An Orphaned Fan’s Dilemma (Or: There’s Something About Mariners vs. Sox in the City)

Bill Simmons would call me a sports bigamist, because I have loyalties to two baseball teams.

But that’s not quite accurate. I mean, I’m not Bill Pullman in Big Love or anything, but it’s a complicated matter. In this case, I’m more of a sports orphan.

See, my hometown is Portland, Oregon. And here in Portland, we’re not exactly the hugest sports fans in the first place.

Sure, we have the Trail Blazers, but you know… it ain’t like it used to be.

Back in the heyday of the Rip City era, we used to go crazy over the Trail Blazers. Clyde “Gliding with the Stars” Drexler, J-Kersey, TP, Buck n Duck, and Uncle Cliffy. We lived and died with those guys. This was during the last golden age of the NBA, when “I Love This Game” was more of a declaration of faith and less of a marketing ploy, when Michael Jordan and the Bulls were running roughshod over the rest of the league and Allen Iverson hadn’t learned to resent practice yet.

During this period, I really did love the NBA. Other sports were barely even on my radar. The Super Bowl, Stanley Cup, World Series… those weren’t really for me. I was a hoops fiend. If I would’ve had a cell phone back then, my ringtone would’ve been “Roundball Rock,” the official theme of “The NBA on NBC.”

Fast forward several years to my college years in Chicago.

My first couple years in Chicago I spent all of my sports fan energy hating the Bulls, mostly out of spite for how badly they made Clyde and company look in the 1992 Finals. After the Bulls were dismantled in ’98, I found I could no longer muster up enough hatred for the Bulls so I ended up transferring all that hatred to the Lakers, who I already disliked because they were the Blazers’ biggest division rival. This hatred was fueled not only by my hatred of arrogant former Bulls coach Phil Jackson, but by the Blazers legendary collapse during Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals in 2000. As the soap opera that was the NBA rolled on, I experienced more ups and downs than a bipolar pogo-stick champ on Stanozolol.

By early 2002, I needed a break. I was tired of seeing my Blazers get booted in the first round of the playoffs, tired seeing the Lakers keep pulling out one improbable win after another more than that, I was tired of having my emotions toyed with. I need something more… steady. Something less intense.

And then a funny thing happened… I discovered baseball.

While I worked my warehouse job, I got in the habit of listening to sports talk radio. And this particular radio station would broadcast White Sox games during the day. So instead of the daily controversy and smack talk of Dan Patrick and Jim Rome, I was treated to the laid-back verbals of John Rooney and Ed Farmer, one of the best play-by-play / color-analyst combos of all time. And on the slowest days of June and July, inning by inning, game by game, I began to get sucked in. I began to appreciate the slow, relaxing virtues of summertime baseball on the radio. And you know what? Pretty soon, I started drinking the Kool-Aid. Like a tender heart coming out of an abusive relationship, I latched onto baseball’s most redeeming qualities… it’s steadiness, its eternal optimism, its longstanding tradition. Lo and behold, I became a fan of baseball. And in particular, I became White Sox fan.

This was very significant for me, and not just because I was surrounded, on Chicago’s north side, by rabid Cubs fans. It was significant because I was slowly opening up to a whole new world of personalities, rhythm, and jargon. My Dad grew up in New York, so this world was as familiar to him as public transportation and crime. But for me, it was exotic and foreign. And so I watched, listened, and took it all in.

By 2005, the Sox were on a serious roll, and I was enjoying every minute of it. My fan meter was buzzing like crazy, just like it had during the Blazers heyday. Except that instead of games being played every weekend or every four days or so, they were, like, every day. Nothing, it seemed, could put a dent in my newfound fandom.

And then I moved back to Portland.

By the time the White Sox made it through the playoffs and actually won the World Series, I had a hard time finding anyone who cared. Like I said in the beginning, Portland is not exactly a huge sports town to start with, having only one major pro franchise. So as much as I was checking the scores on my phone, and listening to the games on the radio (we just moved and I didn’t even have an antenna for my TV), it just wasn’t the same as being smack dab in the middle of all the underdog jubilation of Sox fever. I was very satisfied with the Series win, but I always felt like I was missing the party.

