I got an L.A. Dodgers cap the other day. My wife said that I was really fickle when it came to sports teams. Perhaps, but in this instance she is mistaken. When it comes to major league baseball I have a favorite American League team and a favored National League squad. They are the Kansas City Royals and the Los Angeles Dodgers with the Royals taking an edge in a head to head competition. How I arrived at these teams is a small story and it goes accordingly.
I grew up in Middle Tennessee. There wasn't any professional baseball within a couple of hours and that's only if you count minor league teams. The Nashville Sounds didn't arrive until 1978 and the closest major league teams were Atlanta and Cincinnati. The Braves did have Hank Aaron going for them when I was little, but that was about it. The Reds just seemed bland to me. They played in a cookie cutter multi-purpose stadium on artificial turf. I may have liked Johnny Bench and the way that Joe Morgan would twitch his arm before hitting the ball was sort of cool, but they were part of The Big Red Machine. They were mere isolated spirits lost in an automaton headed by the loathsome Pete Rose. Sure, Kansas City also played on artificial turf, but you could hit homeruns into waterfalls at Kauffmann Stadium where the Royals played.
The point is that I didn't feel an allegiance to the nearest major league teams. As it was apparent that my chances of ever seeing a major league baseball game back then seemed to be absolutley zero, instead of basing my loyalty on proximity and attendance I chose two arcane methods: history book and Topps. I've found that reading and bubblegum are often reliable guides. I came to the Dodgers through reading books about baseball's greatest players. There were the great Brooklyn teams featuring Jackie Robinson which were amazing to read about, but what hooked me was the exploits of Sandy Koufax pitching for Los Angeles in the Sixties.
The dude was mild mannered looking, but dominant on the pitching mound. He was the NL MVP in 1963. He also won the Cy Young that year and also in 1965 and 1966 and this was when only one award for both leagues was given. He led the National League in ERA for 5 years in a row and he had a 0.95 ERA in 4 World Series. He was the World Series MVP in 1963 and 1965. He pitched 4 no-hitters and he's one of 17 pitchers to ever throw a perfect game. He probably would have done even more, but he retired at the age of 30 due to arthritis. His story was compelling and appealing. So I became a Dodgers fan due to history, but even this is no match for the Topps talisman inspired love of the Kansas City Royals.
It was a 1974 Topps team card that did it. I had the 1975 George Brett rookie card, but even now it's not as cool as the 1974 one of the Royals team. The simple reason is because it was the only team card I got that year. I turned 8 in '74 and most of my disposable income was in the penny bubblegum range, but my parents would usually give me a dime for a pack of baseball cards. We'd walk over to IGA on Memorial Blvd cutting through the back way where I once put a nail through a foot. I felt like it was destiny. The Kansas City Royals becoming my favorite team and not the nail through the foot part.
Two years later and the Royals would meet the Yankees in the divisional playoff series only to lose when Mark Littell gave up a walk off home run to Yankees first baseman Chris Chambliss. The Yankees then went on to be dismantled in the World Series by the Big Red Machine. The Royals were back again in 1977 only to lose to the Yankees again. I was devastated again, but this time there was hope for the World Series. The Yankees would have to face the Dodgers. There was no way they'd be able to beat the freaky fro of Don Sutton or the massive teeth of Steve Garvey. But it was not to be. 1978 would see the same story play out. First the Royals went down and then the Dodgers.
Both teams would go on to World Series victories in the 80's, but later both teams would see changes in ownership that would destroy their winning ways. My interest became less fervent as I grew older. I had rock bands to play with and then a family to start. The deluge of baseball programming made me need the sport less and less and when the World Series was scrapped in 1994 I figured I was done with ever watching the game. But the kid who once spent hours tossing a baseball up into the air and then hit it while imitating different major leaguers' batting stances couldn't stay away. The lure of the box score column was too much.
But, like I said the Royals and the Dodgers I had known and loved had been sold and their lack of competitiveness was not endearing even in a “dem Bums” sort of way. So I was seduced by the dark side. I began to root for my father’s favorite team the Yankees. It wasn’t an unprecedented thing. I had actually bought a Yankees cap when I went to see Atlanta take on the Pirates one weekend in 1990. The Yankees were not that great a team then, but least they had tradition and cheering for them was a connection to my father and to a childhood long past. The fact that they started winning like mad soon after didn’t hurt.
Still, it never felt right. I knew I strayed from my true nature. The real connection to my father was cheering against his beloved Yankees while I usually got my hopes dashed. It was like a representation of what would have happened in reality if I had tried to kick my father’s ass when I was in elementary school. It would have been impossible unless in a strike year like in 1981 when the Dodgers beat the Yankees in the World Series after a shortened season. It perhaps would have made sense to join my father in cheering for the Yanks when I was a kid, but not now.
I’m around the same age as he was when the Yankees were making mince meat out of the Royals and the Dodgers. I shouldn’t become a fan just because my father’s getting up there in years. He doesn’t need any homage or pity. He probably would prefer me to stick to my boyhood favorites. Maybe this would make him feel younger, not that I’m sure of this or anything. I just know that it never truly felt right to be cheering for the pinstriped Evil Empire. There was always some Dodger blue or Royals powder blue visible on the horizon.
So I bought a Dodgers cap. I might even buy a Kansas City Royals one too. Both teams are hovering around the .500 mark right now. So not only are they connected in my consciousness they are connected in their current mediocrity. But I have hope they will both improve now that I’m cheering for them again because my renewed now non-fickle support has to count for something.
That is unless my love is predicated on less sturdy ground. Have you ever noticed the Dodgers and Royals logos are similar? On a subconscious level maybe my whole fandom thing can be traced back to that fact. Fonts and graphics aren’t too far removed from bubblegum cards and history books. It’s probably just a coincidence. Why shouldn’t my two favorite teams share some sartorial elements? Besides, I’ve been on the road too long. I’m glad to be home.