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Learning to like an old rival when he joins your team

Athletics Nation has loved to hate Fernando Rodney, but now he’s in our bullpen.

Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images

For more than a decade now, I have vehemently disliked Fernando Rodney. I’ve never really had a good idea of why, I just knew that I couldn’t stand him. I haven’t been alone in that feeling among the Athletics Nation community. The reliever has often been a target of scorn around here, and I can remember scoffing anytime the concept arose of Oakland acquiring him in any fashion.

But then, it happened. Last night, the A’s acquired Rodney in a trade with the Twins. Not only is he on our team now, but he’s here at a crucial point in time to help with a Cinderella run toward the postseason. If the green and gold finds a way to shock the world and win a title, one of the rings will go to him and he’ll be immortalized in club lore forever.

A funny thing came next, though. Within an hour after the trade announcement, all of my negative feelings had melted away. I’m sitting here not 24 hours later, and I’m honestly having trouble remembering what the problem was. Why didn’t I like this guy?

Was it the crooked hat? I don’t consciously care much about that kind of stuff. Sure, the fundamental point of a uniform is for everyone to look, well, uniform, but it’s not a big deal. Some players wear the awesome high socks and others don’t, and some wear extra undershirts or undo a couple of shirt buttons for temperature control. I fully support the league’s recent decision to allow some individuality in shoe design. Looking closer to home, I loved it when Mark Canha wore his silly face mask on cold nights earlier this summer. Clearly I have no problem with personal jersey quirks.

Was it the arrow routine? Since 2012, Rodney has celebrated his saves by firing an imaginary bow-and-arrow into the sky. It’s one of the most demonstrative and well-known victory dances in the sport, and it will go down as the enduring image of his career. But you know what I love? When Khris Davis hits a homer and salutes on his way around the bases. Pies in the face after a walk-off. Coco doing the Bernie Lean. When Dennis Eckersley used to pump his fist and point after his own saves. I wrote a whole article in support of Canha’s bat flip after a clutch dinger last month. Clearly I have no problem with showboating on the field.

No, I think more likely it had to do with the names on the jerseys he wore. Rodney came up with the Tigers, and he was part of the Detroit team that bounced Oakland from the playoffs in 2006. From there, he went to the Angels for two seasons. He was on the Rays in 2012 when they looked like one of the main roadblocks to the Wild Card we thought the A’s were chasing, before winning the West outright instead. Then he went to the Mariners for a couple years.

For me personally, it really is as simple as that. It turns out the reason I didn’t like Rodney is that he’s been a direct rival to my team for the last decade. Even worse, he was the exuberant, overly enthusiastic guy on those rivals, which made him that much more visible and annoying. All of those arrow celebrations came after close A’s losses. Now he’s on my team instead, and everything has changed in an instant.

Now that Rodney is an ally instead of an enemy, it becomes much easier to appreciate him. He dons his cap crooked to honor his late father, who wore his own hat that way as a fisherman in the Dominican because the sun only hit one side of his face, and who never got to see his son pitch in MLB. He shoots the arrow as an homage to a village called La Fletcha near his hometown. Without context those behaviors rub a lot of people the wrong way because they’re perceived as disrespectful and perhaps unsportsmanlike, but it’s hard to maintain those criticisms in light of the touching, personal backstories.

Not only has my former disdain washed away, I’m actually excited to have Rodney on board, even beyond the baseball reasons of him making the bullpen objectively better. Take a moment to look through this collection of moments at Cut 4, as he tries to catch snow in his mouth on the mound and carries around a plantain at the WBC. This guy is fun as hell, and if he’d come up through the A’s system he’d be one of our all-time favorites. He is exactly what we love in Oakland, packed with personality and his own unique charm.

That’s what makes this all so confusing to me. Why didn’t I like this guy before? I cheered for Grant Balfour as he ranted and cussed his way through every save situation he faced. Other fans couldn’t stand Balfour’s demeanor, but he was our angry kangaroo. I love the passion and intensity of Draymond Green, who might be the most hated player in the NBA among non-Warriors fans. What was wrong with Rodney that opponents couldn’t say about those guys whom I unabashedly cheer for?

Turns out, in some form of the tribe mentality that we see in so many facets of life, it was just the name on the front of the jersey that I took exception to. For most of my adult life it was a collection of the worst possible options, the ones that either beat my guys or in some way stood as direct foes. Now it’s the name of my team, and suddenly the whole game has changed. He’s gone from enemy to friend, and my feelings wasted no time following suit. Sports are so weird.

Welcome to Oakland, Fernando! It may only be for two months, but I think both sides will find it to be a great fit.