It was in the sixth hour of Saturday’s Nationals-Giants game when I first considered the potential misery in store for my son should he become a baseball fan.
My son caught part of both games with me, although I don’t think he was aware of it. My pregnant wife, as of this writing, is seemingly minutes from going into labor. We’re scrutinizing each little pain she has, stopwatches at the ready, wondering if this is one of those fancy “contractions” the doctors have been telling us so much about.
During Tuesday’s game, my wife sat on the couch for much of both games, doing her best to find a relaxing position. I paced around the living room, grumbling at the television, hoping that the Nats could put just one more out or one more run on the board. My wife went to bed at a reasonable hour, but I stayed up, fighting sleep to keep vigil over the season.
Our son doesn’t know it yet, but we have prepared him to be a baseball fan, with little uniforms and hats and cardboard baseball books ready to go. We hope he’ll carry on the family tradition of cheering for both the Nats and the Boston Red Sox (criticize if you must!), one because he lives inside the Beltway and the other because that’s what his family, leading back to his great-grandfathers, does.
We’ve talked about it, though, and we’re not optimistic about the Red Sox fandom sticking. Peer pressure at school and the pull of a major league team nearby will likely mean he’ll want to root, root, root for the home team, and we’re ready for that. We’ll do our best to understand when he wants a Bryce Harper t-shirt for his birthday, our hearts breaking a little when his Red Sox gear gets stuffed into the bottom of a drawer.
But that will be the easy part — the hard part will be watching him learn what being a baseball fan can mean.
Baseball is an uncomfortably unpredictable game, where big moments both good and bad can come at any time. And while baseball has brought thrills and excitement into my life, that unpredictability cuts both ways, and watching Brandon Belt’s homer go over the fence Saturday night meant a swift kick to the shins and the knowledge that this run to the World Series was likely over.
I understand that encouraging my son to like baseball is like encouraging him to play the lottery, only instead of dollars, you’re investing hope, a far more valuable currency. My grandfather spent most of his life waiting for the Red Sox to win the World Series, and there’s no guarantee that the Nationals will ever win the big one.
I’m inviting my son to put his hopes into something that most of the time doesn’t end well when playoff time rolls around, and can go very, very wrong very quickly (see Aaron Barrett’s two wild pitches on Tuesday). He can have any number of hobbies and passions, but if he chooses baseball, I hope he owns every bit of the madness that comes with it.
I hope he falls in love, makes heroes of men who perhaps shouldn’t be, and learns to care about something he knows he can’t control but tries to anyway. I hope he believes in lucky hats, remembers stats from long-forgotten players, and can find some time to go the ballpark with his old man.
In 20 years, I hope he’ll call me from his dorm room, spitting mad about a pitching change or an error or something else that went wrong in a game we both care too much about.
This guy has absolutely no idea what he’s doing, he’ll say. You’re exactly right, I’ll reply. This is stupid. We should get some sleep.
But I hope we won’t. I hope we’ll stay up, cursing and complaining until late evening becomes early morning. I hope we only turn off the TV when the game’s over, even when they lose, because that’s what real fans do, whatever that means.
Bobby McMahon is a father-to-be and writer living near Washington D.C. He tweets @BobFrankPat
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