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Fatherhood, Fandom, and Reclaiming as a Man the Game of My Youth

In my last posting, I outlined my conflicted feelings regarding major league baseball.  In sum, I grew up a fan of the national pastime but I never went back to it after the 1994 strike and my disgust has been heightened by subsequent events.  

Nevertheless, I remember the joy of going to Atlanta Braves games with my father when I was a child and I now want to share that same experience with my own son.  I asked my fellow SportsBlogs Nation writers to help me bridge the gap between my responsibility as a father and my revulsion as a fan.  

Below are some of the responses I received, each of which is offered with attribution but without editing or alteration.  Some of the language employed is coarser than that I would have used, but I wanted to convey the answers I received as honestly as they were imparted to me, so consider yourself forewarned.  The answers are reproduced in the order in which they were received.  

I am grateful to my fellow webloggers for their candor, their intensity, and their integrity.  While I did not agree with everything they had to say, I appreciated their willingness to say it and I found helpful their impassioned responses regarding America's national pastime.  

Amazin' Avenue's Eric Simon pulled no punches and let me have it with both barrels, writing:  

With all due respect, I don't see why it's mine or anyone else's responsibility to "sell you" on bringing your kid to ballgames. You have your opinions of the game and its current state, and lord knows there are problems. But you seem to view baseball's past -- as well as college sports -- through quixotic, rose-colored glasses. Do you share with your son the stories of rampant drug use, including steroid use, in college football? Or the fact that recruited players often make their metriculation decisions based on gifts from boosters, either to themselves or to their families? Not to mention the availability to recruits of strippers, female "friends", alcohol, drugs, etc.

The fact is that college sports are as corrupt, if not moreso, than professional sports, and that the especially gifted "students" are often being paid to play "amateur" athletics. Maybe tell your son how many college athletes rarely attend classes, and how they have "tutors" who take their tests for them, professors who give them easy marks, agents and "friends of the team" who buy them cars and houses and clothes.

If you can't stomach the current state of baseball, that's fine. But it's hypocritical to laud the merits of college football while thumbing your nose at baseball, when the institution of college football is committing heinous moral atrocities equal to, and in may cases greater than, those that you accuse professional baseball of.

Athletics Nation long has been considered the class of SportsBlogs Nation and Blez's response was brief and to the point:  
I think you answered your own question right here...

"Nevertheless, I know how important major league baseball was to my grandfather's relationship with my father and to my father's relationship with me."

That's not something you find with any other sport, really.  Whether we like it or not, baseball has and always will be Americana.  For that reason, it's also held up to much higher scrutiny than any of the other professional sports.

Blez's sentiments were echoed by Nicks of True Blue L.A., who filed the following concurring opinion:  
The special place the game had for your grandfather, your father, and you says it all. I had the same thing with my father, despite a preference (on both our parts) for basketball and football. Those are the games I played and loved. While we rarely missed a Pepperdine basketball game in the 70's, it was the Dodger games where we bonded.

I share your view that parks are better left simple, and I still miss the organ music, but the world moves on. Try to be nostalgic rather than bitter. And remind your son that baseball players are examples of baseball prowess (sometimes) and not role models. Barry Bonds or Ty Cobb or Cap Anson: I wouldn't want my daughter marrying any of these guys. People like Jackie Robinson (a Dodger, incidentally) are rare. You can share that with your son, too. Take the opportunity to share with your son that winning doesn't justify cheating at any level--pro baseball, college football, or pee-wee basketball.

Ultimately, something is lost. Times are less innocent, and baseball is less pure. But look at your son's toys. They talk, they flash, they all have computers in them. The bar has been raised since your childhood, and baseball is just trying to keep up.

While Blez's and Nicks's remarks regarding the bonding power of baseball drew some disagreement, I believe they make a good point about the impact the game had for many of us.  

Responses were not confined solely to the baseball blogosphere, however.  Our old friend Peter from Burnt Orange Nation chimed in, as well, arguing:  

My blog is a college blog, but I spend half my time perusing the many terrific SBN baseball blogs. Whether it's joining in on the Open Game Thread for my Giants, or keeping a close eye on the blog I hope mine to grow into (Athletics Nation), or just getting the latest on what's going on around the league, you have a terrific resource right in your own backyard, Kyle.

Seriously, spend a couple days reading the SBN baseball blogs; the big leagues are full of terrific stories, whether it's a Liriano-Felix showdown or the surprise contention of teams like the Tigers and Reds. And they're being covered by some insightful and wonderful to read writers.

