They were married in a simpler time. The town and the team. They both said, “I do.”
The team was young and new. The town was older, with a chest full of pride. They spent days together on playing fields such as the Polo Grounds and Municipal Stadium in Cleveland. Sometimes they played football, other times, baseball. The seats were dabbed in greasepaint, the hot dogs sold from wooden stands. Programs cost a dime and featured an ad from the local tire store.
It wasn’t luxury. Who cared about luxury? They were newlyweds, the town and the team. They had each other. That was enough.
Remember the old photographs, sepia-toned images of the town and the team hugging each other in the end zone or at home plate — in places like Akron, Louisville, Washington, D.C. ? Remember how in love they seemed? The town came to watch the team play games. It beamed at the uniforms, and the name that they shared.
“That’s our team!” it would say, boasting to friends. “Look at our team!”
At the start of each season, the town would have a small parade for the team, and the town’s newspaper would boast the team’s accomplishments. At Christmas, the team would visit the town’s sick children, and during war time, it helped sell bonds.
They were always together — but then, the team and the town lived in the same place back then. There were no summer homes. No island retreats. Some members of the team got rooms with the town’s families. Others lived in small apartments above grocery stores. You could see the team and the town mixing every day, walking the same streets, waving to each other.
It was a wonderful marriage, a bond of trust, a happy love, like “Barefoot In The Park.” Things were small. The team and the town were happy. A one-sided affair
Nothing stays the same. In time, the team grew more successful. It made more money. It got more attention. Although it was still much younger than the town, it began to take control. It began to act as if the town was lucky to be in the relationship.
“After all,” the team would say, “I am young and rich and famous. Many suitors would have me. All I need is to say the word.”
The town, at first, granted all the team’s new wishes. Love will do that
— and the town was still in love. So when the team wanted a new home, the town helped build it. And when the team wanted special tax breaks, the town made sure it got them.
And when the team began to rake in piles of cash, the town demanded little. It fondly recalled the old days, when they did things together. But the team was into its own career now, and soon it wanted more new buildings, more concessions, more special treatment. “Remember, I can always find another,” it would threaten.
Eventually, patience grew thin. When the team did not perform, the town got angry. It was no longer enough that they shared the same name. Each side began to point fingers. Each said, as many couples do, “You’re not what you used to be.”
All around, you heard tales of other teams and towns splitting up, going their separate ways — sometimes leaving in the middle of the night. In Baltimore, in St. Louis, in Oakland. The uniforms they once wore so proudly were left behind and sold at collectors’ shows. The stadiums of their youth were abandoned or torn down.
Gone were the days when the team had apartments above the grocery store. Now they owned beachfront mansions, far away from the town. When the season ended, the team would disappear for months.
The town grew weary. It yearned for the past. But there was no going back.
There never is. Empty stadiums, broken hearts
As you might figure, they got a divorce. One day the team walked in and said, “There’s someone else. He treats me right. He gives me everything I need, and offers riches beyond anything in your puny little coffers.”
“But I still want you,” the town said.
“Not as much,” said the team.
And off it went, never to return. It took a new name, moved into a new house, burned the past like a painting in a bonfire.
New town. New team.
The bond was broken.
They were married in a simpler time. Today team and town are simply two ships that bump in the night. Now and then, people go down to the old stadiums and hear a love song echoing in the breeze. “That’s our team,” it sings, “look at our team,” but it is only the wind, blowing across an empty place.
Mitch Albom will sign copies of his new book, “Live Albom IV” 2-3 p.m. today at Waldenbooks in Ann Arbor and 6-7 p.m. Wednesday at Borders, Southfield.