The college basketball season starts to gear up with tournaments in New York City, Hawaii and other locations featuring big-name teams. Ordinarily the NBA season would be a couple of weeks old at this point – except this year, with the players locked out in a bitter labor dispute with owners.
I’m thinking about baseball, and Robert Andino.
The 107th World Series recently concluded, and most pundits consider it one for the books. The St. Louis Cardinals — a team that in September appeared to be out of the postseason picture entirely — were an out away from elimination at the hands of the Texas Rangers not once but twice in Game 6 but battled back to win in extra innings. They later wrapped up the organization’s 11th title.
An exciting six weeks of baseball made me again take stock of a sport I’ve loved since I was a 4-year-old throwing a tennis ball off a brick wall, acting out what I’d seen on TV. Dramatic wild card races in both leagues played out, and my sons took notice of the action for the first time.
My 5-year-old played tee ball in the spring, and his 3-year-old brother was dragged to most of the practices and games. They knew what they were looking at when I’d channel surf and stop to check out a game for a bit. The problem? They thought every team playing was the Red Sox — the name of the 5-year-old’s tee ball team.
I was torn. I’d love for my boys to develop the same kind of passion for the game I had when I was a kid. I’d also like it to happen naturally. It seemed I had an opportunity to give this process a little nudge — but it would mean becoming Red Sox fans.
Not that I despise the Red Sox the way I despise the Yankees. Far from it, actually. Having gone to grad school in Boston and having fond memories of walking across the Fens for $10 bleacher seats, I suppose I’d come by a rooting interest more honestly than a lot of folks who adopted the Old Towne Team after the ’04 season.
It wouldn’t have felt right, though. My team’s been the Baltimore Orioles since my family moved to the D.C. region in 1978. My Major League Baseball indoctrination came about thanks to one of the elite teams in the sport — the “Oriole Way” teams of Earl Weaver, featuring pitching, defense and the three-run homer. A team that put into practice “Moneyball” principals of statistical analysis more than 20 years before it became the subject of a best-selling book.
Now the O’s are, well, a laughingstock. They finished the 2011 season with one of the worst records in baseball. Its vacant general manager position was turned down a couple of times by executives considered rising stars in the industry before the organization finally found its man — a guy who’s been out of baseball almost a decade and wasn’t very well-liked when he was in the game (which was back when I was living in Boston and buying $10 bleacher seats).
Its fans continue to write impassioned diatribes against the owner, a man many feel has singlehandedly turned the team into the league’s laughingstock. The biggest news it makes, besides hiring a new general manager, involves a hat change that will feature the cartoon Oriole synonymous for many with the glory years (me included).
But the Orioles are still my team, thanks to Robert Andino and the game-winning double he hit off Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon in the bottom of the 9th in the last game of the season to help knock Boston out of the playoffs entirely. I started watching that game about halfway through, sort of paying attention. By the time Andino’s low liner darted past Carl Crawford in left field, I was on the edge of my seat as if I was watching a playoff game.
I haven’t watched a playoff game featuring the Orioles in 14 years. But I waited 22 years for the Boston Celtics to win a championship. I’ll wait as long as it takes for the Orioles to reclaim a spot at the top of the game. I’m sticking with my team.
Which means my sons will grow up in an Orioles house. Sports allegiances die hard. Any rooting interest they develop in the Red Sox will happen on their own. They’ll get no help or encouragement from their dad.