From the time my memories began in earnest, in late 1963, my life has been dominated by the worlds of politics and sports. The JFK assassination triggered my political impulses at age seven, and I’d already started playing and following sports, especially baseball. It was my father’s favorite sport, so it became mine.
The only real closeness my father and I ever experienced was in watching the NFL games every Sunday, as religiously as we would attend mass at St. Michael’s, or in following the hapless Washington Senators every summer. I relished those times with my father. I would even keep a scorecard of every Senators game, the vast majority of them losses. We’d have to listen to them on the radio most of the time, because the team had a typically cheap, fan-unfriendly deal with a local TV station, where they only broadcast about thirty of their eighty one road games each season. My father never displayed much emotion during any game, unlike me. Even as a little kid, I was ridiculously overcompetitive, and would throw a tantrum if my team lost.
I absorbed old baseball history, reading books by long forgotten figures like Ford Frick and Jimmie Dykes. I was fascinated with the old timers, who played before my father’s birth in 1912. I studied the Dead Ball era. My father was an exceptional baseball player, the starting second baseman for Washington, D.C.’s elite American Legion team. They won the championship, and my father was given a gold baseball as the most valuable player. He gave it to some girl who lost it. That would have been a nice heirloom to have. He was eventually offered a Minor League contract by the York, Pennsylvania club, a team in the New York Yankees’ farm system. He turned it down because they paid very little at the time, and he had to help support his family.
My dad took me to a handful of Washington Senators games, and my first view of the impossibly green grass and sculpted infield is imbedded in my memory. It was magic. The only time my father was ever proud of me was when I became a “rain man” type of statistical whiz at seven or eight years old, memorizing every batting average and other significant numbers for each player in the Major Leagues. I also memorized all the legends, and their career and best season numbers, beginning my lifelong pursuit of filling my head with information that was guaranteed to never make me any money. I memorized World Series winners and losers in chronological order, along with all the heavyweight champs, NFL champions, etc. At least it made my father proud.
My parents did come and watch my Little League games for the first few years I played. I wasn’t really any good yet, so they didn’t see much. As I’ve written before, when I did become really good, they weren’t there to cheer me on. It’s a bittersweet feeling to get the game-winning hit in the championship game, to feel as exultant as one can feel on a field of play, and not have anyone to share the experience with on the ride home. I guess it was kind of like that girl losing my father’s golden ball after his championship. Sort of a family legacy. My father did watch me pitch once while I was playing in the Babe Ruth League as a fifteen year old. It was after I’d transformed my appearance and was in good shape. His only comment was that he couldn’t believe that was me out there running so fast. That was the last time he saw me play.
Actually, he showed a bit of pride when I wrote a letter to Sports Illustrated as a thirteen year old, and they published it. We hung the issue on the wall. That was kind of a seminal moment for me, as it combined my two greatest interests in life; baseball and writing. Once I hit my teens, I realized the Major League dream was never going to happen. Somehow, I wasn’t as good a player after I lost weight. The Eric Cartman figure dominated. The teenage me didn’t. I also lost interest in playing sports in high school. I didn’t like the jockocracy, and I discovered marijuana. I sided with the “freaks” over the jocks. I grew to hate the popular crowd. I’m sure my perspective comes through loud and clear in my book Bullyocracy.
But I became a super sports fan again- it’s short for fanatic for a reason- as a young adult, after my late friend Joe Burton turned me on to hockey. I had season tickets for the Washington Capitals NHL games for three seasons. It briefly became my favorite sport. I went to lots of Baltimore Orioles games after the Senators moved to Texas, even though I despised them. And, of course, I continued to devote all Sundays during the fall to the NFL games. Even after I started telling everyone I knew that the games were obviously fixed. Even after they stopped letting more than a strict quota of White players on the field. Fantasy football drew me in further, and is the reason why I still halfway watch these rigged spectacles. I’ve compared my addiction to sports to a heroin addiction. I don’t seem to be able to kick it.
In baseball, since the Senators never had a chance of winning anything, I rooted for the Detroit Tigers. I also liked the Red Sox and the Cubs. The two most snake-bitten franchises in baseball history. Who else would I be expected to like? The Yankees? The Tigers won the World Series in 1968. That was the only time during my fandom that my favorite team in any sport won a championship. By the time the Red Sox broke their near-century long curse, and the Cubs won a World Series for the first time in over one hundred years, I was no longer really a fan. It felt empty. When the Nationals won the World Series in 2019, I was very happy. But it didn’t feel the same as if the Senators had won it in 1965, and my father had been there to celebrate, too.