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The Pennant Chase, Then and Now

By Rebeldad Brian Reid

The calendar says October, which marks the screwy time of the year when I start caring deeply about baseball (and, more recently, Big Ten football). This has always come as something of a surprise to my family, who lives 11 months of the year in a kind of baseball-free existence. And then everyone wakes up one crisp fall morning to realize that I suddenly care deeply about Josh Beckett’s right oblique.

My seasonal obsession aside, I haven’t tried that hard to get my kids to care, which reflects the fact that I’m not sure what baseball symbolizes anymore. When I was born, the average baseball player made about $45,000, which still wasn’t bad money. But it did make it possible to see the guys on the diamond as working-class heroes who had to show up every day and hustle for their next paycheck.

Now, the average payday in baseball is up around $3 million. It’s even higher in basketball, and the average football or hockey salary are also in the seven-figure range. And, there are concerns about performance-enhancing drugs and plenty of generally boorish behavior that is probably not unrelated to the enormous amounts of money sloshing around. I know I’m still a bit young for nostalgia, but it sure seems like the game has changed.

And that makes it harder for me to share the celebrations of October. I can explain the intricacies of each game and matchup perfectly well, but I’m not sure what it all means in the larger sense. When I was a kid, the guys up at the plate were a testament to hard work and dedication. They were living examples of what you might be able to do if you really put your mind to it, and it was worth staying up late on a couple of fall nights to see that in action.

This year, my kids will be tucked tight in their beds this weekend, pennant chase or no pennant chase. Of course, I’m worried that I’ve been jaded by adulthood: Have any of you managed to transfer your childhood passion for pro sports to your children? Is the magic still there?

Brian Reid writes about parenting and work-family balance. You can read his blog at

By Brian Reid |  October 9, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Elementary Schoolers
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My husband and I were just talking about this the other day. I actually feel in some strange way like we're letting down our kids because neither of us gives a hang for sports. We watched the events we like on the Olympics, and we watch the Superbowl for the ads, and I might watch an occasional tennis or golf tournament on TV, but other than that, I just don't care and neither does he. And we would never spend our money going to a professional game of any kind. We'd rather be outside. Some of my son's friends know pro team lineups or starters or whatever, or they go with their parents to tailgating before games, but my kids don't even know which team is which sport. My kids are involved in team sports, but they don't watch them. And the nerds will inherit the earth . . .

Posted by: WorkingMomX | October 9, 2008 8:01 AM | Report abuse

Brian, the only difference between your youth and now is what you know about the "behind the scenes" activities. Performance enhancing drugs, misbehavior, etc. have always been part of pro sports (and big time college sports, too), but in the olden days the press pretty much buried it.

Pat Dobson, who pitched for the Tigers & Orioles in the 60's and 70's, used to say that he was never outpitched, he was "out-greenied". ("Greenies" were amphetamines often placed in bowls in locker rooms for any player to grab a handful.)

Mickey Mantle was an alcoholic womanizer. Babe Ruth had legendary appetites for women, food and alcohol. There were stories of a naked Babe chasing a naked woman through a train car packed with sportswriters; one writer told another "good thing we didn't see that."

There are two real differences now: chemistry is much more advanced, for good and bad - Barry Bonds, Floyd Landis, et al still partake; but they're caught more often; and, the press (and public/bloggers) no longer looks the other way when things happen.

(An example of the latter: check out A bunch of Notre Dame students - many of them athletes - had a keg party that was raided by police. Thirty-seven Domers were charged with either underaged drinking or providing alcohol to minors. That link contains all of their mugshots, which will be preserved forever - for their kids to see. Now, when the Gipper was playing for Rockne, was there underaged/illegal drinking? Did the names/mugshots of those caught in such activities get preserved for all time? That's the difference.)

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | October 9, 2008 8:22 AM | Report abuse

I think things have changed and I don't follow pro-hockey anymore. But it wasn't the players or the salaries that changed my mind. It was the crass commercialization of the whole sport that disillusioned me.

If we had a minor league hockey team in the area I would go to those games. I went back home a couple of years ago and went to see my childhood Junior A team and it was exactly as I remembered it.

Posted by: Billie_R | October 9, 2008 8:46 AM | Report abuse

Pro sports have changed, and in ways that are not very family-friendly. In my house, we gripe that baseball playoff games--which are the best opportunity to get new fans excited about the sport--start at 8:30 or 9pm to maximize TV revenues. (They also end too late for us old folk to stay up, now that we have real jobs and a kid.) Yes, sports heroes have always had their blemishes, but the astounding rates of crime and other problems among monied sports stars lead me to wonder how to direct our kid to the sports, teams, or individuals that truly add value to their understanding of sportsmanship, hard work, and talent...

Posted by: OneSockOn | October 9, 2008 8:52 AM | Report abuse

"When I was a kid, the guys up at the plate were a testament to hard work and dedication. They were living examples of what you might be able to do if you really put your mind to it, and it was worth staying up late on a couple of fall nights to see that in action."

Everyone thinks the "golden age" of baseball was when they were 12. When I was a kid, my dad said it was much better when he was a kid. And now we tell our kids that it was much better than when we were kids. When you grow up, you lose the innocence. Those players you say were "a testament to hard work and dedication", my dad called "a bunch of overpaid millionaires who only cared about a paycheck" or something like that.

My kids are 7 and 5 and they watch football with me every weekend (I'm a big Jets fan) and we have a great time. And we go to an Air Force game every year and they love it.

As for baseball, I hardly watch it anymore so the kids don't either. But I took the older one to a Rockies game this year and he was riveted the whole time.

