My stepson has a fever, and the only prescription is more baseball.
In the summer before his fourth-grade year, Frankie caught the baseball bug hard. First love has a way of sweeping up a boy into obsession. Suddenly nothing else matters.
A year ago it was Pokemon Go. Before that, it was Minecraft, Skylanders and Disney Infinity. Those infatuations came and went, but Frankie’s case of baseball fever looks permanent.
He was a casual fan before, the type who would go to Miller Park primarily for the snacks and would lose interest after the sausage race. But a switch flipped this summer. He’s checking the standings daily and watching not only the Milwaukee Brewers’ games, but the pregame and postgame shows. He can name every player and recite most of the commercial jingles. And they say kids don’t learn anything over the summer.
Today he’d trade every Skylander in his collection to see Milwaukee make the playoffs. He might throw in his Disney Infinity characters to see them do it at the expense of our rivals from Chicago. As a proper Lutheran boy, the only four-letter word Frankie knows is “Cubs.”
The timing of his newfound thirst for the national pastime tickles me, because I was that same age when I caught the bug. The Brewers were in the midst of their World Series season of 1982 the summer before I entered fourth grade. At County Stadium early that season, a cousin chastised me for not knowing who Gorman Thomas was. As that summer wore on, I got curious about what the statewide hysteria was all about. By September I was clipping daily box scores and action photos from the newspaper and placing them in a scrapbook. (Kids, that’s what we did before Pinterest.)
Frankie’s new obsession is a godsend, because in his mother’s eyes, sitting down to watch a ballgame now looks less like “Ben goofing off” and more like “quality family time.” Now we’re buying game tickets and considering upgrading our cable package to include the MLB Network. The bad news for the other kids is we’ll have to sell one of them on the black market to pay for it all.
Speaking of the other kids, not everyone is excited about Frankie’s newfound passion for baseball and the Brewers. This has been the source of many a vigorous debate with his 13-year-old sister Samantha, the household’s lone Cubs fan. She caught the bug during Chicago’s championship run last season, and despite being outnumbered steadfastly holds her ground in dinnertime debates.
FRANKIE: The Brewers beat the Cubs today.
SAMANTHA: Yeah, but we are still in first place.
DREW: Not for long.
SAMANTHA: Either way, we’re still the defending champions.
FRANKIE: You guys cheat by delaying games against us for no good reason.
SAMANTHA: Ryan Braun cheated by using steroids.
ME: Have you heard of Sammy Sosa? Oh that’s right, you became a Cubs fan, like, yesterday.
On and on it goes. This weekend was particularly energized, with the two teams playing each other at Wrigley Field amid a playoff race. Frankie was in his glory as the Brew Crew swept the three-game series, pulling within two games of the division-leading Cubbies. This development begat the following bedtime exchange Sunday:
ME: Hey, kids: SWEEP dreams.
FRANKIE: Heh heh heh heh
SAMANTHA: I hate you so much.
I could try to convince myself that the tension will abate once the season ends, but the fever these two have caught tends to be a lifelong affliction. It’s something you can’t shake, like an annoying commercial jingle or a debt collector from Columbia House. Dumbest penny I ever spent.
It’s anyone’s guess how this season will end. The upstart Brewers making a surprise playoff appearance? The Cubs winning a second consecutive championship? Frankie and Samantha blackening each other’s eyes in postgame fisticuffs? Anything’s possible.
One thing’s for certain. A few short years before a young man’s fancy of the spring turns to other things, Frankie has found his first love. And she’s a beauty.