This is a column about the mixed messages we send kids. It's a column about feelings of disloyalty. It's a column about baseball.
Of course, I join everyone in cheering America's World Cup soccer team. I'm a fan of Title IX, the father of two daughters and the husband of a high school basketball star. I bow to no one in my enthusiasm for women's sports.
But I'm also an old-fashioned baseball fan. And I have a problem: a conflict between the team I grew up loving, the Boston Red Sox, and the team I have come to love, the Baltimore Orioles. I'll insist to my last breath that I'm a Red Sox fan. Yet when the Sox play the Orioles, I know my heart is cheating, or at least tempted.
My son is aware of my conflict and plays along loyally. During our last visit to Camden Yards, we cheered lustily for the Orioles. I am happy to say they weren't playing the Red Sox. But he wore a Red Sox hat in deference to his father's formal commitment.
My problem is common enough in an America where geographic mobility is the rule. According to the last census, 38 percent of us live outside the states we were born in. More than half of Californians, two-thirds of Arizonans and 70 percent of Floridians were born outside their states.
Most of us drag our old team loyalties with us as we move. But if you like sports pages, watch games and have kids who root for the local team, it's hard to spurn new ties. It's a fair surmise that the followings of the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays are loaded with people of dual allegiances.
Three years after I moved to Washington, my own traitorous tendencies began to show. After a catastrophic 1988 season, the Orioles surprised everyone with their great comeback in 1989. They grabbed first place in April, only to get edged out by Toronto in the end. The combination of grit and ultimate failure appealed to the Red Sox fan in me.
Over the years, certain players encouraged my sedition: Cal Ripken, of course, Brady Anderson, B. J. Surhoff and Harold Baines. That the Orioles are playing so miserably this year only reminds me of my love for the Red Sox of the early 1960s. They were always battling the old Washington Senators for last place.
I could rationalize my problem away by blaming the rapid movement of players from one team to another. It's hard to know what makes a team anymore. Consider my son's efforts to support his dad's Red Sox habit.
He cast his All-Star shortstop ballot for the Red Sox' valiant Nomar Garciaparra, a mark of both loyalty and good baseball judgment. But he also voted for Mo Vaughn for first base. Mo made his name with the Red Sox, but he's now on the Angels. We still like him. Loyalty is complicated these days.
Our Orioles side is no less vexing. Watching the bulk of the old Orioles infield -- Cal Ripken, Rafael Palmeiro and Roberto Alomar, all playing on the same team again -- during the All-Star game was heartening. Only Cal is still on the Orioles. Raffy has gone off to the Rangers, Robbie to the Indians. Yet my son and I still think of them as ours.
At least during the All-Star game, I could be unconflicted in rooting for the American League. I could cheer simultaneously for Cal and Nomar, Pedro Martinez and Mike Mussina. It was a respite from my fear of being called one day before the House Un-Red Sox Activities Committee. No doubt I'd be a cooperative witness, naming names of others like me.
The shameful thing is that my tendencies feed one of the worst trends in professional sports: the declining sense of the local. Teams are bought by big companies out of nowhere and moved around at will. In their lust for new stadiums, owners conscript taxpayers in the new city to outbid the loyal fans in the old. The game is so dominated by dreams of skyboxes and new revenues that the Red Sox are going to knock down Fenway Park -- the very model the owners mimic for their new stadiums.
When I think of that outrage, I feel a bit better. If the Red Sox management dares to knock down Fenway, surely I can be forgiven my flirtation with the O's. Can't I?