Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch
cbertsch

Was My First Love a Loser?

The Philadelphia Phillies lost their 10,000 game today, making them the first professional sports franchise to achieve that dubious distinction. For most of their 125 years, they were very bad. Yet when I was learning to be a baseball fan in the mid-1970s they were in the process of reversing their course. The first baseball game I ever attended featured the same opponent they lost to today, the St. Louis Cardinals. They didn't win that day in 1974 either. But they were better in 1975 and won their division in each of the next three years.

To be sure, they weren't very healthily starred even then. I still wince at the memory of centerfielder Gary Maddux, normally one of the best in the game, dropping a ball in the playoffs against the Dodgers. That's what made their World Series victory in 1980 so remarkable. Having moved to Maryland the previous summer, I wasn't able to follow them as I had in the past. There was no satellite television or internet to aid the expatriate fan. Nevertheless, even though I'd grown affectionate towards my new "home" team, the Baltimore Orioles, I retained enough of my childhood loyalty to thrill at every Willie Wilson strikeout and cheer for Tug McGraw as he strode buoyantly off the mound. When the Phillies triumphed in Game 6, it was the second-best experience of sports bliss I'd had to that point in my life, bested only by the Miracle on Ice in Lake Placid earlier that year.

By the time 1983 rolled around to find the Phillies once again in the Fall Classic, the balance in my fandom had shifted sharply to the local team. Although I was delighted to see the Phillies win the National League Pennant, I rooted for the Orioles and my new favorite player Eddie Murray to prevail in the Series, which they did without too much trouble. I had a few pangs of guilt, but, being the sort of sports lover who has to read regularly about his team in order to keep the coals of passion from going gray, I just didn't have the day-to-day familiarity with the team's new roster necessary to stay faithful.

It's different now. Although I've been living in Tucson since the summer of 2000, I still root for the San Francisco Giants. Always my second-favorite National League team, they had become "my" team during my undergraduate days at UC Berkeley. It helped that they were in the playoffs in 1987 and again in 1989, surely. But it was really the San Francisco Chronicle's "Sporting Green" that did most of the work of winning me over. I vividly remember picking the section up during my first months in the Bay Area -- it was still printed in green back then -- and practically willing myself to develop the affection necessary to enhance my reading pleasure.

Had I not been able to read the Chronicle online after moving here, I probably would not have been able to maintain this degree of loyalty to the Giants. I realize that may seem to indicate a fault in my character, but the truth is the truth. My father hasn't lived in New York City since the late 1940s, but has remained a devoted Yankees fan in absentia for nearly six decades. He does read The Times, but he'd be loyal even if he couldn't get the paper.

Anyway, I suppose I'm writing this just to air the mixed feelings that the Phillies' loss today stirred up. I certainly can't call myself a fan of the present team, but still feel a little twinge when I see their uniforms, as I did during the All-Star Game last week. And those aren't even the uniforms that my Phillies wore. The park I used to go see them play at is gone too. What affected me most today was reading the quote from Greg Lusinzki, also know as The Bull, who was a big fan favorite on those teams of my youth. For a second, I had the urge to self-consciously pursue a nostalgic fandom. Of course, the fact that this year's dreadful Giants had just lost their eleventh consecutive home game to the hated Dodgers may have had something to do with that.

The thing I really want to write about, but which I'm too tired and busy to write about now, is the extent to which being a fan of a particular sports team is like being in an intimate relationship with someone. I don't exactly have a phone book of ex-lovers. Nonetheless, I have the sneaking suspicion that, if I did have more experience of that nature, I'd feel about the more important ones the way I feel about the Phillies. Hmmmm. Maybe I'd better leave it at that, since I've already opened myself up to all sorts of attacks.
Tags: autobiography, love, sports
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