Jimmy Dugan, the acerbic girls’ baseball team manager played by Tom Hanks in the 1992 movie, “A League of Their Own,” famously said, “There’s no crying in baseball.”
I might beg to differ. This year’s World Series, featuring the Houston Astros, my lifelong favorite team, and the Atlanta Braves, my later-in-life second- favorite, has already been emotional for me.
The two teams met in interleague play in 2017, the year the ‘Stros won the World Series, but other than that, I’ve never had to choose between the two.
I got mad at the Astros after news broke of the cheating scandal from that year, and it has taken some time for me to forgive them. I have focused more on the Braves the past couple of years.
But I have found myself warming back to my lifelong favorites. I am not one to hold a grudge and, as they dominated the American League West, handily winning the division and going on to win the AL pennant (hopefully fair and square this time), the pull back to them was irresistible.
The night they clinched it, beating the Red Sox, I could not contain my excitement and yes, even emotion, as I thought back on 50-plus years of following the team. I was back as an Astros fan.
But that paled in comparison with what I felt the next night when the Braves won the National League pennant for the first time since 1999. It was deeply personal.
My older son started watching the Braves on cable TV – on TBS -- when he was just a little guy, when the Braves were touted as “America’s Team.”
In 1994, when he was eight, his mother surprised the two of us and sent us on a trip to Atlanta to see them play at Fulton County Stadium (two ballparks ago).
It was then my son said we should go to every major league park, a goal, some 27 years later, we are close to hitting and should achieve by 2023. My younger son and son-in-law now join us on the baseball trips, and it has become a cherished tradition.
The night the Braves clinched the pennant, they were playing on TBS. Minutes after the win, I received this text message from my older son: “Appropriate that the clinch is on TBS. That’s where it all started.”
Sorry, Jimmy Dugan. There is crying in baseball.
Each member of my immediate family is a Braves fan, and that includes my two four-year-old grandsons. My two granddaughters, one and two, respectively, don’t know it yet, but they will be raised to love the Braves.
My wife is perhaps the most ardent fan of all. From April through September, she and I watch Braves games on Bally Sports. We make it down to Atlanta for games in person when we can (which includes the added bonus of seeing our older son and his family).
Folks are always telling us about shows on Netflix or Hulu and we look at them incredulously, explaining how our TV watching mainly revolves around baseball in spring, summer and early fall. Maybe we can catch up on the latest and greatest after postseason play.
Now that my two favorite teams are playing in the fall classic, you might be wondering how I’m handling it. It’s a fair question, one I have been asked numerous times over the past week. The answer is not very well.
As I submit this column, there have been two games. The Braves won the first one and the Astros won the second. By the time you read this, there will have been five games. It could even be over.
But here is where I am with it: I am not having fun. Because I cannot in good conscience root against either team, I can’t seem to fully support either of them.
I happened to watch the first two games with my son-in-law, wearing my Astros hat. Although he accused me of enthusiastically cheering for the Astros, I pretty much sat silently as I watched.
What does every MLB fan hope for, every season, but for his/her favorite team to win the league pennant and go the World Series? For me, this year it’s twofold, and yet I can’t seem to enjoy it.
Because I could never wish for Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman to miss a ball at first.
Neither am I happy when the Astros’ power hitter Jose Altuve is put out at first when Freddie skillfully does his job.
During the regular season, when the Braves’ shortstop Dansby Swanson or third-baseman Austin Riley would scoop up an infield chopper and turn it into a double play, I would be ecstatic. Not so much during this series because, well, it means it’s two outs for the Astros.
When the Braves dominated the first game, I could not feel happy about it. When the Astros did the same in game two, I felt guilty because I knew all my family members were disappointed.
When we learned it would be the Astros vs. the Braves, I told everyone in the family, “I can’t lose.”
But now that we’re in the thick of it, I’m not sure I can win. Although I’ll be happy, I suppose, for the winning team, I will be sorely disappointed for the one that loses.
I guess all I can do is try to live in the moment and be happy for both teams – and for myself. In deference to my family, and since, conservatively, I watched about 100 of their games this season, I should probably pull for the Braves.
But I can’t help feeling as if I’m betraying the Astros if I do. And vice-versa.
My older son said I should simply “enjoy the baseball.”
Good advice, that.
And I should not be surprised if there are a few more tears along the way.
Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband, proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at [email protected].