I am a Boston Red Sox fan. The story of how a kid born in Puerto Rico and also lived in the Bronx —but now roots for the Red Sox— is complicated. I explain it all here:
I am also a huge baseball fan, and even though my Red Sox were awful (again) this year, I must admit—this year’s MLB playoff matchups have gotten me pumped. As pumped as this kid (although I refuse to take off my shirt):
The reason for my 2015 Béisbol Renaissance has to do with some of the teams playing (or now not playing). The New York Mets (my uncle’s favorite team). The Los Angeles Dodgers (Dodger Stadium is WAY BETTER than Fenway: there I said it). The Yankees already losing last night to the Astros (a team I used to catch in the early 80s at the Astrodome during our family stint in Sugarland, Texas).
Then there are the two teams playing in tonight’s National League Wild Card game: the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Chicago Cubs.
And I don’t know who to root for.
You see, I was born the year that U.S. astronauts walked on the moon for the first time, at the peak of Roberto Clemente’s career for the Pirates. I recall a grainy photo someone took of me in my cousin’s backyard. I am wearing an old-school Pirates tee and smiling. In my mind, the tee looks something like this:
In my mind, EVERY Puerto Rican on the island in the early 1970s rooted for the Piratas. All because of Clemente. He was the greatest. The best. El orgullo de Puerto Rico. The Pride of Puerto Rico. When Clemente died on December 31, 1972, in my mind, I thought the entire island wept. I was three years old, and my hero was already gone.
As I grew older, I always felt an emotional connection to the Pirates. When I was 10, I thought this was the greatest moment of 1979:
I so want the Pirates to win another World Series, but I have this big problem: this year the Cubbies are also in the playoffs.
My love of the Cubs started in the early 80s, when I left the hot summers of Sugarland, Texas, and went back to the hot summers of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Chicago’s WGN was one of those cable “superstations” broadcasting baseball games, and the Cubs were the main event. My abuelo, Papito Juan, had this afternoon routine that I will forever cherish. After lunch, he would sit in his rocking chair and turn on the Cubs game. Nothing, nothing beat WGN and afternoon baseball from Wrigley Field. I would always join my abuelo and watch those games.
The ivy. Ryne Sandberg. Harry Caray. Holy Cow. Take Me Out to the Ballgame. Chicago.
I was hooked. The bonus to those Cubs games was my abuelo telling me baseball stories for hours. I vividly recall two Papito Juan tales to this day. The first one was all about Satchell Paige, who played in Puerto Rico before the start of World War II. My abuelo told me that when Paige was pitching for the Brujos de Guayama (the Guayama Warlocks, greatest name ever), Paige walked off the mound in the middle of a game because he thought he saw a ghost. The second story about Vic Power and a grand slam he hit in Caguas turned into a short story I wrote, which was soon published in an anthology.
So when the Cubs blew the 1984 NLCS against the Padres, I cried. When they lost to the Marlins in 2003, I had no words. The Cubs always take me back to those amazing summer days with Papito Juan. I also know my abuelo would forgive Bartman.
Add the fact that former Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein has turned the Cubs into a very strong team and that former Sox pitcher Jon Lester is a Cubbie, and you can see my dilemma.
Do I turn my back on Clemente? Or do I root for the Pirates and disrespect Papito Juan, who I guarantee has found Clemente up in heaven and is setting up two rocking chairs tonight to catch the playoff game?
I will choose family over the hero tonight. But if the Cubs lose, ¡que vivan los Piratas! Go Pirates!