Sal Bando Jr., son of the A's third baseman, not yet two years old and spectacularly blond and blue-eyed, rushed around the living room of the Bando home in Oakland, Calif., a tiny whirlwind. Sandra Fortunato Bando, her own dark hair newly tinted blonde, scooped up her son and carried him off to his playpen. The Bandos had just returned from spring training in Arizona, their visit slightly prolonged because of the baseball strike.
"Sal has changed tremendously in the last year or so," Sandra said. "He's become more liberated. I've changed, too, and understand his way of thinking. Now he laughs about it. Do you know what he called me in spring training? Gloria Steinem. And when one of his teammates made a comment about my new hair color, he said, 'Blondes have more fun.' Last year during the playoffs, I was a nervous wreck and Sal wasn't. He was just coping with everything, all that tension. He told me if I pulled that again this year, if they make the playoffs, he is going to send me out to pasture for a couple of months. In the past year I've had to stop and say to myself, if I'm going to be a help to him I've got to be a more controlled-type person. My getting so emotional about the playoffs was, I think now, a question of personal immaturity. A lot of times I feel his life really isn't his own. One day I accept that, the next day I don't. I was wrong about a lot of things, too. I went into our marriage with the funny idea that my husband's profession really wasn't that hard. I thought, 'He's just going out to play baseball like a little boy.' Really! Listening to the other wives talk, I realized it was more complicated. I went on a couple of road trips with him, saw how they live out of suitcases, what they put up with.
"Sal is very blunt, very honest, completely lacking in tact. He wants to come off real, but he puts things differently to other people than he does to mc. He thinks I try to make him more complex than he really is, but that's because I don't think he takes time out to think about himself, about who he is. I once said to Sal, 'Don't ever pull this stuff on me, I'm the great Sal Bando.' I don't want success to go to his head. I've seen it happen to other athletes. They lose touch with their values, as Joe Namath did, as Vida Blue did recently. Sal just laughs. He realizes there is always someone in the wings coming along who may be just a little bit better, so I think his feet are on the ground. Last year he was second to Vida Blue as MVP.
"But to this day, if someone asks what he eats, he says spaghetti. What can I do? He is very proud of being Italian. I said, 'Why don't you tell them that you eat a lot of eggs and peanut butter, protein, fruit and vegetables? Why do you always say spaghetti?' He says, 'Because I'm Italian." Well, we all know he's Italian. I'm Italian, too. I'm very proud of my heritage, but there's more to being Italian than eating spaghetti.
"In Italian families, Christmas Eve is celebrated with a big fish feast. His family are not great fish eaters so they eat pizza and sausage. Thanksgiving, they cat chicken and spaghetti. Just to show how liberated Sal is, we now have turkey on Thanksgiving, just to please me. Christmas Eve he can have his pizza and sausage. As for my own liberation, I take golf lessons now. That may not make mc Mother of the Year, but it sure is fun!"