Passing on a Passion

I’ve been teaching Daughter some of the finer parts of sports recently. Y’know, “beyond the box score” stuff that gives you a deeper understanding of what it’s like to lace up them cleats and face the world like men.

But before I could get to the intricacies of ideal down and distance for a screen pass, I had to start with more basic fundamentals. Like “this is called football.”

Not that we’ve avoided exposing her to those various American pastimes, altogether. Wife and I met at a baseball game, so Daughter attended her first minor league baseball day (on Jimmy Buffett Night, no less) at about six weeks old. She’s been to three of the five major league stadiums in California. If we’re ever allowed to travel out of state again, she should finish the AL and NL West in no time. One trip to Seattle, one trip to Colorado, two places I love to visit!

What’s that? Arizona? Texas, too? During the summer?!?

But I don’t inundate her with many televised sports. Wife and I both grew up in the 1970s and 1980s when every television in America was required to be turned on whenever anybody was inside the house or else the Russians were going to win. Nowadays we prefer to have music on instead of TV. With SiriusXM and Pandora and Amazon Music all streaming on our Alexa, it’s a variety that would’ve given me carpal tunnel system with that behemoth of a five-CD changer I spent a month’s salary on my senior year of high school. 

When we do watch TV, it doesn’t follow the same pattern as when my father only knew of two types of programming – news and sports. By contrast, our TV is tuned to Disney, Jr about ninety percent of the time. 

The times I absolutely need to watch a baseball or football game, I’ll go to another room or, since this is the 21st century, watch it on my laptop or phone on the couch right next to my daughter watching Bluey. Daughter actually thinks curling is as prominent as football, since it’s only on devices, never the TV, so I watch it more often. Use that for your 21st century communications thesis!

Ha-ha, just kidding. Communications majors never write papers longer than a paragraph. 

Sometimes I wonder if my relationship with my own father would’ve been improved if he could’ve watched his sports by himself. Or, more realistically with my dad, if he could’ve sent me to the other room to watch my cartoons because, goddammit, he worked hard to pay for that roof over my head and, goddammit, he only gets to watch sports on weekends and every evening, but not Sunday evening because that’s 60 Minutes time and…

Sorry, where was I? Oh right, if I hadn’t interrupted my dad’s sport-watching so much, he might not’ve hated me so much? Or vice versa? 

But due to a confluence of events over the past month or so, she’s had to cede a little bit of her television dominance to some live sports instead of the same episode of Vampirina for the sixth time in a row. And since I’ve commandeered the tele, the least I could do was explain what’s going on. It makes me feel less guilty about asserting my manorial rights. Plus if I don’t engage Daughter and she jumps all over Mommy, then Daddy’s sports-viewing time is going by the wayside regardless of the fact that they’re going for it on 4th-and-one.

The first sport to grace our television screen was the baseball playoffs. I couldn’t watch them on mlb.tv subscription, which I use during the regular season because I root for an out-of-town team. But somehow the 150 hard-earned dollars I spent for their product doesn’t extend to the postseason. Sheesh, talk about a rip-off! I only get to watch 162 games from my favorite team for that $150? Why, back in my dad’s day, he was able to watch something like seventy WHOLE games. But only for the local team. And only if they weren’t opposite Belle and Sebastian, which my dad referred to as “What’s-his-face and his dog.”

At least he knew there was a dog in it. During the Latchkey 1980s, that might’ve won him a nomination for Parent of the Year.

So, sitting next to Daughter for an opening-round Padres game,  I started trying to explain baseball to Daughter. And herein the problems began. Because, in case I haven’t made it clear, my relationship with my father wasn’t great, and it was even worse when it came to sports.  If you need more proof, his favorite teams were the Dodgers and the Raiders. I grew up (yes, even when he was in the house) an Angels fan. When I finally got around to noticing the football, I opted for the Broncos, probably because I’d heard my dad curse John Elway’s name many a time.

I wasn’t entirely a self-taught sports fan. My grandparents were in the Angels booster’s club and I’ve been going to games in Anaheim my whole life. But I was in my teens before I learned how to throw a baseball. I used a VCR to tape a Braves relief pitcher’s delivery on TBS, then played it back in slow-motion to copy the mechanics. To this day, I still can’t throw a football. I throw it like a baseball, which countless people tell me isn’t possible until they see me throw a football, then remark, “Holy shit, you throw that just like a baseball!” 

It’s a good thing Daughter’s name isn’t Son.

Most of my sports viewing came about in college, primarily so I’d have something to talk to “normal” people about. My interests revolved around history and classic rock and penis/fart jokes. Meatloaf says two out of three ain’t bad, but I was, at best, batting .333, and unless I could pick and choose my audience, most of the time it was a hat-trick of strikeouts. So I expanded my understanding of baseball, including the fact that there were, at the time, 23 OTHER teams not named the Angels. I also partook in the weekly dorm-floor football viewing on Sunday mornings. Sprinkle in a dabbling of hockey and basketball and, voila!, I don’t have to leave the room when my anecdote about Catherine the Great falls flat.

I’ve taught plenty of girlfriends and other nerd-friends about how to follow sports, but seeing as my own appreciation for sports occurred beyond the age of reason, I don’t know if those experiences translate to fathering. When explaining the game to a six-year old hoping for guidance and discovery, the differences between a two-seam and a four-seam fastball probably ain’t gonna cut it.

