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I’m a die-hard Boston Red Sox fan and have been since I was a kid. My day is brighter when the Red Sox win. That may sound crazy to someone who’s not a fan, but fellow sports nuts will understand. Baseball is important to me. And I would love nothing more than for my two young daughters to grow up watching and cheering the Red Sox on with me. There’s only one problem: We live in Slovenia. And they’re part Slovenian.
Have you ever explained baseball to someone who’s never seen a game? I don’t even know where to begin. I attempted it first with my wife, who to her credit, gave it the old college try. It’s not easy when you’re raised on faster-paced sports like soccer to appreciate 20 minutes of action stretched over a 3- to 4-hour period. Baseball games are hardly what you’d call engrossing. My efforts felt like an exhausting, uphill battle. Naturally, they didn’t take.
Now that I have a pair of young daughters, though, I’m determined to give it another shot. They’re only 3- and 5-years-old, and as such, I’m getting started early enough in the process to hopefully succeed where I failed with my wife, to develop in them a love for both baseball and the Sox. But how do you cultivate an interest in this beautiful, slow, relentlessly detailed, minutia-driven, most American of games? Especially, when there’s no Little League in which to play.
It was easy for me growing up in New England. Our family had the ballgame on every night of the summer, in the background while I did my homework or we ate dinner. Sometimes we would watch actively, sometimes not at all, sometimes with one eye on the screen, or a quick flash upwards out of our bowl of Cheerios when the commentator’s voice rose. Watching games live from 7:30 in the evening until bedtime was my nightly routine. But watching live games won’t work here ⏤ they don’t start until 2 a.m. Only during the playoffs will I pull off the requisite all-nighter.
The difficulty is compounded by the way I watch baseball, out of necessity, here in Europe. There are not enough hours in the day, and wives are not always willing, to have a replay of a four-hour game on in the background every night for five months. I also have less free time, being a father, as well as working full time. So, sure, while my first choice would be to just have the games on in the background and allow my daughters to pick up an understanding and interest in it as American kids do, by osmosis and through the infectious joy of their parents, it’s not going to work here.
I mostly watch games on MLB TV and because time is a commodity, my daily routine is only to watch the condensed version of the previous night’s action. It adds up to about 10 to 20 minutes a day, and that’s a time commitment I can handle. But I also realize that simply watching highlights means missing some three hours and forty minutes of the game, time as a fan spent calculating what might happen next and enjoying the possibilities and subtleties and statistics ⏤ aspects of the game that must be absorbed. There is little hope of me strapping in my daughters even for the 10 minutes of highlights, and how do you even begin to explain what’s happening when it’s so out of context. They’re too young to watch something that doesn’t immediately grab you by the lapels, or which does not involve animated unicorns. And explaining anything more than just the basic rules feels like a waste of time at their age.
I won’t lie, I feel a certain amount of pressure to introduce baseball to my girls soon. Much as children absorb languages so much more quickly in their first five years, I feel like baseball is a sort of sign language. Integrating it into their hearts is something that has to happen organically and slowly. It’s not something one can, or should, force.
But for now, I just have to keep on watching those highlight reels and hope they will watch with me. Hopefully, what begins with a casual reminiscence of those 10 minutes a day when daddy watched strange-looking men wearing tights try to throw or hit small spheres with wooden sticks eventually develops into a real interest as they grow. Only later will I show them baby photos dressed in their David Ortiz replica bibs. Plant the seed, and hope that it will grow. As long as they never cheer for the Yankees, we’ll be okay.
Dr. Noah Charney is a professor of art history and best-selling author, as well as a regular contributor to the Guardian, the Washington Post, Salon, and more. He’s an American who lives in Slovenia with his wife and two daughters.