I’ve heard the stories many times and so have you: men who hope against hope that their first child (or any number of children thereafter) is a boy. Why? Well, they need that someone to watch the big game with. They need a boy, apparently, to play catch with, shoot hoops with, or, I don’t know, have a skate with.
I never came close to feeling that way. For reasons about which I’m not quite sure, I actually wanted our first born to be a girl. Part of it comes from my being partial to films like Father of the Bride (though not, at all, Father of the Bride II) and the little-known Jimmy Buffett song Delaney Talks to Statues. I suppose I also have a bit of an iconoclastic side that likes to counter convention.
It also seems as though the primary motivation of those men looking for sons comes down simply to sports. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a man who is looking for a son to whom he can teach either chess or accounting. I am not a huge sports fan, which is odd if no other reason than I have repeatedly made my living covering it. Prior to 1994 or so, I was no sports fan at all. To that point in my life, I had been to about four total Major League Baseball games and one each from the NFL, NBA, and NHL. In all those eight or so games, I really had no concept whatsoever what was happening.
The baseball games included my first ever pro event — the Yankees hosting the Angels in the Bronx. Completely lost on me was the fact that it was a hell of game with the Yankees scoring eight runs in the bottom of the ninth to tie it. The Angels did end up winning, but it took another couple innings before Tommy Davis drove in Jerry Remy for the winning run off the enticingly named Sid Monge. What I took away from the game was that sitting in the upper deck of Yankee Stadium felt vaguely like sitting on a cliff face. Also, it was approximately 198 degrees out and I was coated in uncomfortable sheen of melted vanilla ice cream.
I later attended at least one, maybe two Astros games once we moved to Houston. The Astrodome, circa 1978, featured a scoreboard with a dazzling array of different-colored lights that created, amongst other things, snorting bulls, shooting cowboys, and homeruns busting through the roof of the dome. Also featured in there were line scores and the like. My older brothers took great joy in directing my eyes to the dizzying groupings of numbers and then making fun of me when I was unable, at seven-years-old, to identify the score to the game.
Never mind that no one, not my brothers or parents sitting alongside, ever bothered to teach me a single thing about the game. Apparently I was expected to be some sort of self-taught baseball savant and figure it all out on my own. At some point during a trip to see the Astros play, I wandered away from my seat (no one noticed) and had great fun exploring the dome. Once I returned, I was informed I would no longer be going to the games with the rest of the family and that was it for me and baseball for a very, very long time.
As for football, I had a vague memory of attending a football game at Giants stadium with a middle school friend. We paid absolutely zero attention to the game, but certainly enjoyed the amenities afforded us by sitting in the luxury box we were in. Particularly enjoyable was when a fistfight broke it right on the other side of the glass from us. That someone threw his beer on the other during the melee and it splashed all over our window just made it that much better.
Only through the fact that I, years and years later, happened upon the ticket stub to said game, was I able to determine that it was actually the first ever play-off game played at Giants Stadium and was an AFC Wild Card game with the Patriots visiting the New York Jets. The Pats won the game handily en route to what was the eventual Super Bowl decimation at the hands of the Chicago Bears.
How it must have pained my friend’s father that he managed such choice tickets to such a choice game and his only son and I cared so little for what was happening. What was happening included the Jets turning the ball over four times and allowing five sacks to Jets quarterbacks Ken O’Brien and his back-up Pat Ryan. It was not a shining moment for the Jets franchise and apparently worse than the score would indicate.
My one trip to the NBA, I know even less about. It was right next to Giants Stadium and the Brendan Byrne Arena. Nets “star” Mike Gminski was the local face put to some charity event in which kids could win tickets to a game by getting pledges for the number of free throw shots they could hit in some period of time (you can see how much I remember about this, right?) Anyway, I somehow did well enough to earn those tickets and, one night, my father escorted me and a friend to the arena to see the game. I remember absolutely nothing about it. Nothing. In fact, my only memory of the entire event was that Madonna’s song Crazy For You came on the radio on the drive home. I was sitting in the back with my friend on whom I had a crush (it was someone different from the fellow at the Jets game. If nothing else, she was a she.) Nothing happened, but it was the best moment of the night.
And that’s what I remember about the NBA.
Finally, my one trip to an NHL hockey game came many years later. It was at the old Boston Garden and the Bruins played another team, maybe the Washington Capitols. They may have won, may have lost, I can’t tell you. I do know that Joé Juneau played in the game. It could have been for the Bruins or maybe the Capitols. Either way, I liked him probably because he was the only player whose name I knew. I think I appreciated it for its undeniable alliterativeness.
So that’s it. That was the entirety of my exposure to professional sports for the first twenty-five or so years of my life. At none of those events did I have even the vaguest of notions as to what was happening on the field, rink, or court.
