Every team has players who are easy to love. They hit giant homers or pitch six shutout innings. Those are the baseball players who are talked about as game-definers and considered for the all-star game. They usually have years of experience and have lost their Major League Jitters years before. These are the Bryce Harpers, the Jose Altuves, the Aaron Nolas, the Justin Verlanders.
But why root for someone established to be great when you could adopt a Terrible Little Son who betrays you all the time?
The key is to finding a Terrible Little Son is to look for a player who seems like he could be very good in the future, but who is fucking around so consistently and annoyingly that you feel like you need to pull him aside and ask him to take deep breaths, make him promise that he’s going to do his best, tell him you love him and send him back onto the field to hit .240. Maybe your Terrible Little Son will become good one day. The second year of my Nationals fandom in 2015, I adopted Trea Turner as my Terrible Little Son. He was right out of college, so talented, and so speedy. But he also kicked ground balls, got scared and panicked and overthrew first base. In 2015, he hit .225, and I loved him so much.
Yes, rooting for a player who isn’t great yet allows you to believe you have some power in the outcome of sports (a lie). But your belief in them could be enough to push them from fear into confidence. By bestowing them your attention, maybe they will graduate (as Trea Turner did) to become your Fast Son Who Left Home, and then you won’t have to lecture them anymore about getting their body in front of the ball instead of trying to be fancy and back-hand it. Sometimes, they never grow up and you’re stuck with Hank Blalock living on your couch. That’s a risk you have to be willing to take.
There are a few keys to choosing a Terrible Little Son:
- They must be new to the league (not necessarily young)
- They must not be a hot, sexy prospect (Bryce Harper never qualified)
- They have to have the face of a Terrible Little Son and look like they could backtalk you at any moment
- You must love them with all your heart
When I began to root for the Philadelphia Phillies at the beginning of this season, I opened my heart and my eyes for a new Terrible Little Son to adopt. Not only would it make me more invested in the team, it would require me to pay attention to a team that (in April at least) did not seem like it was going to be all that competitive. I was looking for the early signs of a true Terrible Little Son, like saying dumb things to the press or making weird faces that get turned into GIFs. It’s important to pay attention to these things just in case they ever wanted to talk to you about their weird little habits. Usually, Terrible Little Sons do not, but that is part of being a fake parent: supporting them even when they do not crave support.
I set my attention on third baseman Alec Bohm pretty early. First off, he was very gangly. Bohm is 6-foot-5 and 218 pounds. This is a good size for a son to be. This was only his second full season, and last season he hit a respectable .247. Perfect! I decided to consider him for adoption. Nary a week passed before I decided he was perfect.
On Monday, April 11, Alec had an awful game. In the first two innings, he made three errors. They were sloppy, ugly errors: plays a major leaguer should not have made. Philadelphia fans are not gentle, and so they booed. To be fair, I think any major-league player that makes three errors in two innings should absolutely be booed. But because Philadelphia fans love to continue a bit, when Alec managed to make an easy ground ball play in the second inning, the fans gave him a sarcastic standing ovation.
Here is that play:
If you can even kind of read lips, you can see that he is saying, “I fucking hate this place.”
This clearly did not go over well. After the game, NBC Sports Philadelphia asked Alec if he actually said that. He said: “I said it. Do I mean it? No. It’s a frustrating night for me, obviously. Made a few mistakes in the field. Look, these people, these fans, they just want to win. You heard it, we come back, they’re great. I’m just sorry to them. I don’t mean that.” This is perfect Terrible Little Son behavior! I officially adopted lil’ Alec as my new Terrible Little Son on April 12.
Since then, he has done exactly what a Terrible Little Son should do in his first season since adoption: hit .280 with a .315 OBP. He has made most of the plays that he should make and a few of the plays he shouldn’t.
But the best part of choosing a Terrible Little Son is that because they are always on the precipice of disappointing you, their success feels rare and sweet. Every hit he gets is my hit. Every error he makes is my error for not supporting him enough. Every stupid thing he does that makes me take a deep breath and sigh a prolonged and existential sigh, is more evidence that I made a good choice in adopting him.
Never was I more proud of that precious awful boy than a couple of weeks ago when he got hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, scoring a run. An RBI hit-by-pitch isn’t exactly how most players want to get RBIs, but it counts! He did a great job! Then, when he got hit by a pitch on the elbow with a 94-mph fastball in the final game of the NLCS, his teammate Kyle Schwarber kissed his elbow! Alec Bohm is everyone’s son and we love him!
Whose Terrible Little Son is this, you might ask after watching a video like this:
He is mine, and I hope he wins the World Series with a weird bloop single into right field to score a run in the bottom of the ninth. Good luck, buddy.