Time Out: July 8, 2009

by John Bernhardt
He never opened his mouth but his message could not have been clearer. A condescending smile crossed his face, he closed his eyes and slowly shook his head back and forth when he saw me moving along the walkway.
I was visiting Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, as a chaperone on an overnight field trip. Without giving it much thought, I had chosen to wear a light spring windbreaker Mets jacket my children had given to me as a gift. The fact that the jacket was light and sported a hood on a wet, rainy day overrode the orange and blue colors and METS printed across the front.
Those around me worried the jacket could be a target in the land of Phillies. I scoffed. Morning programs kept us indoors and safely tucked away from the general populace. At lunch, we met the building principal’s brother, a Long Island transplant and Mets’ fan, for a Philly cheese steak lunch. Knowing more about his adopted city than I, he openly fretted about my attire and my safety. Clearly, he warned, a Mets’ jacket was not something you wore in Philadelphia.
Stares, yes. Frowns, yes. Slurs, no. The day passed without incident until we were moving toward the entry way of the Independence Hall Interpretive Building. As I moved up the walkway, the security guard simply could not believe what he was seeing.
My splash of orange and blue was the genesis of a friendly banter. I chided him, reminding him he was an official representative of the City of Brotherly Love. Why would he want to give me trouble? I wondered aloud. It was his Phillies that came from behind in the final week of each of the past two seasons to humble and humiliate my Mets to win the National League’s Eastern Division crown. I talked and he just shook his head, his mocking smile and that shake of the head one that comes only of confidence in one’s standing. Oh, the woes of a Mets’ fan. Imagine the scorn my new friend would unleash in similar circumstances after this weekend’s sweep over my crumbling Metropolitans.
The entire affair got me thinking of the social significance of team affiliations in sports and athletics. Orange and blue brought together two total strangers for some good natured fun on the streets of Philadelphia. The good natured ribbing I give and get from the Yankees’ faithful almost every time I get gas at Hess or walk along the streets of Margaretville is yet another example.
The sports identification is not limited to professional sports. The passion of Andes Spanish teacher Jeff Rhone for Duke basketball and the likewise support of several North Carolina fans on the Andes staff has resulted in all kinds of deviltry. Once a picture of the Cameron Crazies lifted from a newspaper mysteriously appeared on Rhone’s classroom door. Upon closer examination, his face popped out amidst the throng of student Crazies.
And, consider how many times we chat about the exploits of our local high school athletes and their teams, how many people we meet from neighboring communities, and how much good natured fun and friendship we maintain through our sports affiliations. Consider the tsunami of local pride when for one month this spring all of Delaware County bled South Kortright blue as their boys’ and girls’ basketball teams marched along the way to possible state championship titles.
You don’t have to be a connoisseur of athletics or professional sports to get in the fun. Just selecting a team to follow can make our day-to-day interactions a whole bunch more interesting.