I’m breaking a firm rule of mine here: I’m going to write about my son. Writing about your kids is the last refuge of the exhausted, “I don’t have anything to write about so I’m just going to start typing about the thing I’m looking at this very second” columnist; it is, as they say in professional wrestling, cheap heat. So I promise it’ll be just this once, and I’ll make it quick.
My kid turns one year old next week, and on Sunday I took him to his first sporting event, a Brooklyn Nets win over the Orlando Magic. I had to find out later that the Nets won: A basketball game lasts far too long for an 11-month-old, and so we were gone by halftime. It was a reasonably fun experience: He drooled a lot, ate some strange foods and grabbed the hair of a couple people sitting next to us. It was sort of what it must be like to go to a game with Charles Barkley.
Anyway, like everything since his birth, he won’t remember any part of the game, except maybe when he booed Kris Humphries. So I don’t know if the Nets are going to stick as his favorite team. But the real question is whether or not I give him a choice.
One of the main things I’ve discovered since becoming a father is that, for this first year, I’m not really doing much that’s going to make a difference. The goal is to keep him alive and/or not to drop him on his head. And I have a feeling this’ll be the case in the years to come: Whatever wisdom or lessons I attempt to impart -- and it is the hubris of parenting to believe that, with one stroke, one suddenly develops wisdom to impart -- will be discarded or ignored, and he’ll just go about being the person he was going to be regardless. Parents always overrate their own influence.
But one way I know I can make a difference is with the sports teams he cheers for, because I know, once the decision is made, it’ll stick. I’m not the first person to say this, but it’s still true: The only thing on earth that’s exactly the same in my life now as it was when I was six years old is my love of my sports teams. Everything else has changed, but that hasn’t, and it never will. You don’t choose your teams: Parenting, geography and circumstance combine to sentence you to your team, lifetime, without parole. Both of my grandfathers were Cardinals fans, my dad was a Cardinals fan and therefore so am I. The only way I wasn’t going to become a Cardinals fan was if I’d decided I hated sports all together, or I’d been hit by a truck.
Of course, it was easier for me to be a Cardinals fan because I grew up two hours from the stadium: St. Louis was the closest city, and most of my friends were Cardinals fans. And I was a kid during one of the Cardinals’ finest eras, the Whitey-ball speedsters of the ’80s. The star player does backflips when he runs onto the field and is named “Ozzie?” No seven-year-old alive could have resisted that.
But will it be more of a challenge to push the Cardinals on my kid? After all, we live in New York City, approximately 963 miles from Busch Stadium. He won’t go to school with any Cardinals fans, and, well, let’s say that Matt Holliday is now Ozzie Smith. (Though kids do love Yadi.) It would seem difficult to re-create the circumstances I had. Is he in danger of becoming a Yankees fan? Or, egads, the Mets? Life is hard enough without that hanging around your neck.
Fortunately, technology has provided us with, essentially, the opportunity to construct a world for our kids: We can build a bubble around them of our own choosing. Thanks to MLB Extra Innings and MLB.tv -- and NFL Sunday Ticket, NBA League Pass, the Big Ten Network and every other specialty sports cable channel -- our teams can be playing in our living room throughout the entire season. I watched the Cardinals and the Illini growing up because those were the only games on; now, as long as I keep my son away from the clicker, he’ll never even know he lives in the same town as the Yankees. As far as he’ll know, his room is just down the street from Busch Stadium.
I feel like I owe it to him, to my father, to my grandfathers, to make my son be a Cardinals fan. If he chooses anything else, well, Thanksgiving is going to be miserable for him for the rest of his life. I think I have the tools to keep him in line, though.
It’s funny: You can make a pretty strong argument that picking a sports team for my kid is the most power as a parent that I’ll ever have. I can’t guarantee anything about what he’ll be like when he’s 70. Except this.
(Just to be safe, though, I think when he’s sleeping I’m gonna go in and tattoo the Cardinals logo on his thigh.)
* * *
Seriously: I PROMISE this is the last time I will write about my kid. I’m a little embarrassed I even did this. Thoughts, concerns, grousing, future column ideas? Remember, this column is meant as a valve, a release, for when you’re yelling at your television during games, or, after reading a particular column, you’re pounding your fists into your computer. Obviously, I’ll need your help to do that. Anything you want me to write about, let me know, through email or Twitter. I am at your beck and call.