A lot of us get annoyed by the stories that dominate the lazy ESPN coverage. Underneath it, though, baseball remains a great game.

Enjoy it - your son will thank you!

While the name of Eric Hinz's weblog is Fake Teams, his reply came across as altogether genuine:  
I have three young children of my own and share the disillusionment with big-time sports - college, MLB, NFL, NBA.

However, I do not let that bleed into the joy of watching and attending those events with my children.

Allow them to bring the joy of the games back to you.  They needn't know Barry Bonds is a steroid fiend.  But they certainly can enjoy his HRs, and if you need to teach, tell them about his plate discipline without getting into why no one throws him strikes. - not that a three-year-old even cares.

And by keeping it simple for the child, you will recover some of what you've lost.  

"Oooh" and "Aaah" with them.

From the proprietor of an N.F.L. weblog, Behind the Steel Curtain, came this brief reply:  
I just named my new cat after Chris Sabo (for those who don't remember, he was the Rec-Spec wearing, half-blind third baseman for the Reds in the early and mid 90s.  That should be proof enough that baseball has a way of providing memories that last.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the hard-bitten realism of a Mets fan was underscored by that of a seasoned Cubs fan; namely, the proprietor of Bleed Cubbie Blue, who leavened his cynicism with the pastoral appreciation of the game one would expect from someone who attends day games at Wrigley Field:  
Sports in the early 21st Century are far from pure - but that could be said about a lot of things in our era.

Or in ANY era. What about the "good old days" when blacks weren't allowed (yes, I note you said that Jackie Robinson's breaking the color barrier was the "last thing that bettered baseball"), or even for a couple of decades afterwards when more subtle racism abounded? Or when a baseball fan west of the Mississippi had to travel thousands of miles to see a game because the owners wouldn't move teams? There are other examples, but you get the point.

Which is: everyone thinks the "good old days" were better than now, and I like to remind my friends at times when things seem crappy, that "Someday, THESE will be the 'good old days'".

My son is 10, almost 11, and he loves baseball, plays it, goes to games with me, and enjoys the spectacle on the field. He'll stand near the wall during batting practice and try to get players to throw balls to him, as kids have done for generations. Many times, he succeeds.

This is what it's all about. Yes, there are troubles in baseball today, but once the game begins, we all still see the beauty in it, and there's nothing better than sitting on a sunny warm summer day at a major league baseball park, seeing fathers with sons, or mothers with daughters, or any combination thereof, passing our national game down through the generations.

Atlanta's different, I suppose, because the ballpark is new. Actually, so is the team -- I still remember the MILWAUKEE Braves. But when it comes to the Cubs, I can take my son to the same place that I was taken by my father to see my first game. That's what it is all about. Take those good memories you talked about in your mail. Tell him those stories. Let him look wide-eyed at the field and the sky and hear the sounds and smell the grass and the hot dogs.

He'll find out about the seamy stuff soon enough. Let him be a kid. It WILL bring you closer to him -- not that I'm assuming you're not close now -- and give you something to share. You won't regret it.

Federal Baseball's Basil suggested the intriguing idea of a minor league ballgame:  
I'm going to skip out on the discussion of what's wrong with baseball and what's wrong with college sports and what's wrong with pro football. Instead, I'll just recommend that, if you can't take your son to an MLB game in good conscience, then the natural recommendation I'd make is to take him to minor league games. The difference in the quality of play is not that noticeable, especially in the upper levels, and there are many benefits:
  • the ticket prices are cheaper;
  • the ballparks are less crowded and closer to the action;
  • the gimmicks are more cornball than blaringly corporate; and,
  • the game is often a bit less tedious---e.g., not as much emphasis on "left-right" matchups and the like.
I'm not really sure where the closest minor league park is with respect to where you live, but it's well worth the time and effort. It's a quieter, more intimate way to teach your son the fundamentals and pass off the subtler knowledge of keeping score or observing the umpires or looking out for how the outfielders are shading a hitter. You can get close to the action and behind the plate and teach your son how to recognize pitch types. And so forth.

And, while I assure you that it's not all heaven-in-Iowa, it feels like it's farther removed from the aspects of the professional sport to which you so strenuously object.

