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Commentary: Root, Root, Root for the "Home" Team

By Joe Marren

Buffalo, NY – In my father's house you were a Yankees fan. If you weren't, you fended for yourself on the mean streets of South Buffalo in winter and Crystal Beach in summer. Some say there's a romanticism to a life spent on the road, but when you're 10 you tend to think in more concrete terms.

Such as:

-- Where will my next spaghetti dinner come from?

-- If I end up living in the Caz Park shelter, can I somehow heat it?

-- Will the friars at Timon or the nuns at St. Teresa's let me stop by to watch "Gilligan's Island" with them?

Who needs such headaches? So I became a Yankees fan and times were good. Mantel and Maris assaulted the record books, despite Ford Frick's fondness for asterisks. (Here's an inside tip for all you writer wannabes listening in the car on the way to work: Don't try such alliterative word play at home, I'm a trained professional. OK, the seventh-inning stretch is over, get back to listening to my commentary.)

Despite the M&M boys in the '60s, my happiest moment as a Yankees fan came in 1978. Can you say "Bucky Dent," those of you wallowing in self-satisfaction in Red Sox nation? And yet, and yet ... well, I was conflicted. I was also a rebel, but unlike Marlon Brando I knew what I was rebelling against. See, what I really wanted was to love a team. Not just any team, but a team that real people really liked; a team with panache and moxy. There was once such a team, but the Dodgers fled Flatbush when I was a toddler.

So I needed a substitute; a team that would let my heart root, root, root for it like a home team. I wanted to identify with a team that struggled. I longed for one that was first in war, first in peace and last in the American League. Yes, it's true, I became a Washington Senators fan.

Why? Because Ted Williams was the manager and I didn't care if he left his hat on or tipped it to the cheering fans. Maybe Ted could be moody, but there was no denying he was the greatest hitter of his day. I admired that.

And because Frank Howard played for the Senators. He was big, he was chubby, he was bespectacled. He was an endomorph and I identified with him. Now I didn't know I would grow up to be 6-foot-5 and lean-challenged., but I wore glasses then and I wear them now. I've worn glasses since the fourth grade, except for a time in my late 20s when I was skinny and single.

So I silently rooted for Frank and the Senators in my father's house. Although my fanaticism was quietly conducted on a need-to-know basis, in my heart I rooted for them the way some people rooted for U.S. Steel; the way "Touchdown Jesus," Monsignor Toomey and "Dutch" Reagan rooted for Notre Dame; the way peanuts still roots for Cracker Jacks.

Alas, though, every silver lining has a dark cloud. There soon came strikes, scandals, and off-the-field hullabaloos involving the Billy Martins and George Steinbrenners of the world. I got married and found out my wife's family has deep and serious issues with the Steinbrenners that date back to the days when his family bought lake freighters instead of left-handed pitchers.

So I stopped watching. I stopped caring. I stopped cheering. What was the point, after all? The Senators moved twice. My version moved to Texas and became the Rangers, an earlier version that I didn't like had moved to Minnesota. Meanwhile, the Yankees signed Fritz Peterson to replace Whitey Ford. Peterson for Ford, gimme a break, jeesh!!

But, sure, there were some bright spots - remember '78? - and there were times when I could recite an entire lineup and relevant stats. But such halcyon times were rare as tempus fugited away my youth.

Old habits are hard to break so I had pretty much settled into middle age as a lukewarm Yankees fan. We had buried my dad in his Yankees jacket. By contrast, in winter I wear my Yankees hat backward to hide the logo because I just don't want the heartburn from kvetching Red Sox students. I just flunk 'em.

But now I'm conflicted again. There's a team in Washington! Will I become a Nats fan? Well, by the time football minicamps ended around May Day, the Nats were flirting with .500. Ahhh, seems like old times.

Listener-Commentator Joe Marren is an assistant professor of communications at Buffalo State College.