Sometime around fourth or fifth grade I engaged in one of the most pointless debates to ever occur in an elementary school. It was late 1987 or 1988, and another kid in my grade and I debated the merits of the Cubs’ 1982 first round draft selection.
The Cubs had the first pick and they chose Shawon Dunston, instead of Dwight Gooden, who went to the Mets with the fifth pick. The other kid asserted that the Cubs were idiots for picking Dunston, and I asserted that they were smart because Dunston was actually a better player at that point than Gooden.
For the record, I was wrong. At the time Gooden was one of the best pitchers of all-time, and even though he couldn’t maintain that level of performance, he had a solid career. Dunston played a long time, and while he had some solid seasons, he never reached the performance pinnacle that Gooden did.
But the validity of the argument didn’t matter to me then. I was hell bent on defending the Cubs and one of their players because the Cubs were my team. Every other team in the league, and every other player in the league fell into the same category: Not the Cubs.
And therefore, deserving of my scorn.
I’m reminded of this episode in my baseball fandom from thirty years ago because for the past year I’ve watched my eleven-year-old son transform from a casual baseball observer to a baseball obsessive.
When the Cubs made the postseason last year, he watched with interest and increasing excitement. He stayed up late to watch games, he learned the names of most of the players on the Cubs, and he lost perfect attendance at school to attend the World Series rally. (The only day of school he missed all year!)
This season he’s kicked things into overdrive.
He planned his days this summer around when the Cubs were on. When not watching the Cubs he was watching baseball highlight videos on YouTube, or playing as the Cubs on a video game. Most of the time he did both at once. He studies stats, he looks at schedules, he listens to broadcasts. He knows players around the league, and can probably recite the current standings.
The kid has turned into a fan.
But, like his dad, he’s also turned into an anti-fan. And, honestly, I take great delight in that, too!
His Dwight Gooden is Clayton Kershaw. If he has to hear one more person mention how great Clayton Kershaw is I’m quite certain he’s going to punch someone in the face.
He takes great joy in every Dodgers loss. On a recent trip to Holiday World he wanted to pummel every Cardinal fan we saw. Luckily, his fifth grade teacher is a Cubs fan. I suspect he’d refuse to go to school if he had to take instruction from a White Sox fan.
This is typical behavior from boys who are passionate about sports. The emotions and the expression of those emotions are the same, it’s only the players and the teams that change.
I’m happy that he has become so excited about baseball. The time I spent looking at baseball cards, talking to my dad about baseball history, studying the Baseball Encyclopedia, and watching baseball games provided some of the best memories of my childhood.
However, throughout my twenties and thirties my obsession with the game and with the Cubs decreased. I still followed the game and the team, but not to the extent I had when I was a kid. I lost track of many of the players around the league. In a recent game against the Braves I didn’t recognize a single name in the Braves’ lineup. Yet I still remember the lineup of the 1991 Braves team that lost in the World Series.
But as my son’s interest in the game has grown deeper, it has rekindled my own obsession with it. I find myself seeking out highlights of games from the previous day, and I check the standings every morning. Baseball-reference.com is the best website on the entire internet. And I’m pulling little-known trivia from the deep recesses of my mind to share with my son.
Perhaps someday my son will come to appreciate Kershaw’s performance of the past few years in the same way that I’ve come to appreciate Gooden’s performance in the mid eighties.
But for now Kershaw might as well be Satan in the eyes of my son. And that’s fine. That’s the way it should be for kids who love baseball. He doesn’t need to see beyond that.
His recent obsession with the game has reminded me of what I love about it, and for that I am thankful.
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