I wanted to be just like Pudge Rodriguez.
I was six years old, finishing the final couple months of Kindergarten. I was soon to embark on a baseball career, and a vicarious relationship with a baseball team I’d never heard of. My best friend’s name was Jeremy Perez, a taller, childishly athletic complement to my short, frail self. He was a first basemen, but he played in a different league.
The day tryouts came along I felt an agonizing angst in the pit of my stomach, the type of pain in youth that drops upon you like the weight of the world when you want to talk to a girl but can’t muster the confidence. My brother was two years older than me, also taller — the most imposing size of any kid his age, which matched the gap in talent between he and the next-best player — so even then I felt the ubiquitous pressure of expectations.
In the draft, I was selected first by a coach whom never coached before. His clueless son was on the team. He batted me leadoff and put me at shortstop, vindicating my presupposition that I would be like the last kid picked out of a lineup for a dodgeball match in elementary school. I was an insecure child. Numbers were given in ascending order from the shortest kid on the team to the tallest, and I was given the number 5, though for some reason the numbers 1 and 2 were not issued. It wasn’t until the day we got our uniforms that I knew which team I would be playing on. It happened to be the Texas Rangers. We wore royal blue uniforms with “Texas” written in a violent red across the chest, red hats with a white “T” burning on its face, and white pants with blue socks.
Since Jeremy and I didn’t play in the same district, we never saw each other compete. On Mondays after we had afternoon weekend games, we’d talk about our performances. I didn’t tell him when I got out that I’d throw my bat and start crying. It didn’t seem pertinent. There were no sabermetrics, nothing profound about anything that happened. Vocabularies were so limited at that age that all we could say was “cool” when we described contact at the plate, or plays in the field. We were kings talking about Little League. He, a power-hitting first baseman; me, a light-hitting shortstop. Jeremy moved to Baltimore after Kindergarten, and I remember speaking to him on the phone once when it was his birthday. He said his favorite team was the Orioles, naturally. I never saw him again.
I was six years old when I became a fan of the Rangers. I was smitten with a rational love for irrational reasons. If I had been picked by the Indians, or Angels, Dodgers, Yankees, Mets — my loyalty would be in a different place. That’s the beauty of being young: You don’t need an explanation for doing whatever you do; you do it because you’re young, because you don’t know any better. You simply exist, like the billions before you and billions that will come after you. At that age, you won’t understand the concept for another 15 years, if ever.
I had to find a new best friend after I was six, but I never had to find a new favorite baseball team. I eventually had to give up playing baseball, but I never had to give up rooting for my favorite baseball team. I had to give up the #5, but I never had to give up on my favorite baseball player on my favorite baseball team. Eventually I’ll have to start cheering for a new #5 on the Rangers, but not now. Some things change, and some things will never change.
I am one of those things.