Darryl’s room

Flip fantasia

I still remember like yesterday the day Darryl Strawberry left the Mets for the Dodgers. I was waiting to get a haircut in fifth grade when the news on the television at the barber shop told me Darryl had jumped ship. I melted out of my chair and sank to my knees.

Straw was my first sports love; it was as if my best friend had moved away. (That actually happened a couple years later, and I don’t recall it hitting me nearly as hard as losing Darryl.)

Going through that was rough when I was 11, but it was a necessary lesson about two years into being a sports fan: Nothing lasts forever. Players leave, teams change, eras come and go. I eventually came to grips with it – years later, I even bought a Dodgers Strawberry jersey.

Now somewhat jaded at 32, with Dan Marino and Patrick Ewing and LeBron James the Cavalier in my rearview mirror, this sort of thing honestly doesn’t faze me anymore. Our teams are inextricable parts of our identities, but the players on them shuttle in and out like friends from various chapters in our lives.

As such, I always just have to shake my head at people’s knee-jerk reactions when a star player leaves for another team. If you’re 12, sure, it’s a crushing blow. But if you’ve been watching sports for any legitimate portion of time, how can’t you know by now this is the way it goes?

The easy narrative when Albert Pujols left the Cardinals for the Angels last week was to turn him into the baseball version of LeBron James, but it didn’t really take. Pujols didn’t have a reality show to announce his decision, nor was he a native of St. Louis, and the tired “damaging his legacy” argument holds no water. Pujols’ legacy is going to be that of an awesome baseball player.

I heard people say Pujols should have finished his career in St. Louis, that they thought he’d be there forever, and I might be willing to go along with that if Pujols had played 18 years or something and only had a few seasons left. But Pujols signed a 10-year deal with Anaheim; that’s a long time to stay somewhere just to say it’s the only place you’ve been.

It’s not hard to comprehend why Pujols went to the Angels. They offered him a lot more money, and he now has the opportunity to live on the beach in Malibu (or wherever) year-round. Not to mention, the Angels are a good team, and with the Dodgers flat broke, Pujols has the opportunity to be a big-time star in a major market with a strong Hispanic community.

Not to be overlooked, 11 years is simply a long time to work in one place. Sometimes, it’s just time for a change.

Don’t judge me.

As for Cardinals fans, I don’t feel for them in the slightest. They got 11 years of the best player in baseball, along with a team that contended basically every season over that span and won two World Series titles. That’s not a bad return for lucking into Albert Pujols in the 13th round of the draft. But their focus has been on Pujols’ decision to leave, rather than the fact he helped their team win the World Series two months ago.

Mets fans were kind of the same way with Jose Reyes, blaming the Wilpons, the Marlins and the universe, pining away like Drake making a drunk phone call – “I’m just saying, you can do better…” – . I obviously would prefer if the Wilpons sold the team to someone who can actually afford to own it, but independent of that, nobody knows if giving Reyes a six-year deal would have actually worked out.

Perhaps not right away as currently constituted, but it’s obviously possible to compete without Jose Reyes. Reyes is exciting, but he’s also notably flawed – and he’s certainly not the be-all, end-all.

In fact, nobody is – not Pujols, not LeBron James, not Dwight Howard.

To dwell on your team losing a star player, even if you felt a strong attachment to him, seems okay when you’re 11 and don’t have a whole lot else going on. But these players are just flesh and blood, like anyone else. And the older I get, the more I find I have going on. I have dishes to wash, a wedding to plan, a professional and personal life to continue to carve out.

At the risk of cliché, life is too short to spend worrying that much about what team someone plays for, even when you have a decade of good memories watching that player.

*****

I wrote this yesterday on a bus to New York, and as I got up to leave, the commuter sitting in front of me noticed my Mets jacket, told me he was a fan, and asked how I thought they would do without Reyes. I offered my standard line, which is that things are pretty certain to get worse before they get better, but that Alderson knows what he’s doing. My new friend slyly asked if I thought Sandy had something special up his sleeve, and I said no.

Popping bottlesWe left in agreement that things were lousy, but hopefully better times were ahead. Jose Reyes is no longer a Met, but sure enough, the buses still run. (Not generally on time, but that’s always been a trademark of New Jersey Transit.)

We all want our favorite teams to compete, so we can vicariously thrill in the pursuits of a winner. But there’s literally nothing we can do to make that happen, and you can take it from a Dolphins, Mets and Knicks fan – your team is really only as good as its owner.

The memories of Pujols’ three-homer World Series game or Reyes smoking cigars on the field in ‘06 may fade, but they’ll never completely fade away. There will unfailingly be new moments to treasure. And sure as clockwork, there will be new heroes to root for, new jerseys to buy, ones that we’ll never burn in effigy — or at least that we shouldn’t.

We want our teams to have the best players, players we can love, and we want our teams to be good. But though time doesn’t heal all of our wounds, it takes care of most of them.

And when it comes down to it, the main thing we want is simply to have something to root for.

Esoteric

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