A Father’s Day Tale of Fathers, and Sons, and Sports Fandom

This article 1st appeared in The Prices Do DC

Sports loyalties, like so many of our character traits, are often a combination like environment and heredity. You know, like nature and nurture. Or, to be more accurate, geography and family.

Where you were born has a lot to do with who you root for. For example, if you were born in Ohio, there is a good chance you will be a Cleveland Indians fan, no matter how you feel about the treatment of America’s Indians. That’s unless your Dad or another favorite relative has always been a die-hard Baltimore Orioles fan. Then there’s a good chance you might take the O’s over the Indians. Of course, in cities with 2 teams like New York (Yanks/Mets) or Chicago (Cubs/White Sox) the fandom choice is more murky.

I was born in Philadelphia. For 59-and-one-half-years I lived in South Jersey, except for 4 years when I went to college at Villanova University, located just a few train stops from downtown Philly. And, for all of those years – no surprise here – I was a Phillies fan. My father was from Texas and had been raised in Washington state, neither of which at the time had a baseball team. So, when he arrived in South Jersey after World War II, he became a Phillies fan, too.

I have a whole host of memories of watching games on our black-and-white TV with my Dad, or listening by to the radio, or, most importantly of all, sitting with him in the bleachers at the Old Connie Mack Stadium where the game really came alive. 

I’ll share just 2. My favorite non-Phil (and my Dad’s, too) was St. Louis Cardinal Hall of Famer Stan Musial. I remember my Dad fighting his way through a crowd to get me Musial’s autograph. He got his hat knocked off, received a cut on his bald head, but emerged with my prize. 

Then there was Father’s Day, Sunday, June 21, 1964. Every Sunday, my Dad would take my Mother and me out somewhere in South Jersey for a family late lunch. It was tradition. But on that particular Sunday, our dining tradition bumped up against an even stronger tradition, one that involved a bat and ball, not a knife and a fork. As always, we were listening to the ballgame on the way to the restaurant when it became apparent that this particular game could be a piece of baseball history. Jim Bunning, the Phils pitcher, was hurling that rarity of rarities, a perfect game. My Dad turned the car around and rushed us home so we could see the last few innings. It was a good move. For, on this day, Bunning, who later became a Congressman and U.S. Senator from Kentucky, was perfect. He pitched a game with no runs, no hits, no walks, no errors.

I tell all of this as background for last night. Last year, after we retired, my wife and I left South Jersey and moved to Crystal City, Virginia, a community that is even closer to Washington, D. C. and its hometown baseball team the Washington Nationals than Villanova was to Philly. And, for the 1st time this season, we were going to see the Nats, who were playing the Phils. The fate of the 2 teams had completely reversed this year. The Nats, proverbial also-rans, were in 1st place. There was an excitement about their young team and its season. The Phils, an Eastern Division power for years, were in last place, 14 games behind the Nationals.
In fact, just hours before the game, the Phils had made it clear that they had abandoned their chances for this year by trading 2 of their starting outfielders, one to the Dodgers and one to the Giants, for younger prospects. I joked on Facebook that I hoped I would recognize the team by game time.

Now, I figured I had learned my sports lesson in loyalty from the musical West Side Story, “When You’re a Jet You’re a Jet All the Way …” But I wondered as we approached the field for the game’s 7 p.m. start – would my love of my new city D.C. have any impact on my long-standing feelings for my Phils?

Well, the Phils made quick work of my doubts. Even though the Nationals were using their best pitcher, the Phils jumped to a 2-0 lead in the 2nd inning by way of a home run from a young fill-in 3rd baseman. The Phils continued to expand that lead throughout the rest of the game. The final score was 8-0 and, in the parlance of old-time sports writers, it wasn’t really that close. The Phils’ pitcher Cliff Lee, who had won only 1 game prior to last night, looked like the all-star he had been. There was even a 2-run inside the park home run off the bat of long-time Phils shortstop Jimmy Rollins.

I left the game as I had entered it – still a Phils fan. Of course, that’s easy when your team is winning. The Phils have 2 more games with the Nats. Maybe, just to be sure on that fan thing, you should check back on Friday. 

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
I can’t wait to see how fandom turns out for my 2 grandchildren, Audrey, who is 4-and-a-half, and Owen, who is 3. Their mother, an avid sports fan, is a Massachusetts girl and that means all things Boston. For her, it is Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, Bruins. Like me, their father is Philly with a capital PH. That’s Phillies, Eagles (or Iggles if you are a true aficionado of the team and its legendary Boo-Birds fans), 76ers, and Flyers. When it comes to college and basketball, the family rift is even worse. Shannon is die-hard Duke. If you could bleed blue, she would. Michael is a huge ABD (Anybody But Duke). So far, as a family, they have lived in Reno, Nevada and Knoxville, Tennessee, neither of which have pro teams. (Although both Audrey and Owen did wear a lot of orange during their Knoxville years) Just last month, the family moved to Atlanta for a few years. Can you say Braves, Falcons, and Hawks?

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