The word loyalty is thrown around a lot more in sports than it’s demonstrated these days. Players are making hundreds of millions, teams are worth billions and sports is first-and-foremost a business. The collective bargaining agreements in the NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL have added a complexity to contract situations that was unimaginable two decades ago.
Those factors have made nomads out of even the most transcendent superstars. LeBron James is the most famous athlete of this generation and maybe even the best basketball player ever. He's used the proliferation of free agency to change teams three times in 15 years.
It may sound like one of your grandfather's tropes, but it makes more sense to root for the name on the front of the jersey and not the one on the back. Why spend $100+ on a jersey that could be obsolete just a few days later? The retail market has even begun fighting against that with jersey assurance programs popping up left and right.
If buying a jersey is a tenuous step, naming offspring after an athlete is a step too far for even the most dedicated fan. Right?
I was working in my makeshift office in the spring of 2013 when my wife came home from work. I had covered a Boston Celtics' game for RealGM the night before, which meant I hadn't seen her since the previous morning. This must have been why she threw down her purse and rushed upstairs to see me. As I worked on our MLB Wiretap, she presented me with what looked like jewelry box. This is weird, I thought, but I'll humor her. Inside was a positive pregnancy test.
We spent a lot of time in doctor's offices in the coming months and around the eight-week mark we were flabbergasted to learn we'd be having twins. A few weeks after that, it was revealed that my wife was carrying two boys. By the end of the first trimester, we began to follow our doctor's lead and referred to the babes as A and B. For trained professionals, it makes medical sense. For us, it was fun to attach identifiers to the boys in the womb.
At some point in the second trimester we began to think about sticking with A and B as we contemplated names. We'd always liked the name Austin, as far back as those fanciful conversations couples have when they begin dating, but we needed a B name. All the while, the beginning of our journey kept popping up in my head. Why not name the second twin Bryce?
When my wife handed me that pregnancy test, I was writing up a news blurb about Bryce Harper. That led to fans of the New York Yankees (me) and Boston Red Sox (her), naming one of their sons after an up-and-coming superstar for the Washington Nationals.
With Harper playing in the National League, it could be justified as unthreateningto my Yankees' allegiance. The Nationals won 98 games in 2012 and Harper would become a perennial MVP candidate. The Perna household could root for the Yankees and Red Sox, in relative harmony, while rooting for Bryce together as our son grew up.
Fast-forward to November 2018 and three of the four members of the family are walking around on eggshells. Bryce, now 5, asks daily whether Bryce Harper has picked a new team. He hasn't quite grasped the concept of free agency, but knows his favorite player will (likely) no longer wear the red shirt with the curly 'W.' In the years leading up to Harper hitting the market, my wife and I would tease one another about him landing with the Yankees or Red Sox. Now that Harper's decision could come at any moment, the enormity of the situation has surfaced. There is a lot on the line here. The team Harper signs with will at the very least become my son’s second favorite baseball team. To this point, he's adopted all of his father's allegiances.
The Red Sox are unlikely at this point -- thanks J.D. Martinez -- which means I've dodged a huge bullet. How about the Yankees? Maybe the only way I could get my wife to root for even one member of the Bombers. The Phillies? Better than most alternatives with family a few dozen miles down I-95 from Citizens Bank Park. The Cardinals? Never liked them. The Cubs? Not terrible. The White Sox? If it's going to be Chicago, just pick the Cubs. The Dodgers? Barf. The Giants? Meh.
Ultimately, I did this to myself. I would ask for jerseys whenever possible as a kid -- birthdays, Christmas, Easter, random Thursdays. I have dozens stored safely in my closet, but I've only bought one for myself in the last six or seven years. They just aren't wise investments. Instead, I named one of my children after an athlete that seemed safe at the time.
Five years later, Harper will change teams and there is only one thing I can do to make it right. Buy my Bryce a new jersey.