Love It Or Hate It: Sleeping With The Enemy
By Sarah Spain
Originally published 4/1/08 on TheLoveOfSports.com
A few hours before the Chicago Cubs officially began their 2008 season, Ernie Banks, known throughout the world as Mr. Cub, was honored with a statue outside Wrigley Field. Banks spent his entire career –19 seasons—with the Cubs, and Monday his love affair with the city and the team was finally immortalized in steel and bronze.
At the ceremony, Banks boasted that he’s the only pro athlete to spend his entire career in one city (Chicago), under one mayor (Richard Daley), for one owner (P.K. Wrigley) and in one park (Wrigley Field). He finished by saying: “I played all my home games under one light, and that’s God’s light.”
That kind of loyalty (and eloquence) is hard to find these days.
Across the country, another player was remembered for his days with a Major League ball club. Jeff Conine, (who I’m told is known throughout South Florida as Mr. Marlin) signed a one-day contract with the Marlins Friday afternoon so that he could “technically” retire as a member of the team with whom he won two World Series rings. Before today’s season opener, Conine, who also played for Kansas City, Baltimore, Cincinnati and Philadelphia, addressed the home crowd, saying: "Even though I wore five different uniforms, I always considered myself a Florida Marlin.”
If Banks’ speech was a heartfelt love letter to a life-long spouse, Conine’s was a post-it note apologizing to a disgruntled wife for a few adulterous trysts.
Of course, Conine shouldn’t be blamed for switching teams more often than Anne Heche. In today’s world of professional sports few athletes are afforded the luxury of playing for one team and one team only. Those who can are forever associated with the town in which they made their name: Kirby Puckett, Walter Payton, Dan Marino, Steve Yzerman, John Elway and Cal Ripken, to name a few. Players these days barely have time to get to know their local groupies before they’re off to a new area code with new…well, you know how the song goes.
So what’s a modern day fan to do?
Is a kid who grew up idolizing the Red Sox’s Johnny Damon supposed to just forget about him because another team scooped him up in free agency? On the other hand, isn’t that same kid a traitor if he roots for the Yankees’ Johnny Damon?
What about Tom Glavine fans who burned their #47 jerseys when he left the team for the hated New York Mets? Now that he’s back in Atlanta is all forgiven, or will the Braves faithful always remember that Glavine chose money over loyalty?
Now that one of my favorite Bears, Bernard Berrian, has been lost in the free agent market to NFC North rivals, the Minnesota Vikings, I can’t very well cheer for him, can I? Even if deep down I love him, I’d have to hate myself for rooting for a Vike, right? Well…it’s just not that easy, is it.
Memories of a player can’t simply be erased when he changes teams, much in the same way memories of a lover aren't forgotten immediately after a break-up. That guy is still the guy who hit that game-winning homer or drained that series-winning three, even if he’s not technically your guy anymore. And really, what’s so bad about wanting the best for someone who gave his best to your team for years? Who can be faulted for wanting to hang on to the good times you had with your team’s former superstar? Why can't a girl sleep in a tent on the street outside her ex-boyfriend's apartment if they used to like camping a lot?
Not everyone can be as faithful as Ernie Banks but, thankfully, not everyone is as slutty as Jeff Conine. As for those guys in the middle, the players you used to love but who have now moved on, can you really "stay friends?"
Are Giants fans who secretly want Jeff Kent to have a career year with the Dodgers, in essence, sleeping with enemy? Are New England fans who like to see the Colts’ Adam Vinatieri succeed making cuckolds of their Pats? If you root for one guy and not his whole team, isn’t it kind of like hooking up outside of state lines or sleeping with someone else when you’re “on a break”—it’s not really cheating? If I invite Bernard Berrian into my proverbial boudoir, but I keep Adrian Peterson and company out of the house, will the Bears still have grounds for divorce?
Can you root for a player on a rival team or do you have to cut ties when your team does? Sleeping with the enemy, love it or hate it?