Now, it’s the spring of 2007, and I’m all geared up again for another White Sox run (they finally beat Oakland in a series!), except there are two problems: I’m still surrounded by people who, by and large, care nothing about baseball in general… and I can’t listen to the games anymore. I can’t afford to get the satellite radio package that would give me my craving of Sox broadcasts. Instead, when I listen to the local sports talk radio station, I get broadcasts of the Seattle Mariners.

Which isn’t entirely bad, since they’re the other team I have loyalties to.

I told you… it’s complicated.

See, I was raised in Portland but before then I lived for seven years in Seattle. And the first baseball game I ever attended was a Mariners game. But I’d be lying if I said I was a Mariners fan. I was more of an extremely fair-weather fan. During their dicey, sucky years (most of the team’s history) they were not important to me at all. I didn’t even begin to pay attention to that team until they acquired Ichiro in 2000. I have vague memories of M’s fans feeling betrayed because a talented shortstop named Alex Rodriguez left for more money. The closest I came to being a fan was watching their 116-win regular season in 2001 go up in smoke when they lost in the first round to the Yankees. The only other playoff series I can even remember is 1995, when they also lost to the Yankees, but not before beating… wait for it… the White Sox.

Not that I completely ignored the Mariners in college. I kept tabs on them here and there. I was ecstatic when the Mariners traded Freddy Garcia to the White Sox, because I knew he was a good pitcher. I guess you could say I followed them, but from a distance. A lot of Portlanders are that way, following the Mariners from a distance. For most of them, the rationale is, hey, we don’t have a major league baseball team so this is the closest thing we’re gonna get. And before I moved to Chicago, I was sort of in that camp.

Of course, there are plenty of others who aren’t in that camp, who resent the very idea that Portland fans should embrace Seattle teams. My boy Sahaan is one of them. He’s always ranting about it. “If the Seahawks or Mariners ever win titles, do you think they’re having a parade here? And if the Blazers ever won a title, do you think they would be coming down to support us?!” His disgust registers the very idea as morally repugnant. Of course, his second theory could be tested if the Seattle Sonics end up moving to Oklahoma City, but that’s neither here nor there.

I understand Sahaan’s resentment, and I don’t begrudge him the right to reject Seattle teams because they’re not his own. For me, though, it’s different. I lived in Seattle until right before my ninth birthday. I cheered for Seattle Seahawks like Steve Largent and Curt Warner. And during the modern era, I went to the same school as Mike Holmgren’s daughters. When the Chicago Bears beat the Seahawks during the NFL playoffs this year, I was genuinely disappointed.

So when it comes to baseball, the Mariners have the rightful geographical jurisdiction over my fan rights. But the White Sox were the first to capture my heart. So now I’m sorta stuck in the middle. Especially since now I’m subjected to broadcasts of Mariners baseball, and that’s exactly how I became a White Sox fan in the first place.

So where do I go from here? Is it okay for me to be excited about how the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez outdueled Japanese phenom Daisuke Matsuzaka at Fenway? Or should I devote all my fan energy to hoping Sox starter Jose Contreras can keep some semblance of consistency? Is it okay to do both? Or should I just stick to the NBA and continue obsessing over the draft lottery and whether Brandon Roy is voted rookie of the year?

As I mull over these questions, I just end up with more questions.

Should I even care about these fan rules and just root for whoever the hell I want In today’s world of free agency, where people move wherever their jobs take them and players and coaches switch uniforms with alarming swiftness, is there any such thing as loyalty anymore? With steroid scandals dominating the headlines, will baseball even be relevant fifteen years from now?

The cynical adult inside me says “who cares.” But the innocent sports fan in me wants to know. This is my fan’s dilemma.

So talk amongst yourselves, and let me know what you think.

I’m Jelani Greenidge, and thanks for mixin’ it up with me.


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