Patrick L. Kennedy of DRays Bay provided the perspective of a fan whose team has little in the way of longstanding tradition:  
Eh, to me, baseball doesn't mean tradition. My favorite team is the Devil Rays, they are my only baseball team. I never followed any other team. My brother was a Cubs fan when it was them or the Braves on national TV in our area. But I don't have the "going to Yankee Stadium and watching Mickey Mantle face off against Jim Palmer" memories. I just don't. My great-grandfather was the teletype operator at Connie Mack Stadium, but that doesn't mean anything to me. I know baseball's tradition is special for some people on a personal level, but not me.

For me, I love baseball for several reasons. First off, it offers the best of both worlds. For the geeks, how can you not love breaking down Jonny Gomes' VORP in Day Games in Retractable Domes with Runners in Scoring Position and the Infield In? Baseball is just an endless mecca of stats, and that is just so interesting to me. On the other hand, for the scouting types, there is also the stuff to watch for. What is his fastball clocking? How is the breaking stuff moving? Is his throwing motion hindering his performance? There is just so much to look for. On top of that, it offers strategy like no other sport. With two strikes, a runner at second, and one out, should we put on the hit an run? Should we pitch out? Do we intentionally walk this guy? There is just so much involved intellectually in every pitch.

Besides, baseball is just low key and laid back. I don't know about all of the rest of you, but at Tropicana Field, you have your pick of nearly any seat in the park. You can stroll to the concession stand, and buy a hot dog and a Coke (oops, scratch that), Pepsi, get out you scorecard, just sit back, and watch the game. It arena sports, you have all of that loud crap playing over the PA, in football, the tickets cost so much more and you are jammed in with 70,000 other fans. Not relaxing. Baseball is something out of the ordinary. There is so much to love. This only scratches the surface.

And I am spoiled, because in addition to the Rays, I have two other minor league teams just in my county, I can watch Phillies, Blue Jays, Yankees, Reds, or Tigers prospects, they are all a short drive away. Minor league baseball is just so quirky and unique, not to mention cheap, that is why I love it.

Anyways, I highly recommend baseball for those reasons ad many more, but if you start following a team or player, and stick with it, I promise you will find reasons yourself to love the greatest sport invented.

Finally, Matthew Powell of the N.B.A. weblog Pounding The Rock gave this response, which managed to provoke in me both strong agreement and strong disagreement . . . and which comes with an accompanying adult content advisory:  
So before my child's first day of school should I let him know that he/she will spend the next 17-20 years of their life studying and preparing for a job that more than likely will suck at their very will to live?

Or before they get married, should I remind them that over half of marriages fail?  That every kind word their spouse tells them may eventually be taken back and betrayed?

Instead of taking them to play in the park, should I spend Saturdays going over the endless list of atrocities man has committed against his fellow man?  Explain how people use God as an excuse for war?  Ask them to make sense of the senseless?  Layout the ramifications of Peak Oil?  Berate them for not collecting the more fuel efficient Hot Wheels?

Kids don't go to sporting events and think about the motivations of the players. They don't think about the chemical cocktails coursing through the players' veins.  They don't think about work stoppages or players' infidelity or the immense amounts of money changing hands.  They don't notice the advertisements next to the scoreboard or fools getting drunk.

They notice the green of the grass.  The smoothness of the infield.  The crispness of the uniforms.  The sheer size of the stadium.  How amazing the hot dogs taste.  

Going to a major-league ball game with your kid isn't so much about sharing the game; it's about sharing the dream of playing a game for a living.  That life could be that easy.

Eventually every kid will experience enough of life; meet enough bad people, feel enough disappointment and loss... every kid eventually gets their childhood beaten out of them.  They'll lose whatever it was that allowed them to experience joy so easily.  That will happen on its own.  

I would think one of the biggest job of a parent is preventing that for as long as possible.

So whatever hangups you have about the game of baseball, about life, about relationships, about war and peace and politics... your kids don't give a fucking rats ass.  Keep them to yourself.

Take them to a major league game (because no child ever says "I want to be a minor-league baseball player when I grow up!").  Get there early.  Bring your gloves.  Buy them some peanuts and cracker jacks.  And don't do anything to remind them that the game cannot last forever.

Well, there you have it . . . those are SportsBlogs Nation's wide-ranging and far-reaching responses to my request for food for thought, which my fellow webloggers have provided in abundance.  

I certainly have a lot to consider, particularly when the foregoing replies are coupled with the sentiments expressed elsewhere by Peter, Jmac (and the commenters who responded to him), and, of course, Johnny.  

Once again, I thank my fellow bloggers profusely . . . and now I turn the open mike over to you, the reader.  What do you think?  Let me know in the comments below and in the diaries to your right.  

Go 'Dawgs!