Baseball's hot stove season has started. That's when big-name, free-agent players switch teams for piles of money.
The Washington Nationals lost a solid starting pitcher when Esteban Loaiza skipped town and signed with the Oakland Athletics. Star relief pitcher B.J. Ryan left the Baltimore Orioles and will play for the Toronto Blue Jays next season.
I don't blame Nationals and Orioles fans if they are disappointed. Kids who have posters of their favorite Nationals and Orioles on their bedroom walls must wonder if the players care as much about the teams as their fans do.
Pro players in all sports seem to leave the moment they get a better deal from another team. Where is their team spirit? Where is their team loyalty?
But wait a minute. Pro athletes aren't the only ones who switch teams. Kids who play sports switch teams, too.
See if this story sounds familiar: Around first or second grade, a bunch of kids at a school or in a neighborhood will start a team. Let's say it's a recreational soccer team. The team plays a couple of seasons. Everybody seems happy. Then the team falls apart because some of the "better" players want to play on a travel team. Sometimes the travel teams recruit the best recreational-league players.
Why do the kids leave their original team? Because they (and their parents) think that the travel team will be better for them.
Where is their team spirit? Where is their team loyalty?
Sure, some kids stick with their friends. Some teams stay together for years. And some pros, such as Ken Griffey Jr. of the Cincinnati Reds, sign for less money to play for their hometown team.
I am not saying that every kid has to stay with his or her first team forever. There are plenty of good reasons to leave a team. Maybe you are switching schools. Maybe the coach plays some kids all the time and hardly lets other kids on the field. Or maybe your team really is too good (or too bad) for you.
But I am saying that kids should not switch teams just because they can. Sometimes you should be loyal to your team. Think about pros -- such as Cal Ripken Jr. (21 seasons) of the Orioles or David Robinson (14) and Tim Duncan (9, so far) of the San Antonio Spurs -- who played with only one team.
One of the great things about sports is playing for years on a team with your friends. That's when the team really becomes your team and not just a bunch of kids who happen to play together. And there's just nothing better than winning with a team that has hung together through years of tough losses.
Fred Bowen has written his sports opinion column for the same team -- KidsPost -- for more than five years.