Wednesday, July 01, 2009

I hope my kids don't hate me for this... On Baseball and Passing it On

Often before my son Ethan goes to bed, we curl up on the couch and watch a little baseball. Ethan, who will be 5 in September, likes baseball, and has begun to understand some of the nuances of the game. He gets, for example that there's 3 outs in an inning, 9 innings in a game, and daily opportunities to stay up past his bedtime watching games with his dad.

Ethan's favorite player is Brian Roberts, likely because he bats first, wears number one and his name is easy to say. Ethan also knows that Adam Jones bats second and wears number 10, and that Nick Markakis is number 21 and Aubrey Huff is 17. He knows that our team is the Orioles, but that grandpa (who lives on Long Island) loves the Mets.

Ethan surprised me the other day when his uncle Kenny asked him, "what number is Luke Scott?" and Ethan (who has a crazy memory) said "30," with the effortless confidence of a man bored by the question.

His 11-year-old cousin then piped in, "I definitely didn't know that. Ethan knows more about the Orioles than me!"

And I felt both satisfied and guilty, for I have passed down a love of the Orioles to my son. Make that my sons actually. I have an almost 2-year-old named Alec, who likes to watch baseball too. Alec will say before bed, "I want to watch Base-i-ball Daddy!" Actually he screams it while jumping up and down, up and down.

I thought about these things today as a I diverted my attention from work at various times in the afternoon to check online for the Orioles-Red Sox score. You see last night, the Orioles pulled off one of the all-time great comebacks, scoring five in the bottom of the 7th and five in the bottom of the 8th to steal a win in a game they were losing 10-1 after 6 and a half innings. Then today, they led 5-1 entering the 9th and inconceivably blew the game. Such pain. Such horror. Such torture. What have I done to my boys?

My sincere, and perhaps even attainable wish, however is that my sons don't have childhood memories of their dad inexplicably caring about a bad, not going anywhere, last place team.

I have two older brothers and each of them has a son who is 11. They were both born in 1998 and neither of them has been alive for a winning Orioles season. So Jake and Jordan and their younger siblings can be forgiven for not caring that much about the Orioles. After all, it has been specifically in their lifetime that the Orioles have not been very good. In fact they've been bad. Embarrassing even.

But I have a feeling -- actually I know for a fact -- that I kinda care about the Orioles more than my older brothers. 12 years into losing baseball, I watch at least some of just about every game. I read the box scores. I pay attention. I take pleasure in watching the emergence of a talented young player like Nolan Reimold or Brian Bergesen. I text during games to my friend Steve. "Are you WATCHING this?"

There's something comforting to me, even following a bad team, about the day-in and day-out nature of baseball, how there's a rhythm to the game and to the season.

I don't feel too guilty about romanticizing the game to my sons and getting them into it. I honestly believe, for the first time in a long time, that the team is on the right path. I have this feeling that my boys will have a different association than their cousins with the Orioles. In 3 or 4 years, when my guys are 5 and 8 and on up, I think the Orioles will be playing winning baseball. And guys like Reimold and Wieters and Jones and Markakis might just be for my kids what Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken and John Lowenstein and Rick Dempsey were for me.

And when their friends jump on the bandwagon they can say, "Where you been? We've been following these guys for years."

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