These things are never simple, but I think my last relationship broke up — at least partly — because of sports.
Ironically, he wasn’t the sports fan.
It’s not like he didn’t see it coming. I played it pretty cool on our first real date (a week-long trip to the Caribbean, where I couldn’t have watched the Yankees in the pennant race if I’d tried). But our second date was the first weekend of November 2001.
Yankee and Arizona Diamondbacks fans need no reminder, but that was the year that, thanks to Osama bin Laden, the Major League Baseball playoffs and the World Series were pushed back a few weeks (and Derek Jeter earned the nickname “Mr. November”).
It was a dramatic year in life, politics and baseball, with players smashing records every time you turned around (nostalgia moment: Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa, Rickey Henderson, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire — pre–steroids scandal). Players carried American flags around the bases and rival teams shook hands and hugged in a show of solidarity.
In my own twist of bad timing, my aunt’s 80th birthday fell on the weekend right after the Yankees won incredible back-to-back comeback victories at Yankee Stadium and were suddenly up 3 games to 2 as the Series returned to Arizona. Missing her big party in Chicago wasn’t an option, yet I figured I could still catch the games at night. But when the new beau said he’d drive up to Illinois and meet me, I smelled trouble.
Good sport that he was, he spent that first night in our hotel room with me glued to the TV, eating cold pizza and drinking the nice bottle of Champagne he’d brought. But not even the vintage bubbly could take the sting out of the Diamondbacks' blowout win, which tied the Series at 3–3.
The decisive Game 7 was the next night. My silly man somehow thought we’d be going out for the fancy dinner he’d booked before he came to town. “What, another game?” he asked, incredulous, his onetime obsession with the Big Red Machine clearly a faded memory.
No, it wasn’t fun for him. But it was a night of deep bonding when he had to hold and console me over a loss I’m still not really over.
(MORE: A Mother and Son's Baseball Road Trip)
A Football Fan Too?!
The following January, we went down to his timeshare in the Caribbean and luckily — for him, not me — my New York Giants had had a crappy season after playing in the Super Bowl in 2001. So in the spirit of fair play, I compromised by not watching every single playoff game, as I had been doing since 1969 (Joe Namath!).
But in years to come, when the Giants rebounded under Coach Tom Coughlin and quarterback Eli Manning, the beau was not a happy camper. He’d begrudgingly accompany me to the local sports bar (big screens! other fans! draft beer!) and take a seat with his back to the screens (draft beer! seed catalogs!). I’d always pick up the tab, so that made him happy, but he’d never stay for the second game.
During the regular NFL season, I always tried to time my visits down from New York to his farm in Kentucky around Giants' bye weeks or Monday night games. Fortunately for the relationship, I’d given up on the Knicks and no longer felt compelled to watch the Rangers.
Tennis is another story. I’ve been watching the Grand Slam events since I was kid, and I wasn’t about to miss any in the so-called modern era. While I’d be watching in his living room, he’d always find something else to do — while regularly checking in to see if the damn thing was over yet.
The Straw That May Have Done the Camel In
For years I tried to get him to come to Hawaii with me, extolling its beaches and the diving, eventually he agreed. But he couldn't have had worse timing (October 2004). The Yanks were playing the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series, and the winner would advance to the World Series (which the beau always called the Super Bowl). We had swept the first three games and it looked like we were going to go all the way.
Thanks to the six-hour time difference, Game 4 had me glued to the set in our adorable rented cottage on a gorgeous afternoon. But he put his foot down: “You did not drag me all the way to Maui to watch baseball.” He had a point. So we left for the beach. The second he went in for a swim, I phoned home, knowing my sports fanatic son would be watching. “Rory, quick: I need a recap from the fifth inning and a play-by-play before you-know-who gets out of the water.”
The Yanks were up in the ninth and brought in their ace reliever, Mariano Rivera (whom I’d almost forgiven for 2001). But impossibly, Mo blew the save. The next game went to 14 innings — that’s a lot of cell phone minutes — and the Sox went on to do something that had never happened in MLB playoff history: They came back from a three-game deficit and beat us. I was not happy, and the beau was not impressed.
While he never came out and said it, I think the “sports widower” thing finally got to him. After a decade of twiddling his thumbs while I yelled and cheered, he’d had enough. Of course there were other things, but compared to this, our 180-degree political differences were a speed bump.
But if this guy thinks it’s going to be easy finding a new partner who isn’t a sports fan, he should think twice. Last February, according to the Nielsen ratings, more than twice as many women (50.4 million) watched the Super Bowl as the Oscars. (And P.S., the Giants won!)
So ladies, where are you watching the MLB playoffs in October? There’s plenty of room on my couch.