When I was a kid I didn’t think much of sports. We didn’t listen to transistor broadcasts of the Mets despite attending a few games in person through elemetry school or spend Sunday’s watching football despite the games that might have been on tv during family gatherings. I didn’t participate in little league or pop warner.
About the closest I came to competition was the fun of pick-up games of one-on-one basketball on our green painted concrete patio and participating in the Boys And Girls Club Swim Team and even that, the most enjoyable part to me was practice where we swam for endurance. Though, the experience of being on the team and especially that of being a three stroke relay participant, was definitely a big part of my experience growing up and the excitement and the tolerance my parents showed was all the difference in me staying with it as long as I did.
Fast forward a few years and a local neighborhood interest in hockey eventually crafted me into the sports fan I am today. When we moved to Maryland the region didn’t have much for teams outside of a collapsing O’s franchise and the faint vestiges of the former Colts. I spent more days skateboarding aspiring to the likes of Mike McGill, Steve Caballero, Tony Hawk and others, but needless to say, I was then and still am way to heavy footed so those days at Towson Skate, down the Inner Harbor or around the neighborhood minramp and quarter pipe were more, or less, just trying to not break bones.
Most kids other than the skaters looked north to Philadelphia for their inspiration but having come from NNJ I knew better than to fall for the fiasco that is Philly Phandom. So, I looked southward, during a time when DC sports were heralded by the success of Joe Gibbs.
The result was falling in love with DC sports, and although most kids I knew were infatuated with the ‘Skins success I was drawn to the Capitals. Specifically the eccentric personality and legendary slapshot of recent addition Al Iafrate and eventually the stacked roster including Kevin Hatcher, Michal Pivonka, Calle Johansson, Dale Hunter, Dino Ciccarelli, Peter Bondra, Alan May, Rod Langway, Dmitri Khristich, Don Boupre and believe it or not, Joel Quenneville.
By the time I hit college I was as much infatuated by the game as I was by the stats associated with it. I was a die-hard Caps fan and had a strong infatuation with the Habs, I enjoyed the Federov (and Ciccarelli) and the Wings, Broudeur (and Stevens) and the Devils, Messier (and Gartner) and the Rangers and so on. At that point, I was still struggling with my own ability to deal with, well, anything numerical related … that’s a totally different story. Hockey, and to a lesser degree baseball was one of the few outlets I felt comfortable using my business admin class skills in.
It didn’t take long however for my NNJ youth to rear its ugly head, first with the 94 Rangers winning the Stanley Cup. And then, thanks to the early number-ball analaysis of players like Mattingly, Boggs, Martinez, Sojo, Strawberry, O’Neill, Williams, Wetteland, Rivera and that whole starting staff of the 96 Yankees…and that became my first foray into fantasy sports.
Times changed. Washington gained the Nationals which rival my childhood exposure and family love of the Mets along with the modern legacy of the Yanks; the Caps and Rangers are divisional rivals for the first time in nearly two decades; the ‘Skins suck while the Giants continue to not suck; and I’m now following (at least passively) a number of other sports I would have never guessed.
I’ve a little kid on the way who will learn allegiances from the world around them. So, the big question being an out-of-market sports fan living in the heart of the world’s biggest sports market how will I raise them?
Well, it’s not necessarily my decision to make to a degree. After all, I became a DC Sports Fan outside of the influence of my parents right?
Nonetheless, the reality is, in the early years they will get a strong dose of Caps Hockey if for no other reason than because it’s important to me and what the parents enjoy, inevitably, the kids are expose to that reality. Don’t worry, assuming the Real Housewives series is still on the air by that time, my wife will expose them to the opposite end of reality too.
