Sports is one of the stranger industries in this world whereby guys rarely end up with a job in the place where they grew up. I suppose that’s not quite as true anymore in the sense that a lot of people go away to college and end up with jobs in the area of their university. But that aside, athletes might well get drafted by a team in a part of the country that’s totally unfamiliar to them. If they’re lucky, they’re able to assimilate into that community and into that town and eventually perhaps call it their own. (On a side note, one of the biggest reasons Cfal Ripken was so loved in Baltimore was because he was literally from here. But was Brooks or Frank any less beloved, or Eddie Murray for that matter?)
But sports can also provide us with an occasional story of an athlete “going home” in the sense that his team goes to play the team in his hometown. We famously saw that when Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts played the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome; Manning’s hometown of course is New Orleans. Donovan McNabb played as a visitor in his hometown of Chicago on several occasions, and Charlie Taylor of the Washington Redskins was a Dallas, TX native. Closer to home, the Baltimore Orioles played a two-game set in San Diego this season. Adam Jones is a San Diego native, and he grew up a Padres fan. In the short series, Jones went 7-for-9 with two RBI and a home run.
Do athletes take this type of thing as seriously as the media makes it out to be? First off I think it matters the athlete and his stature with the team. Adam Jones is a star player for the Orioles, so naturally the media covered his return to San Diego. On the other hand, former Oriole backup catcher Taylor Teagarden is a native of Dallas, TX (he also came to the O’s from the Texas Rangers). I don’t recall too much coverage of that angle when the O’s would travel to Arlington, TX the past two seasons. It also matters how close or in touch that player is with that place. Michael Jordan’s associated with North Carolina, and that’s where we accept that he’s “from.” However he was actually born in New York city. However while he used to routinely torch the Knicks (in fact some of his best games came at Madison Square Garden), there was probably very little sentimentality on his part when it came to going back to play there. In Adam Jones’ case, while he seems to be very happy with having adopted Baltimore as “his town,” he also comes across as proud of the fact that he’s from San Diego.
But does this type of thing give an athlete an edge? If Jones’ numbers in San Diego back in August are any indication, then I suppose they do. I think we’d be naive to assume that a situation as such is just like any other game or any other series. In Peyton Manning’s case, Indianapolis isn’t his hometown but it’s a place with which he’s very closely associated and of which he’s very much a part. Last week when he returned to play there as a visitor I was glad to see that the Colts took time out to honor him before the game. Furthermore, I was even happier to see that he took the time to soak that in a bit.
Ultimately an athlete or even a coach is going to do anything he can to gain some sort of edge (within the rules). So if rallying around playing in one’s hometown is going to do that, they’ll do it. Speaking for myself, on a human level I think it would be pretty amazing to have an opportunity to play in your true home as an athlete. Then again, home is what and where we make it.