When I was young, the flight of free agency in major sports hadn’t quite taken off of the runway and although trades occurred, it seldom involved major stars. These days of course, it has become almost a sporting event in itself. Team sports such as football, basketball, and baseball stay in the headlines during the off-season with the barrage of free agency, trades, and all of the rumors that swirl around it. My questions is this; what kind of impact, if any, does this have on the young sports fans who cheer for their favorite player on their favorite team?
Most people remember the first time they discovered that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. In that same way, many fans can share a story or two about the trades or free agent moves that left an impression with them in the childhood. For a little baseball fan growing up near New York, maybe it was the trade that sent beloved Mets pitcher Tom Seaver to the Cincinatti Reds in 1977. Perhaps a San Francisco kid recalls the awkwardness of seeing Joe Montana in a Kansas City Chief uniform. Young Atlanta fans can easily recollect the day their hometown hero, Dominique Wilkins, was traded to the NBA’s version of purgatory, the L.A. Clippers. For better or worse, childhood heroes vanished in the blink of an eye, and young people learned early on the reality of economics and business in sports.
My Santa Claus experience didn’t even happen to my favorite team. Growing up in Texas, there was only one team on television on Sunday afternoons in the fall, the Dallas Cowboys. For some reason, I grew up loving the Philadelphia Eagles, and still do to this day, but if I wanted to watch a ball game, I was stuck with the `Boys. Tony Dorsett was the poster boy for Dallas back in those days and I was secretly a big fan. I’d cheer for him, but boo the Cowboys. In my young eyes, there was no one better.
Suddenly, Hershel Walker exploded onto the scene and I watched him supplant the legendary Tony Dorsett as the starting running back. As Dorsett was in the twilight of his career he ended up in Denver around the same time I moved to South Dakota, where Bronco and Viking fans intersect. My Dad is a huge Bronco fan and I recall the first time I saw Dorsett across the back of a Denver Bronco jersey during a game. I revealed to my Dad it just didn’t seem right and my Dad just shrugged his shoulders and said, “That’s the way it goes…change happens.”
Was that a life lesson? Yes, things happen and you have to learn to roll with the changes. However, for every trade or free agent signing, a small slice of innocence is lost in it all and we discover that there is no Santa, Sammy Sosa is an Oriole, Dan Marino’s are rare, and change happens and that’s the way it goes.