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The Reasons I Root

Mary piece's unlikely victory over Lindsay Davenport at the French open on Tuesday reminded me of one of the reasons I root for certain athletes.

Ms. Davenport is a hard-working and accomplished champion, but how does one root against pierce - a player whose father consistently behaved so badly that eventually he was no longer welcome at his daughter's matches? Even in the tennis world, where the behavior of the players' parents ranges from buffoonery to aggravated assault, Pierce's father has been remarkable for his excesses. It's tough to root against a player laboring under the burden of an exceptionally loutish dad.

Then there are the players attempting to recover from substance abuse. No matter whom Dwight Gooden was pitching for at the end of his career, I rooted for him. Likewise, Dennis Eckersly. Not, however, Lawrence Taylor, very late of the New York Giants. Taylor forfeited his right to be rooted for as a recovering addict when he announced that the specific means to his recovery would be golf. It's no good rooting for somebody who's not just aggressively stupid but dangerously delusional.

I root for old guys. Especially old pitchers. in my favorite pitching story of all time, Grover Cleveland Alexander, aged almost forty, having pitched a complete game the previous day and won it, shambled out of the bullpen for the cardinals in the 1926 world series and struck out Tony Lazzeri. In my next favorite pitching story, Walter Johnson, 18 years into his remarkable career, finally won a World Series game...and a World Series. In the pitching story I'm still hoping for, Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd, 45 and throwing for the Brockton Rocks, gets another chance in the bigs and wins a game there. what the heck, let it be a shutout.

Finally, in my business, it's hard not to root for those with perspective, a trait so many pro athletes either lack or will not acknowledge: the utility infielder with a sense of the absurdity of spending years hunched at the end of a bench, spitting sunflower seeds, calling it work; the preposterously fortunate NBA player from Eastern Europe who wanders through the arena parking lot to his luxury car mumbling "what a country;" the coach who's been in the game since 1942 and who says with a little leaguer's grin at the end of our conversation, "I hope we win."

This program aired on June 3, 2005. The audio for this program is not available.

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