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The Old Ballgame

With looming Mets and Red Sox home openers, a family determines for whom to root

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When couples intermarry, they eventually find themselves in the position of having to decide in which tradition they’ll raise their child: The mother’s? The father’s? Both?

So it is that David and I find ourselves having to decide whether Bess, now seventeen months old, will be raised a Mets fan, a Red Sox fan, or both.

With home openers approaching (April 8 for both teams), and Bess beginning to develop “brand awareness” (she can easily identify The Red Guy even though we have never uttered the word “Elmo” in front of her), we are going to have to work this out.

Sports, and baseball in particular, are already a part of Bess’s life. For New York purposes, we’re a Mets family. Bess has seen both them and the Brooklyn Cyclones (the borough’s Mets affiliate) play several times, though her favorite part of the game appears to be painting with mustard. As for the division of sports labor, David will teach baseball and basketball—and possibly handle the traditional Teaching of the Two-Wheel Bike; I’ll be in charge of hockey, snowboarding, and horses. None of the above are in dispute.

But things came to a head the other day, when I arrived back from a quick trip to my hometown—Boston—with a Red Sox sweatsuit, size 2T.

“That’s totally adorable,” said David. “Too bad she can’t wear it.”

The problem is not that David hates the Red Sox. He does not. He does not even hate the Yankees, which makes me insane. This is part of what makes him a wonderful rabbi. Compassionate to the core, David generally tries to limit his hatred to, say, green peppers and people who get on the subway before others get off.

But David is from New York.

“You can’t wear Red Sox gear in New York,” he said.

“People do,” I rebutted.

“They shouldn’t,” he replied. “It’s just not right. It’s disrespectful. It shows you have no awareness of where you are—or worse, that you do have awareness, and you don’t care.” He pauses, about to have a rabbi moment. “That’s what it’s about spiritually, too. How important it is to really be wherever you are. And to not be an ass.”

Call me naïve, but I think it’s harmless. Cordial, even. To me, a Red Sox shirt or cap says, “Hello, friends, I am from Massachusetts, and I trust you not to beat me up.”

Unlike all other marital arguments—ha ha—this one goes back a few years.

David felt this way even when the Red Sox were underdogs. Also unlike all other marital arguments—ha ha—it’s actually about something bigger. First, it’s about power: While I avoid doofy husband jokes unless absolutely necessary, I will say I am unsure whether the spouse who recently dressed Bess with her tee shirt over her overalls merits any say whatsoever in wardrobe matters. But more to the point, it’s not just about the caps and shirts and trappings of fandom; it’s about the sheer joy, silly and pure, of fandom itself. It’s a joy I want for Bess: Why can’t she have it twice over? Can’t she be both a Mets fan and a Red Sox fan? Can’t she love both where she is and where she came from?

To be fair, I did not grow up among the hardest of diehards, like my fellow Bostonians who, back in 2004, streamed into cemeteries bearing pennants, whispering through the ground to loved ones that yes, it had finally happened. Me, I do not come from jock stock. The only C my mom ever got was in tennis; my dad varsity-lettered in band. For much of my early life, I was intimidated by team sports, which can happen when you’re in prep school and your gazelle-like classmates appear to be able to burst into lacrosse the way the kids in Fame burst into song. I didn’t get over that until my early twenties, when I moved to Brooklyn and—having been on ice skates since I was three—realized a latent dream of playing ice hockey. (I got it backwards, I know. That was like moving to Boston for the bagels.)

But still, when you grow up in Massachusetts, you care about the Red Sox. You make way for baseball the way you make way for ducklings. It’s part of Boston, and it’s part of life. And even though neither of my parents were born there—and even though I remain smitten with my adopted home—Boston is part of me. I live in New York now, around the corner from David’s childhood home, where his parents still live. Bess will have more than a taste of where her father came from. What about a taste of where her mother came from? Given the path my life has taken, I can’t very well teach her how to eat a steamer. But I do want Bess to feel connected to Boston in the way I feel connected to my father’s Georgia. I want her to wear the goddamn sweatsuit.

How to resolve this dispute? Much as tenth century Alexandrian Jews sought the counsel of Saadia Gaon in Babylonia, I emailed my friend Sully.

You may have seen Sully, born Paul Sullivan, and his exegesis of Red Sox history on the Curse of the Bambino, and, in perhaps the most welcome sequel ever, Reverse of the Curse of the Bambino. He’s written for sports television; he blogs about baseball. He knows all baseball trivia. He awaited the Sox’s Series victory as one awaits moshiach. He would root for the Red Sox if his own child, in some grim nightmare, was pitching for Anaheim. Most important, he would come through for me, and his word would be final.

“It is possible to like and follow two different teams,” he wrote.

Aha.

“But you can’t call yourself a FAN of both teams.”

Oh.

“I am a rabid Red Sox fan. I follow the San Francisco Giants, my dad’s team,” he said. “I like both teams and would love to see the Giants win the World Series. But the fan litmus test is, ‘If they played each other, which team would you root for?’ Well, I love to see my dad happy. But if the World Series were Red Sox versus Giants, I would want the Red Sox to destroy them in four games and would relish the crushing.”

He continued. “In the late 1980s, I lived in the San Francisco Bay area and both the Oakland A’s and the Giants were great. A lot of people wore hats that were split down the middle, half A’s and half Giants. I would look at them and say, ‘How was the game, Sybil?’ Dual allegiance spits in the face of true fandom. Being a ‘fan’ of two teams is like being raised in two religions. It can make for some nice celebrations and family memories, but in the end you’re not fully part of one or the other.”

His answer was not what I had hoped.

He went on: “To raise a child from scratch as a Sox fan in New York City is an uphill battle, though there are Red Sox bars there that act like secret speakeasies for guys named Murph and Fitzy screaming ‘PAPI!!!’ The local coverage of baseball is New York, the kids they interact with are New York fans, and Brooklyn itself has such a connection with National League baseball that it would take complete indoctrination.”

And then the kicker. “Here in the Bay Area, even my kids yell ‘Giants!’”

This is almost as hard for me to believe as the fact that Sully and I, who have been close since we were single, spending late nights doing standup, are discussing parenting. And it’s not what I wanted to hear, no. But coming from Sully, it’s gospel. So I shall concede. Perhaps more gracefully, I hope, than a typical Red Sox Fan. When it comes to marriage, I suppose, this is what’s called being a team player.

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The Old Ballgame

With looming Mets and Red Sox home openers, a family determines for whom to root

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