When we were kids there were two laundry days a week, one when my mother descended to the cellar, hauled out the scrub board and thrashed away in a mound of suds, singing all the while, and the second when she set up the ironing board in the kitchen.
She devised ways to keep her mind occupied on ironing day. For a while, it was memorizing poems. Then, to form a little bridge to her all- male household, she memorized baseball cards. She didn't care a hoot for baseball--it was the names that appealed to her. Through her we all became fans of Bud Podbelian, Vinegar Bend Mizell, Sandy Amoros and Minnie Minoso.
We thus grew to be a typical baseball fan family. I lived and died for the Brooklyn Dodgers, my brother was a rabid Red Sox fan, my father pulled for Puddinhead Jones, who came from his home town in North Carolina, and my mother rooted for anybody who had a nice name.
To me, the fuss over whether a Washingtonian can root for the Baltimore Orioles is manufactured. In America, even in a single household, you can root for anybody you want.
When I was 11 years old, I had a little black Emerson radio all my own that I cursed at and threw across the room when it announced the Dodgers were moving to China, or wherever they went. It did not break, unlike my heart, and later it sang me to weepy sleep with a song that still rings in my brain:
"We gotta keep the Dodjiz in Brooklyn, cuz Brooklyn's where the Dodjiz belong . . . "
Disgusted, I turned my back on baseball. But baseball would not go away. There were still the Red Sox to belittle, the Yankees to despise, the Phillies to follow (Puddinhead's old team), and anybody with a nice name to pull for.
Baseball teaches you about life. While I was in Dodger mourning, my brother got driven to Boston in the car, where he spent a whole weekend at the ballpark and in Scollay Square, looking at girlie movies in the arcades. When he came home he was aghast. "They put the Red Sox on the front page of the newspaper!"
As a personal favor to me they invented the Mets.
The Mets had a manager, Casey Stengel, who couldn't pronounce his catcher's name and was proud of it. Cannizarro was Canzoneris, period. My mother fell in love with Elio Chacon, my brother favored Marv Throneberry because his brother, Faye (Faye?) played for Boston, and my father kept waiting for them to call up Puddinhead, which wouldn't have surprised anybody.
Once I cut school with my high school girlfriend, and we went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (her idea) and then the Polo Grounds to see the Mets (mine). We didn't get any prizes at the museum, but Richie Ashburn threw her a ball in batting practice.
My brother came home from his honeymoon and he and I went to a night game with all his wedding presents still packed in the VW. He parked on the street in Manhattan with the stereos and radios and cameras piled high in the back seat.
At least they left the car.
In 1967, my father died as the Red Sox were winning their first pennant since 1946. Pop listened on the radio right up to the end. The wake was in October, during the World Series, and my brother and I sneaked off to the bathroom at the funeral home with an old pocket portable and listened to Jim Lonborg blow up and Boston's championship bubble burst.
When I think about baseball, I think about the little punctuations it provides in life and love and death and family. Which is why it strikes me as odd that people are still beating their breasts over whether you can or can't root for the Orioles, if you live in Washington.
It's too bad they took the Senators away. They were almost as bad as the Mets. But life goes on. Today the Orioles are the best team within 45 miles of Washington. The Phillies are a good team within 100 miles, but they play on rubber grass. All the ot turher teams are too far to get to.
So, as the song says, "If you can't be with the one you love, you've got to love the one you're with."