Now that baseball’s here, I find myself looking back to my first experience at Candlestick Park many years ago with my dad. Seeing those white jerseys, that meticulously-groomed field, and the sheer enormity of the ballpark shaped who I am. At that moment, I became a San Francisco Giant’s fan. And, with that, came another requirement: a deep hatred of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Now, along with bad arches and proclivity for teenage acne, I’m passing that onto my son.
To a baseball fan, rivalries are sacred. Your team is, well, your team; their enemy is your enemy. That loyalty is important. As the son of a Giants fan, I was bred to hate the Dodgers, In fact, I consider myself fortunate: I’m able to have a stake in the greatest rivalry in all of sports (I don’t care how much you yell “Yankees suck”). It’s a feud that began when both teams were in New York and evolved into a narrative the baseball gods couldn’t have scripted. That history of wins, losses, and record-breakers is in my blood. My dad made sure of it.
I don’t think there was ever anything specific my father said to ensure the proliferation of the rivalry. But watching the games together was enough. We’d sit, he’d explain the game and curse Lasorda, praise Bonds, groan about botched calls and brawls, and express his deep disgust of the Dodgers. We’d talk baseball, yes, but often his stories would be an entryway into what he was doing in his life at the time. That’s the thing with sports: they allow sons and daughters to open windows into their fathers’ worlds, windows they don’t even realize are kept closed.
These days, I’m busy with my own family so I don’t get those moments as often as I’d like with my dad anymore. But I can, however, sow the seeds of Dodger hatred in my own son. No, I’m not going all Emperor Palpatine and teaching my son that hate is good or that he should pants a Dodgers fan when he sees one. I’m just teaching him that if he is going to hate one team, it might as well be the blue team from Los Angeles.
So how do I do this? Simply telling a toddler to do something doesn’t work because he, naturally, does the opposite of what I say. But there are ways to nudge him in the right direction. And, I’ve been nudging him every chance I get.
There’s a popular belief that babies can recognize words in utero. So, when my son was still swimming in amniotic fluid, I capitalized on this discovery. “Son, those hiccups you have were caused by the Dodgers,” I’d whisper, speaking into my wife’s belly before she’d swat my head away in disgust.
I tirelessly continued the propaganda when he emerged into the world. “Goodnight son, I love you,” I’d tell him, as he closed his eyes each night. “You know who doesn’t love you? The Dodgers.”
Those lucky enough to have a rival that’s a physical creature such as a tiger, pirate, or oriole have it easy. Find a Disney movie with a villain of the same species to hate and they can get things started. Finding a Disney movie featuring a villainous pedestrian in Brooklyn trying to evade a street trolley? A bit more difficult.
So I settled for a different foil: color. The color blue is synonymous with the Dodgers, so I ratcheted up the evil meter on blue items slightly — okay, drastically. Unless telling a child that anything blue could turn into an evil creature is just fine. Smurfs, Cookie Monster, blueberries, Dory, Blue Man Group, and Grover were the first to go. Others followed. The sky I still feel bad about, but I’m sure at one point my son will realize the teal monsters that make it up won’t actually hop down to earth and eat him bone-by-bone. Otherwise, I’ll need to employ a good therapist.
Now, this isn’t how I’ve decided to approach other facets of fathering. Of course, it’s not okay to hate a particular group just because your father did. And I intend to encourage my son to understand, empathize, and come to common ground with groups he might not like — that is what moves our species forward. And maybe, just maybe, I exaggerated about the degree to which I’ve tended to the embers of his Dodger hate. But the sentiment is there.
The truth is, I want to sit with my son and root against my most hated rival together. Not because we’ll actually hate the Dodgers, but because to sit on a couch and share in the mutual dislike of an obvious villain, the Drago to our Rocky, is, to me, an essential aspect of father-son bonding. When my son is older, we’ll hopefully recall games won and lost, beaned batters and bad calls, and that will lead us to a better understanding of one another. And he’ll know that this type of baseball hate isn’t really hate at all and that our feelings don’t linger long after the final out. It is, after all, just a game.