Late last summer, as the San Francisco Giants (my team), New York Mets (my wife's favorite), and Chicago Cubs (the fledgling choice of my young daughter) battled for the National League wild card--a thrilling, heart-stopping race that came down to the last day of the regular season (and beyond, actually, as the Giants and Cubs finished tied and had to stage a special one-game playoff in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field)--I couldn't help but smile to myself and think of my late father, and not just because he instilled in me a love of athletics that resulted in my becoming a sportswriter. No, the source of my pleasure was realizing that my young family was turning out just like his: Everyone seemed to be rooting for a different team. This once made for many wonderful days at the ballpark, rink, stadium, and arena, and especially produced passionate discussion around the dinner table.
I have all of that to look forward to again, as my daughter is about to turn three and my son is just shy of one and a half. This time, though, I have a new role to play. Instead of the wide-eyed child whose heart was crushed every time his team lost the big game, I now am the wise, influential elder statesmen, the seasoned veteran who knows firsthand about the rollercoaster ride that is sports fandom. Stories about Game 7 of the World Series, triple-overtime in the Stanley Cup finals, star-studded baseball and hockey All-Star games, NFL conference championships in the snow, college bowl games, Army-Navy clashes, and countless others will be mine to tell.
Even though he was named after Depression-era Brooklyn Dodger shortstop Glenn "Buckshot" Wright, my dad owed no allegiance to his native borough. You liked who you liked (for whatever reason) and rooted accordingly. There was no blind loyalty to a particular franchise just because it represented your home city or state. Moreover, if your team did happen to be from out of town, you had to work even harder to follow them. It made you a better, more loyal fan. And on those occasions when you got to see them, it made for an extra-special day.
Another way to make the day special is to tweak the home crowd. Dad loved to do that, even a half-century ago. Ralph Kiner of the hapless Pirates was his favorite player, so he rooted for Pittsburgh. For fun, though, he would go to a Giants-Dodgers game at Ebbets Field and root for the Giants. When the series shifted to the Polo Grounds, he'd go and root for the Dodgers...