I was reminded today, for god knows what reason, of a conversation I had as a freshman in college, curled up late one night with dorm room coffee and too many books on French history and Shakespeare interpretation and web design and music theory, in the cozy but miss-matched lounge of my 1960s brick dorm, one of the ones mostly full of first years and sophomores because it didn’t have the allure of the gorgeous 19th C. column and stone step adorned ones on the main green. Somehow the snippets of conversation being tossed back and forth between bouts of reading and note taking had turned to baseball. It was early 2001, and here I was, a displaced California girl and Giants fan sharing threadbare but once lovely couches with a Yankee fan, a Red Sox fan, and her equally Bostonian boyfriend (as is entirely unsurprising, given that I went to college in New England). Now, I have to point out here that I am older than the hills in internet years, I realize, so you have to remember that this was back when the Red Sox were still cursed and the Yankees were a total juggernaut that seemed like it might never be stopped, which I felt like put me pretty squarely in the middle of the pack. The Giants had Barry Bonds and a shiny new ballpark, they had just won the division (and then gotten pretty roughed up by the Mets, but we can ignore that), and the pitching wasn’t yet a complete joke, so I mean, sure, I couldn’t really talk much shit to a anybody rooting for the navy pinstripes, but I could hold my own in this discussion.
Point being, things got a little heated as we eventually closed our books and shoved things aside to more accurately talk with our hands (including one memorable impression of Jason Varitek done by my Tino Martinez t-shirt wearing dorm mate in front of the fire place for extra “flames of hell” flavor (1)), finally ending with the Red Sox boyfriend, who was a pitcher at a nearby large university, shouting “you’re just fans!” before leaving to get a snack or smoke a cigarette or piece his fragile, barely post-adolescent masculinity back together, I’ll never know which (I admit I was better friends with the New Yorker, so we may have sort of ganged up on him a bit). In his world, calling us “just fans” was the heaviest insult he could level while within the confines of our exclusive women’s college that wouldn’t get him summarily beaten up and tossed off campus, possibly never to return. “Fans” was only one rung down, in the grand scale of insulting language, from things I would never, ever allow anyone to say to me. This guy would have called me a bitch before he told me I was “just a fan“, and at the time? Well, it was an oddity. A young guy who took his career as a D-1 middle reliever with no likelihood of being drafted too seriously for my already over-educated, eighteen year old taste.
It’s hard to say how the brain works, but I think maybe my sub-conscious drug this up from the annals of my random past because I’ve seen so many people denouncing the title of “fan” lately. Analysts who are loathe to admit they ever had any strong team loyalties to begin with, people who I would consider fans in a positive way riling at being referred to as such and demanding the title of analyst or at the very least blogger, balking I suppose at some connotation of fan as an overgrown man-child homer who yells puerile insults at the opposing team in between slugs of mass-produced domestic beer (2). That fan exists, sure as anything, but I know far more fans that aren’t that guy than who are. Being a fan means that you have a deep affection and attachment to something, no more and no less. That affection and attachment is a lifeline for so many of us, a touchstone through good and bad times in our lives and a connection point to form a larger community of people who entertain and support and educate us, who make us think and feel and love that much more. The fact that I keep seeing people want to disown that, as if there is some Hobson’s choice of intelligence and analytical ability or nothing, is disappointing to say the least.
All of us who fancy ourselves citizen journalists of the baseball world have a responsibility to the people who read what we have to say to be as intelligent and unbiased as possible in our reporting of the facts, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t allowed to have opinions or emotions and any sort of attachment or affection for the teams we cover. Op-eds and advice columns and memoirs are valid forms of journalism, and for those of us without a ton of direct access to allow us to break news stories, those more personal forms of journalism may in fact give us the best chance to say something meaningful and personal. Being a fan, loving your team, isn’t a bad thing unless it prevents you from seeing the truth of a situation or leads you into misrepresenting reality. Sure, there may be times that we’ll all have to recuse ourselves due to bias, but I’d rather see people admit and embrace their biases than try to force them out and pretend they don’t exist. Be a fan, admit it, love your team and let that love be a source of joy in a world that doesn’t always offer a whole lot of it, and at the end of the day have faith in your intelligence and sense of fairness to be able to put on your analyst hat and say what has to be said.
So here I am. Fan, analyst, blogger, and purveyor of obscure musical theatre references. Love me, love all of it, and I promise I’ll give you the same courtesy.
1 Sorry folks, I didn’t like the guy when I had no attachment to anything in the AL East, I sure as hell don’t like him now that I consider myself to be in a committed, if polyamorous, relationship with the Yankees.
2 For clarity, I happen to like mass-produced domestic beer in the right circumstances and I find the occasional puerile insult entertaining, as long as there’s no profanity if there are children about.