But then my brother Ted made amends for his lack of big-brothering earlier in life. During the 1994 baseball season, prior to its ending in a strike, he and I attended a handful of Red Sox games (back when, you know, you could get tickets.) He took the time to actually explain to me what was going on. How strange it must have looked to someone that a good, red-blooded American young man such as myself needed simple things like RBI and stolen bases explained to him. But Ted did it.
By the time the 1995 season got underway, I started going to Fenway Park on my own. I started sucking up the sport like a big, dry sponge sucks up water. Coupled with this actual game play was a version of fantasy baseball my brothers, some friends, and I started playing at about the same time. That game, using historical players, forced me to go back and research the game back to the turn of the century.
Finally, in this perfect storm of baseball education, I had started working for a regional cable show that covered baseball. Through this, I found myself on the field, talking to players, and attending events such as the All Star Game and World Series.
While simultaneously learning the game in the modern day, I was researching it in its past. At the start of the 1994 season, I knew nothing. By the start of the 1997 season, I was a credentialed member of the Red Sox press corps. I ended that 1997 season standing in the champagne-soaked clubhouse of the Florida Marlins who had just won a very exciting World Series game seven over the Cleveland Indians.
It was quite the trip.
Over the next few years, I also found myself covering both the Bruins and Celtics in person and the Patriots from afar. I still can’t speak in depth about the best methods to kill off a power play or whether the 1-3-1 or 2-3 zone is the better defense in an NBA game. I do believe that Bill Walsh’s so-called West Coast Offense changed the modern game of football more than anything before or since and that he probably still doesn’t get all the credit for it he deserves. I also think there is no such thing as a “clutch player” and that people convince themselves there is despite statistical evidence that shows otherwise.
So what does this all have to do with Maggie?
I’ve of course detailed that she is not exactly the proto-typical girlie girl. Aside from her like of “boy things” and almost complete rejection of anything pink and/or flowery, she has also shown an interest in any number of other things typically considered the purview of boys. This would include sports.
While I am happy to concede that her sartorial choices are anything but feminine, I don’t include her interest in the Patriots, et. al. as non-feminine. Who says that only little boys are allowed to like sports?
Those fathers that are looking for only boys, I suppose.
I know this: there are a lot more women working in the Red Sox press box than maybe you’d expect. I know that over the past two weeks that I have had bets with women, not men, on the outcomes of the Patriots’ play-off games. I know that many of the best players on the soccer teams I coach are the girls, not the boys. And I know that I can find as many videos of women embarrassing themselves on camera after their favorite teams lose as men. The same can be said of little boys and little girls being taped by their parents while they cry about their favorite teams coming up short.
So to those fathers who think they need boys to play games with, watch games with, or talk about games with, I think you’re selling your children and yourselves short.
Maggie didn’t know last night what the Super Bowl was, but she does now. I don’t know that she’ll sit with me in two weeks to watch New England win their fourth championship in ten years, but I know she’ll watch some of it. I also know she’ll have questions, just as she has in the past about the Red Sox, Celtics, and, most recently, the Bruins. She and I also sat and watched a few episodes of Top Gear, which I’m also certain many people would happily term a “boy show.”
It is no less fun watching a game with Maggie because she is a girl. It is no less satisfying answering her questions about what is going on the on the field (what is the yellow line? What is a touchdown?) because she is not a boy. And I feel sorry for those daughters out there whose fathers will bypass them when it comes to this part of their education.
I got that bypass when I was kid. I missed out on some twenty-years of watching and enjoying sports because I had no idea what was going on out there. I know any number of other men who don’t like sports and I’m not suggesting that their lives are somehow less because of it. What I am saying is simply that, if you have the disposition to enjoy it and you are denied, it is unfortunate.
I can’t say for sure but I imagine there are men out there who, if asked by their daughter what was happening in that football game on television, would reply with something to the effect of “don’t you worry about it baby girl! Now go on and play with your dolls.” (Is it wrong that I hear that sentence with a heavy southern accent in my head?). In the end, the whole lot of them is missing out.
Of course, right now, Maggie lives in a world where she is playing alongside the boys in soccer. She has already started to ask about playing basketball, baseball, and even football. Eventually, the reality will come to her that the rest of the world doesn’t agree with her view that boys and girls are equal when it comes to these things. I imagine even the term “powder puff” in front of “football” would be decidedly offensive to her. I don’t know what exactly we’re going to do when the day comes that we’ll have to deal with these realities. I’m pretty sure she’s not going to be a cheerleader.
Maybe that’s why those theoretical guys who only want boys exist. They want it easy, never having to tell their daughters that they can’t play football. At the same time, I don’t suppose they’d deal very well when their boy wants to run around with a pink flamingo named Dot.