Inside baseball

If she really loved me, would she be rooting for my team's arch rival?

Published July 12, 2004 7:40PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I have a problem that probably falls more within King Kaufman's purview than your own, but I am hoping you have some insight for me. The problem is baseball. Well, baseball and this terrific new woman I have been seeing. Here's the thing: I love Major League Baseball. It is one of my consuming passions. Nearly every day from April through September, I am listening to a baseball game on the radio, watching one on television, or sitting in the stands at the local ballpark. In idle moments -- sitting in traffic, or waiting in the checkout line at the grocery -- I find myself contemplating strategy: Is it better to throw more pitches and try to get strikeouts, or pitch for contact and hope that your infielders can handle easy ground balls, thereby minimizing your pitch count? I am fiercely loyal to my local team -- I will not mention their name for fear of alienating any sympathetic baseball geeks who might be reading -- and as much as I try to objectively assess the soundness of their personnel choices or chosen style of play, I live and die with their slumps and hot streaks.

But there's this woman. She is funny and smart and beautiful and she doesn't even care that I am a responsible adult who is nonetheless completely obsessed with baseball. She finds it charming, if you can believe. She is eager to learn more about the game. She thinks I make baseball sound even more interesting. There's just one problem: She roots for my team's biggest rival. I won't mention their name, either, because they are a team that is intensely beloved by intellectuals and romantics and as soon as I say who they are, you will lose all sympathy for me. And I want you to be sympathetic. Because this hurts me.

She hasn't traditionally followed baseball closely, and if you asked her why she chooses this rival over my team -- which she says she likes very much, too, just because I have so winningly made a case for them in recent months -- she will cite various multigenerational family loyalties and geography and her team's Tragic History, and the bottom line is, she is very adamant about cheering for them, if she is going to be following professional baseball.

So recently, these two teams, her team and my team, went head to head, and my team lost. And badly. And repeatedly. Which would make me kind of miserable under the best of circumstances. But I feel even worse because I know that, not so deep down, she is happy. She is unhappy for me, because she is wonderful and kind and I think she may love me a little. But she is happy for herself.

And I can't stand it. My knowledge of her happiness is eating away at me. It feels like disloyalty -- I care so much about my team, and how can she take pleasure in something that is causing me so much pain?

At the same time, I understand that this is completely insane. First of all, this is baseball we are talking about, not politics or ethics or something meaningful. Second, I know she, like my very own baseball team that is playing so poorly of late, is not trying purposefully to hurt me. It's just happening.

Lately, I have not been very nice to her. I feel bad about this. I have tried to remain lighthearted and pleasant, but it is completely obvious to both of us that there is malicious intent behind my words when I tease her about her team now.

Intellectually, I understand that when you meet a beautiful and smart and funny woman, who likes you and thinks you are charming, making her happy should be your top priority. Not a baseball team staffed by millionaires and owned by billionaires, whose only concern is that you buy their tickets and drink their overpriced bottled water. But I cannot shake the feeling that if she really loved me, she would dump this team she doesn't really care that much about, anyway.

0-2 Count

Dear 0-2 Count,

King Kaufman hired me at Salon. He was my boss. He taught me everything I know.

King likes baseball. He knows a lot about it.

When I started at Salon, I hated baseball. In fact, one of the first dumb things I did at Salon was record an audio piece called "God, I Hate Baseball!" Later I started liking baseball. I started rooting for the Giants. I even developed a personal dislike of Dodgers closer Eric Gagne -- because every time he shows up, the fun seems to end, and that's no kind of a guy to be. But I remain otherwise ignorant of the finer points of the game and the passions it engenders. So, as you suggested, I forwarded your letter to King to see what he thought.

King writes, "At first glance at your letter, I thought you must have been a Yankees fan and your enamorata a Red Sox rooter, since the Sox had swept the Yanks in their most recent series when your letter arrived in mid-June, and you wrote that mentioning your team's name would alienate potentially sympathetic baseball fans. Also, intellectuals and romantics love the Red Sox.

"But that bit about your team playing poorly lately tells me you're either an extremely demanding Yanks fan, because they've played well since they were swept by Boston in late April, or you're a fan of the struggling Astros and Ms. Thing is pulling for the Cubs. I suppose I might be off-base, but remind me to invite you to my next poker game.

"So let's assume you're an Astros fan, and you can substitute the correct teams for 'Astros' and 'Cubs' if I'm wrong.

"My advice: If the choice is the woman or the Astros, take the woman.

"It sounds like a much better relationship. You think what you have with the Astros is love. It isn't. It's fandom. If you ceased to exist except as a wallet filled with money, would the Astros shed a tear for you? I think not. Perhaps your girl wouldn't either, but if that were the case I doubt we'd be having this conversation.

"The Astros won't cook you dinner, watch your back, laugh at your jokes or lick your ear just so. And your girlfriend won't decide in late July that even though she's only six games out there's no hope for this year so she'd better start trading away your favorite players for minor leaguers.

"My own wife, if I may talk about my own wife, has a passel of ridiculously goddess-like charms. She's cute and funny and hip and smart and sexy and can drive a stick shift. But she has no use for baseball. Once I took her to a college game in San Francisco, and as the fog rolled in and the rain started and the temperature dropped from a comfortable 60 degrees to something more like 45, she wanted to leave after the 13th inning -- with the game still tied!

"I say be thankful this woman likes baseball at all and don't worry that she roots for the rivals. Look at it as a way to add spice to your relationship. When the Astros beat the Cubs she has to pay and when the Cubs beat the Astros you have to pay. I'll leave it to the two of you to decide what paying means."

Thus writes King. I have nothing of substance to add.

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