Posted by: dennis5 | October 9, 2008 8:56 AM | Report abuse

We don't follow any pro-sports, but I am a ginormous ACC basketball fan. Go Heels! :) We watch the games (All ACC, not just my Heels) on TV if it's convenient. I don't necessarily think that my interests as a parent have all that much influence on what my son will be interested in as he grows up - no one else in my family is interested in college basketball, and I don't enjoy fishing although my Father does.

My Aunt just attended a Charlotte Panthers football game. She received the tickets through her work and said that the price on the tickets was over $200.00 each!!! I don't know who all these folks are that have that kind of money to put into an afternoon of "entertainment" - we sure don't.

Posted by: VaLGaL | October 9, 2008 8:56 AM | Report abuse

It is a sweet sight, on a Saturday afternoon, to come upon my husband with my 2 year old son snuggled into the curve of his arm, watching a baseball game together. My son comments on how the dude is going to hit the ball, and he cheers whenever someone does - then calls Go Orioles! It isn't about the game, but about father and son hanging out together, the dad sharing a passion with his kid. Doesn't hurt that it gives mom a little time to herself, either.

Posted by: mamabean | October 9, 2008 9:33 AM | Report abuse

All I have to say about this is there is not a more beautiful play than a properly executed suicide squeeze.

But my poor cursed Cubs lost! Hey maybe 2009 is the YEAR!

Posted by: Fred_and_Frieda | October 9, 2008 9:52 AM | Report abuse

"She received the tickets through her work and said that the price on the tickets was over $200.00 each!"

This is known as the "trickle down theory" in effect. Corporations get handsome tax breaks on entertainment expenses, then in turn, hand them out to their workers as an morale booster (or the CEOs use them for their own purposes to attract clients...) A lot of those ritsy box office seats are bought with company money, so who actually pays for them? The workers, that's who.

More perks for the rich if you ask me.

On another theme, I grew up in the DC area as a Redskins fan and was always surprised that so many people watched their games just to see them lose. Now I understand. The owner of the politically incorrect named football team, I'll call him Danny, when seeing a sparcely populated section in the upper deck, probably is working out a scheme to fill it with Dallas fans just to make that extra dime.

Money corrupts and I think professional sports is more about icons, marketing and big dollars than ever before. Maybe I didn't notice it when I was a kid, but I didn't notice the V1agra adds either.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | October 9, 2008 10:05 AM | Report abuse

@OneSockOn: Don't even get me started about the 9:30 p.m. start times.

@dennis5: Actually, the golden age of baseball, as far as I can tell, ended with free agency, which happened in the year of my birth. But I was 11 when Bill Buckner broke my heart, so I know where you're coming from.

@Fred: Now that I'm in Illinois, I was all set to adopt the Cubbies (knowing a thing or two about post-season futility), but they were here and gone so fast that the emotional bonds hadn't firmed up

@All: I haven't subject you guys to a hockey-related post in months, but I have to say that the one thing pro hockey has going for it -- in DC, anyway -- is that the Washington Capitals have open practices all the time in Ballston. It's a cheap way to get up close with the players and it costs exactly zero. Plus -- and here my fandom shows through -- I think that the current team lacks a lot of the primadonnaish tendencies that infuses so much of pro sports. If the biggest contract in Washington sports history has gone to Alex Ovechkin's head, he's hiding it well:

Posted by: rebeldad | October 9, 2008 10:18 AM | Report abuse

I used to pay some attention years ago to college women's basketball when I lived near UConn and many said women's basketball was a return to genuine sportsmanship and a purer version of the game. I lack a point of comparison but knew a lot of women who were enthusiastic about taking their daughters to the games. Lotta guys got into it too. Don't know if it's kept that *purity* in the years since.

Posted by: annenh | October 9, 2008 10:27 AM | Report abuse

Now, prices, start times, commercialism - those are things that have changed, for the worse in my opinion. It's not quite as bad as European soccer, where all the uniforms carry the sponsor's logo and somewhere off in the corner is the club badge. But it wouldn't surprise me if that happened soon.

Look at the stadia being built for the Yankees, Mets, Jets/Giants, and Cowboys. You'll have to first buy a PSL - personal seat license - before you're even allowed to buy your outrageously-priced tickets. Sports Illustrated's got a good article on the end of "Joe Sixpack" going to the games.

We do take the kids to see one or two Orioles games a year, but we actually go a lot more to minor league games - Frederick, Hagerstown, Bowie, Prince William. The drive's not bad; the best seats in the house are around ten bucks; parking's free and you can watch a ballgame up close. I'd strongly recommend that, especially to families with young kids.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | October 9, 2008 10:37 AM | Report abuse

I agree with Army Brat about the minor league games being fun and cheap. I have seen minor league games in several cities and always have a really good time.
When I was kid, my Father often took me to church league softball games and I always had a blast. Oh, and it was free except for the $1.00 hotdog and $0.50 soda.

Posted by: VaLGaL | October 9, 2008 12:38 PM | Report abuse

I've had an on-and-off interest in pro football most of my life. Haven't followed a favorite team in a long, long time though.

About three years ago a friend invited me to a Superbowl party - remember Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction"? I missed it, because that's when I took a bathroom break.

Anyway, I missed a year or two, but got invited again last January. I invited both boys to go with me (DH disdains sports), and this time older son surprised me by saying he wanted to go. Then he completely flumoxed me by following the whole game, cheering the good plays, and understanding the rules and strategies with very minimal explanations...

Where did his interest and understanding come from? I still haven't figured that out.

Now we're attending his high school football games together. They haven't won a game yet this year, but we're still having a ball up in the stands.

And yes, we'll both be going to the next Superbowl party.

Posted by: SueMc | October 9, 2008 3:29 PM | Report abuse

Well Brian, it look like the chicks that usually come here don't much like sportstalk.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | October 9, 2008 3:59 PM | Report abuse

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