On Saturday Emily and I were watching the game upstairs with my visiting parents, while Joshua was downstairs looking at the TV in our bedroom. (I don’t remember why this came about — he wasn’t being punished or anything. Unless you count watching the Mets as punishment, which right now I’d have trouble disputing.)
So Rod Barajas smacks his liner to left, Willie Harris dives for it, and Willie Harris being Willie Harris, it winds up nestled safely in his glove. We all groan, and I let a couple of obscenities fly. For obscure reasons involving this digital thingamabob and that digital doohickey, the downstairs TV is a couple of seconds behind the upstairs one. As shock and anger give way to grumpiness, we hear a little moan from downstairs. A minute later Emily finds Joshua lying on our bed completely still, head mashed into the covers.
Yeah, it was that kind of loss.
When the kid came upstairs, I asked him if he remembered the first time he saw Willie Harris in a game. He shook his head, and I reminded him: You were four years old. You and I went to Shea. It was really hot. The Mets fell behind against the Braves and came almost all the way back in the ninth, and Carlos Delgado hit one over the fence — and one of the Braves caught it.
“I remember that!” he chirped.
“You know who that Brave was?” I asked. “It was Willie Harris.”
When my kid is really interested in something he kind of looks at you for a moment and then gets quiet and stays that way. So it was on Saturday. I could see the wheels spinning around in there: Willie Harris isn’t a Brave anymore but a National and Carlos Delgado is gone and I’m a lot older but Willie Harris is still killing us. (I didn’t even tell him about Ryan Church.)
Fast-forward a day, and Emily and I are glumly watching the Mets finish mailing it in against that tomato can Livan Hernandez and the Zimmerman-less Nats. K-Rod nails Harris in the elbow and we watch the vaguely amusing, vaguely embarrassing semi-near-brawl — until Joshua realizes who the batter is and starts howling for blood. The kid is screaming at him for sticking his elbow in, for not getting out of the way, for saying mean things to K-Rod … basically, for being Willie Harris.
We hope our shared fandom will bring our children joy, and sometimes it does. But in making our kids into fans we’re also asking them to stick their innocent fingers into emotional light sockets over and over again. We’re signing them up for 60 days of disappointment a year even when things go swimmingly. It’s really kind of sick — sick to put our children through it, and sick to be not so secretly proud when they arrive at each new station of the fandom cross.
My kid now has his first Spike Owen, his debut Robby Thompson, his initial Brian Jordan. And he’ll never forget him. He’ll be in his late twenties and notice Willie Harris is the Diamondbacks’ third-base coach and his significant other will be left to wonder why the sight of some old coach pulling on one ear has provoked her beloved to spluttering rage. And then he’ll text me and maybe I’ll apologize for having done this to him. Though it’s more likely that I’ll laugh, and we’ll both hope that some Diamondback smashes a hard liner that catches Willie Harris in the seat of the pants. And then does so again.