Fandom is a weird thing, where we become fiercely tribal about something we’re only tenuously related to. People find all different reasons to like a team, such as logo, uniform, big wins, random choice, or, probably more common, geography and family.
In that regard, I’m not different. I became an Indians fan as a kid, when the juggernaut offenses of the ‘90s were winning games more often than Mariah Carey churned out No. 1 hits. I got exposed to the team by my dad and his mom, whose northeast Ohio roots reached deep. All the way to central Illinois, where we lived.
And that is what made me different. Here, where the Cubs-Cards rivalry divides neighbors and even families, I was the kid in the Kenny Lofton shirt. Grade school teachers signed my yearbooks with comments about how they’d think of me whenever they thought of the Indians.
Picking the Indians was perhaps an early bit of youthful rebellion on my part, going against the grain of those around me. But it wasn’t just friends and neighbors I was separating from, it was also an entire side of my family.
If I got my love of Cleveland baseball from my dad’s side of the family, my love of baseball — full stop — came from my mom and her side of the family. If not for the new stadium in ‘94 and the World Series run in ‘95, my dad might not have known what was going on with the Indians. He’s a fan with a lowercase f; my maternal grandfather, on the other hand, is a Fan, capital F, of the Chicago Cubs.
Baseball was, and is, the way my grandpa and I relate. He taught me how to do more than just play baseball, he taught me how to play baseball well (at least as well as my innate talent allowed). He spent hours of his time hitting me grounders, tossing me batting practice, and, of course, talking about baseball. So, in some regards, my choosing to side with the Tribe was a subconscious rebellion against him.
Of course, the hours he spent with me playing baseball were preceded by exponentially more hours talking, watching, and listening to baseball while my mom was growing up, which is what had made her a baseball fan. Likewise, for every minute my grandpa spent practicing, teaching, and talking baseball with me, my mom spent two. No one person in my life has spent as much time playing baseball with me as my mom has. At parks, in the backyard, in empty lots near our apartment, even at my grandparents’ house, my mom was always there to indulge my passion and play a little baseball. Some of my most vivid memories from my childhood involve ghost runners on second base and my mom soft-tossing a plastic ball at my oversized plastic bat.
I’ve never thanked my mom enough for that, and until now I’ve taken all those memories for granted. More than that, I’ve taken for granted how she might have felt that I sided with my dad’s side of the family, the Cleveland side, in my baseball fandom. To her immense credit, though, she never voiced an objection. Instead she nurtured my Tribe fanhood, stuffing my dresser full of Indians shirts and driving me to the nearest Indians game when we could afford the trip.
Now I’m a parent myself, and I have a million lessons I’ve learned from my mom that I’m trying to remember and teach to my own child. Part of that, part of my effort to be the best parent possible, like my mom, is letting it roll off my back when my daughter tells me that she’s a Cubs fan, like her mom.
My toddler might not always be a Cubs fan, but if she sides with my wife it will be fine by me. I’d just be happy to share a love of baseball, the same as my mom and I. On this Mother’s Day, I’m very thankful to my mom for her unfailing love and support and for making me the person I am. I hope I can be half the parent she is and I hope I have many more Mother’s Days left to learn from her.
I don’t know if I’ll ever have as much grace as my mom, though. When my wife and I dropped our then-infant daughter with her before driving to game two of the 2016 World Series, my mom asked us to bring her back an Indians shirt from the game and said “Go Tribe!” as we left. But a mother’s love is a crazy unique beast, and the best thing I can do is just be thankful to know that love so well.