They will eventually discover what they enjoy. They might be like my sister and become a New Jersey Devils and New York Giants fan. They might take after my step-dad as a New York Rangers and New York Mets fan. They might take after my step brother-in-law and be a Jets fan or my other brother-in-law who is a huge Skins fan. They might take after my groomsman who is a Detroit Red Wings fan or some of my close friends who are Islanders fans. They might follow in the footsteps of my one groomsman’s support of the Brew Crew or they might follow in some of my other friends who root with their families for the replanted Dodgers in LA. Maybe they discover futbal and enjoy DC United or discover Arsenal like their father, or decide basketball is interesting or follow one of my groomsmen into an interest in Sumo or a good friend’s interest in fencing or my step-brother’s love of competitive swimming or my cousin and her husband’s love of distance biking. Or, maybe the influence of their peers in school provide them with some other interests.
Or, maybe they like the team that just happens to win when they first discover what is going on. When I was a kid, that was most Bulls fans…I can only help guide them along the way and support what they like when then decide to like it. That’s how I found mine.
A love of sports is guided by one’s experience in them.
As a kid I never really asked about sports because it wasn’t something my circle of friends were into, my parents weren’t necessarily into and, as such, it wasn’t much a priority for anyone. I swam because my dad liked swimming. I ran cross country for a time for the same reason. I played pick up basketball because it was with my dad. I even fished because of his influence. I still love all those things even if i’m not terribly good at most of them (for any number of reasons).
My dad never questioned my interest in the Yanks despite the family love of the Mets around us and all the games we’d attended in Queens as a kid. Sure, I’d loved Straw and Doc but my connection wasn’t to the orange NY, it was to the power of those players and my dad’s interest in sharing the game with me. We still do. We did fantasy baseball for a few years together and still talk stats over beers on the patio at his house.
It is different between my sister and I with hockey. We got into it for different reasons at different times and we like different teams but we have the love of the sport and neither of us ever question one another’s alliance.
We will give the kid exposure to all kinds of sports. Not just the ones we directly participate in or claim to love but hopefully some broader, larger idea of what organized competition is.
I want them to know it’s not about winning or losing first and foremost. I want them to enjoy the experience, whatever that experience is.
After all, I root for DC sports who are in this day and age perpetual losers. It isn’t necessarily how they themselves perform, it is the joy I derive out of being a fan. Even a cardiac caps fan, (it keeps my heart strong).
After all, I distance hike (somewhat irregularly unfortunately these days) and that’s not exactly the most exciting “sport” either, but it also is something I derive joy from challenging my own personal times and distances at (and, it too keeps my heart strong).
It is the experience they derive out of it and we as fans, participants, and supporters of take from it. The understanding that success is derived from a complex set of determinations of which when given an ultimate set of principles will result in some definition of success, however that success is initially dictacted. That’s pretty high level intellect: it’s not if you win but how to get to your final determination.
The understanding that success isn’t always skill in hockey is known as PDO or affectionately known as “puck luck.” PDO is a way to accommodate for the high variances that naturally occur “save percentage” and “shooting percentage” that produce artificial skews in analysis.
This might be the best lesson I can pass along no matter what sport they fancy and what team they support. Enjoy those undefinable moments for what they are. Enjoy those highs no matter how artificial. Ignore the lows for essentially the same reason. And, remember everything always regresses to the mean.
I hope their memories are as good as mine seeing Strawberry’s broken bat homerun live, or the electricity of Iafrate’s legendary slap shot in person, or Roger Clemons strikeouts, or Roy’s saves, or as long as it took to witness, an Ovechkin goal.
In the interim, here’s to hoping they join me as a Caps fan and the Caps provide that special something-something that translates PDO’s puck luck into the rarity that is the Stanley Cup or at least the once-in-a-lifetime experience of a top-of-the-generation experience I was fortunate enough to see with Ovi in his prime. Or, if nothing else, they find something that interests them the way that stats have contributing to my career in KPI analysis and metrics storytelling overcoming my mathmatical deficiencies and disdain for numbers. Had I never found hockey and then fantasy sports and then hockey again I probably wouldn’t be where I am today .., 18 years of the kid’s exposure in this day and age opens a lot more new and exciting windows.