Today Armando and his wife Rizpah treated me to an SF vs. STL baseball game as a belated birthday gift (or premature, depending on how you look at it). I ran late after a short but sweet lunch with friends, and lack of cell phone communication meant we arrived promptly at the stadium during the 4th inning.
That ended up being a blessing from the blue, for we missed the entire scoreless start of the game...and made it just in time for the only two runs scored all day, both by hometown SF Giants. The Cardinals only made a single hit since the time we arrived, while the Giants racked up some five crowd-pleasers for us. The crowd and my buddies left happy, and me, bittersweet.
The story of my team loyalty extends back into the dark days of early development and laid the groundwork for torn heart and bittersweet game. While in elementary school, my oldest brother took a fancy for baseball cards, and, following suit with the rest of the restless nation, my older brother and I followed suit. We were from SF. We were Giants fans. Every Giants card we got, we kept in our special album of clear "sheets" to display our prized possessions. My Giants collection grew, sometimes in multiples for some players.
My oldest brother, for reasons as yet unknown, broke from tradition and latched onto the Oakland A's. The A's?! Traitor! How could he cut across the Bay to the local rivals? What cut closest to home was when the "Battle of the Bay" broke out, the World Series between the Giants and the A's. When the A's conquered the Giants in the 4th game, only Arthur cheered among our entire family.
My loyalties stayed true to the Giants. And they would have stayed that way, had I never developed a newer loyalty within that team. When we collected cards, we didn't always know who was a good player. Sure, we could have looked up the "Becket," the definitive price-guide for baseball cards, but we were lazy. Instead, we instituted the definitive Arthurian guide for high-yield baseball-card financial assessment, which meant that any rookie card (unknown player, but a potential), player batting over .300 (anything above .275 is pretty decent, so over .300 is excellent), or known star (Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Will Clark...of course they're keepers) fell out of the pile and into our clear plastic sheets of collectibles.
This algorithm soon proved untrustworthy, full of false negatives and positives, but we discovered it too late. Or just in time, however you look at it. For by the time we revised our scheme, I had developed a large collection of worthless cards that I considered worthy, including the lowly Mike Aldrete of the SF Giants.
Everyone had a favorite player. Most in my 2nd grade class chose Will Clark, star 1st baseman of the Giants. A few renegades crossed the bay to choose McGwire or Rickey Henderson. One off-the-wall sort chose Candy Maldonaldo from the Giants. I never understood why. And no one ever did or probably will understand why I chose my favorite player.
But nevertheless, allow me to explain. The story is fantastic, so gather up your smores and make a toast. I hunted through my sheets and sought after a Giant, unknown but underestimated, a real potential in a field of Giants. And of course I had to have a lot of cards of him. In fact, if I recall correctly, that would be enough--whichever player of which I had the most cards would be my favorite player. My loyalties aligned with Mike Aldrete.
"Mike Aldrete?" my youth pastor asked my brother after handing him a card, a gift to me. "Why does he like Mike Aldrete?" Andrew couldn't really give an answer. My answer was that I happened to have six of his cards--a quantity stemming from his rookie-ness, in turn a product of an obsolete, flawed system--the most of any single Giant in my collection. Plus, I had bought--I had invested--in one of his rookie cards from a different card maker. We won't mention that I had invested solely because his card was one of the cheapest the store offered.
Mike Aldrete became my favorite, and he would stay that way. Even when he grew old and was traded off to the Montreal Expos, when I became an Expos fan. I sent him an 8.5" x 11" photo of himself to autograph for me. By the time he returned it, several years later, he was on the Cleveland Indians, and I was an Indians fan. I had actually lost track of him for up to a year, only discovering him one day on an Indians game stats listing.
I had my first glimpse into the eyes of a parent when Mike Aldrete returned to the Bay Area, this time as an A's player. It was as if he were a son traveled to the East Coast for college and come home. I followed him on local news now and rejoiced in his first grand slam ever. Not long afterward he disappeared from my knowledge, and not until the advent of the Internet in my home did I find out where he traveled (a stint with the Angels and even a one-inning pitching debut and World Series ring with the Yankees) and where he is (first-base coach for the Diamondbacks?).
The last time I knew him as a kid, I knew him as an Athletic, and so my favorite team had become the Oakland A's. I eventually moved to the East Bay, giving me more freedom to Oakland fandom, and soon my roommate and best friend from junior high joined me as he suddenly became a baseball fan and an A's/Raiders avid.
All was well in baseball loyalty land, but I knew that I would soon be traveling to a new school and a new city--and a new team. Who would I root for? When it turned out that I would remain in the Bay Area, just hopping across the Bay to SF, I was excited to return home to the Giants. Of course I would still be an A's fan at heart, but now I could root for my roots, the black and orange, the giants of my past. So long as they weren't playing the A's, I would be a Giants fan. But over the years I had developed one last hurdle. And it refused to remain silent.
My oldest brother, the original instigator of my baseball fandom, had gone to school in St. Louis. He has a sorta magic touch when it comes to sports. Once he moved to St. Louis, the Rams and Cardinals, formerly two nada teams, took the helm and won the Super Bowl and showed of Mark McGwire's record-breaking home run derby, respectively. Now he has moved to Boston...and both the World Series and Super Bowl have moved there, too, with the Red Sox and Patriots. In the meantime, having spent the past seven years flying out to visit him in St. Louis during the summers, I had slowly become a Cardinals fan. St. Louis is a baseball town, and you've gotta love baseball if you're going to stay there for any length of time. My brother and I agreed that we would be St. Louis fans, so long as that didn't interfere with remaining Niners/A's fans. In other words, we would root for St. Louis so long as they weren't playing the 49ers or the A's.
Today a dilemma arose beyond all loyalty proportions. Not the A's, but the Giants played the Cardinals. My two no-conflict-of-interest favorite teams were duking it out. Who was I to root for? The team of my distant youth, the team that had abandoned Mike Aldrete to the Expos...but which nevertheless was home to me, both past and present, or the fling team of my college years, from a city my brother had left? If the A's were playing either team, the decision would be clear, but not so today. The baseball cards were dealt, and I chose the Cards, but I felt that I was in a win-win situation. As I told Armando before the game, "I will either be happy or very happy." A favorite or a super-favorite team would win.
By the game's end I was very happy, but for seemingly all the wrong reasons. I was supposed to be happy, not very happy. I was rooting for the Cards, but the Giants blew them out...the Cards got but one hit in my presence and only three overall. The Giants dominated in hits, fielding, and even that one inning in runs, and I enjoyed every moment of it. Where was my loyalty? What had swayed me? And who should I have, should I now, root for? All I can say is that the Giants played a great game and fully deserve cheering, while the Cards are a great team and are worthy of cheer in times bad or good.