second-baseman who owned the right side of the infield at Yankee Stadium. I remember how much I liked the Yanks’ third-baseman’s surname: Nettles.

My brother-in-law Bob has lived almost his whole life in and around Boston. It would be very difficult for him to leave the area, and his Red Sox fanaticism would be a big part of the problem. But Bob doesn’t have to worry about it: he doesn’t have to sit by and watch his children become enamored of alien teams. His kids are growing up in a suburb of Boston. Their house is full of Red Sox gear, Patriots t-shirts, Celtics garbage cans (with little plastic hoop and backboard)—it’s a multilateral campaign of indoctrination. My nephew Jake, all of ten years old, was at game 7 of the ALCS when the Red Sox completed their comeback over the Indians. No need to quote Emile Durkheim here; obviously, the kid is a Sox fan for life. Just like his dad.

But what about his uncle? I grew up with a fractured baseball patriline—my father sublimated his love of the Baltimore Orioles so that I wouldn’t have to explain to wary friends why there was a cartoon bird on my baseball cap instead of a transposed “NY.” Lately my love for the Yankees has ebbed to an amateur interest in Steinbrennerology; I’ve found myself pulling for the Mets instead; and right now I’m all about the Red Sox. I’m thinking, though, in the future, I should make a major league commitment. I have nothing against elegant ornithological diagrams; in fact I’ve always liked the stately black cap with the accurately stitched oriole on the front. That bird won’t match the flights of fandom I remember from my youth, I’m sure, but I feel the tug of patrimony.

See also: The Modern Spectator guide to the World Series.

I love everything that Bri writes. I hardly ever went to a game. I may have taken Howard once or twice. I’m not the one who took Bri to his first game

Uncle Marvin    Oct 29, 09:17 PM    #

By the way cousin Brian, it WAS cousin Lynn’s husband Steve who took you to “Opening Day” on April 8th, 1985 at Memorial Stadium.
Love, Lynn

Lynn Meier    Oct 30, 07:36 AM    #

FYI, Brian, on April 8, 1985 the Orioles beat the Texas Rangers 4-2.

Austin    Oct 30, 11:53 AM    #

With all of the family fact checkers involved, how could you leave out the Binghamtom Mets?

— tys    Oct 31, 11:57 AM    #

I’m a Mets fan, but the only game I’ve ever seen is a Toronto Blue Jays game, in Toronto! It was great!

carolita    Nov 29, 05:56 PM    #

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