It’s been said that the biggest problem with American men is that we are forever stuck in adolescence. Sometimes my wife will look at me and ask, “What are you thinking?” I’ll saying, “Nothing,” and if she presses, most of the time I’ll confess, “I was thinking about El Duque’s wind-up.” And that is the truth. I day dream about sports, especially baseball, all the time.
The reason that I’ve enjoyed rooting for Alex Rodriguez goes even further back–it is infantile and all about my relationship with my father. My dad was not a mediocre man. He was exceptionally bright, charming, and exuded self-confidence. At one time, he had the world on a string, he was a comer. But it crumbled and so did he. He was a dreamer who dreamed big, grandiose dreams. It wasn’t enough to start small and eventually succeed. It had to be boffo from the start.
In the end, he was a failure in his professional life. He drank himself out of a marriage. He talked the talk, but he fell down a lot.
On the other hand, my mother walked the walk in life. If my dad was Reggie Jackson, home run or strike out, my mother was Willie Randolph or Don Mattingly or Derek Jeter. Hard-working, earnest, competitive, tough. She was very much a heroine. Not without her own flaws and problems of course, but she took care of my brother and sister and me, and thrived professionally when she could have fallen apart.
Still, her success always underscored my father’s failure. And as a kid, my dad was my hero. I wanted to believe his promises, needed to believe that he’d eventually come through. Defended him when it seemed that everyone in our family, and in the world, was against him.
Which is why I’ve been drawn to rooting for Rodriguez. It’s about wishing for greatness to be realized. And not just solid, dependable greatness like Jeter, but fantastic, over-the-top, all-time greatness.
I came to accept my father, warts and all, as best as I could. By the time I was in my Thirties, I became my own man and didn’t need him to be a hero anymore. And since he’s been dead, I think about him with more compassion than I ever could when he was alive.
But baseball is different. It brings out the kid in us who yearns for heroes. I may know intellectually that ball players, like other entertainers, are not necessarily admirable human beings, but that doesn’t matter.
I figure things are going to continue to get worse for Rodriguez because he’s like a beautiful-looking version of the hapless Charlie Brown. Today we find out that the drug he got in D.R. was illegal. There will be more mishegoss to follow, I’m certain.
But even if Rodriguez isn’t a guy I’d want to hang out with, or to know personally, that doesn’t prevent the little kid in me from wanting him to make good, just like the kid in me hoped for my old man to strike it rich and fulfill his great potential.