The only thing my mom ever told me about how she raised me to like baseball was that, when we went to a game, we couldn’t go get food until there was a number under the “4” on the scoreboard, meaning top of the 4th if the away team scores a run, otherwise we had to wait until the middle of the inning when the “0” pops up. In retrospect, that seems to predicate one toward rooting for the away team, but I guess she was more concerned with her wallet than my blooming sports interest. Perhaps that helps explain my disparate, heterodox sports fandom these days. I live in northern California and the short list of teams I root for include the Anaheim Angels, Tennessee Titans, Colorado Buffaloes, and Calgary Flames. Don’t ask. It’s probably worthy of blog post of its own.

And no, they’re not the Los Angeles Angels. California Angels is okay, but Anaheim Angels is ideal. It’s alliterative and appears first in the alphabet. You’re never going to win over L.A., Arte Moreno. People in Orange County hate L.A. Lean into it!

My dad is no longer alive, so I can’t consult him about how he tried (and failed) to pique my interest, or at the very least, how he explained sports to me. I assume it was something along the lines of, “Fuck off, kid, the game is on.” Not in so many words, but the message would’ve been clear.

So I started with the basics. Pitcher versus batter, the most pure faceoff in all of sports. Equal parts strategy and execution. Two warriors trying to out-think each other before resorting to natural talent honed by thousands of repetitions.

How did I translate this into Daughter-speak?

“The guy with the ball is trying to throw it through the little square on the TV screen.”

One thing is certain. I can guarantee that isn’t how my father explained it to me. 

The “little square on the TV screen” is, of course, the strike zone, which is digitally imprinted on most baseball broadcasts over the past decade. I’m usually not too big of a fan of it. It’s not the official strike zone, of course, because that’s only in the eye of the umpire. But if nothing else, it gives us verifiable proof of what we’ve all been yelling since “Damn Yankees” – “You’re blind, Ump. You’re blind, Ump. You must be outta your mind, Ump!”

As an aside, who the hell decided that Broadway musical and 1950s baseball was a good mix? Throw in the devil, too. I’d be curious to watch the “Mad Men” episode that analyzed exactly which cross-section of society they were aiming for with that one. And why, when they revived it in the 1990s, did they stick with the Washington Senators, a team which hadn’t existed in 25 years? It’s gotta be even more confusing now, with the new Washington team playing in the national league and, ergo, never losing a playoff spot to those Damn Yankees. Baltimore Orioles is the same number of syllables. Just sayin’.

So I managed to get a few basics through to Daughter. Four pitches thrown outside the little box means a walk. Unless the batter swings and misses. Until I told her, on a 3-2 count, that the next pitch was the one where it would all be decided, only to see it fouled off. Then again. Then again. 

And she was done. Maybe next season she’ll learn what a base hit looks like.

Since the World Series, we’ve been doing some mandated COVID home-improvement projects. At least I assume they are mandated, because everybody I know is building house additions and buying new couches and converting the kid’s bedroom into a dry sauna room even though the kid is still living in the house. 

Our particular project was getting new carpets. This necessitated moving a bunch of furniture around, and for about a week, we only had (shudder…) one TV plugged in. In the whole house! What is this, 1947?

To make matters worse, my Titans were on TV. Since they made the AFC Championship last year and have the best running back in the game, they’re showing up as the game of the week a little more often. This is difficult for me because I’m used to the years when they only show up on my TV once or twice a year, so I’ve attuned myself to watching every time they’re on. This year, I’ve already seen them four times and we’re only halfway through the season. Although one of those was a Tuesday game that was delayed due to COVID, so maybe it’s less about Derrick Henry and more about 2020 just being fucked up in general.

Anyway, the Titans were going to be on TV and we only have one TV in the house. Sorry, Daughter, but I’m going to do an impression of the grandfather you never met. Now pull my finger.

So Daughter plopped herself next to me and asked me what was going on in the game, what the teams were trying to accomplish.

And what did I tell her?

They’re trying to get to the yellow line. 

That’s right, the magical first-down marker which I mocked and reviled when it was first added to football games. I considered it the greatest dumbing-down in the history of sports. How the hell hard is it to figure out how far they have to go if it’s listed as third-and-four and, by the way, they’ve got a giant fucking orange stick glaring at you from the sideline. 

Yeah, THAT magical yellow line.

You see, Daughter, they have three chances to get past the yellow line, and if they’re successful, they’ll get a new yellow line. If they don’t make it, they have to kick it away to the other team, who will get a yellow line of their own. 

Fortunately, she didn’t watch long enough to see somebody go for it on 4th down.

So let’s chalk “teaching sports” up as one more thing I can’t conceive of doing before technology existed. I don’t know how we found random businesses before Google Maps. Nor how we coordinated schedules with friends. How the hell did teachers teach without googling “Russian Revolution lesson plan.” How did authors write without cut-and-paste functions? Did they really have to retype the whole fucking page to fix one typo? What happens if there’s a typo on the retype?

And now, sports. The pitcher is trying to throw the ball through the little square. A football team is trying to get to the yellow line. If I ever turn on a hockey game, I’ll have to tell her they all want possession of the glowing thing.

Well, at the very least, I can be sure of one thing. 

I’m certainly not approaching sports with my daughter the same way my dad did with me.

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